Awful truth finally catches up on Armstrong
For years, Armstrong seemed to walk through life with a kind of invisible coat of Arthurian armour. He was a mythical figure.
Now, that carefully constructed legend is on the brink of disintegration. He will probably ignore the content of the report and rely on the fact that he has never tested positive and suggest that all of this evidence amounts to the hearsay of others, the latest chorus in what he has called an “unconstitutional witch-hunt”.
But thousands for whom he was the last word in heroism must feel badly betrayed now.
Was it always going to end like this? If he had not decided to “retire from retirement” as he put it on the Late Show with David Letterman back in 2008, speaking about how his participation in the Leadville 100 in Colorado whetted his appetite, could he have sailed into the sunset and enjoyed the prestige that comes with being a feted champion?
Few wrongs provoke the language of biblical denunciation as quickly as cheating in sport. Given the appalling allegations now emerging from the decades when Jimmy Savile was regarded as the harmless showman of 1970s and 1980s pop culture, there is something jarring about the notion of cycling – a mere sport – as corrupted.
But lives have been ruined in the cycle game too. The tragic demise of Marco Pantani, the Italian cyclist whose life took a rapid turn for the worst after he was implicated in doping, became a metaphor for the loneliness of the sport. For years, it was clear there was something predatory at the heart of cycling and that the allure of success through cheating was too commonplace and too easy to resist.
The testimonies of Armstrong’s former team-mates make it plain that the pressure to commit to the prevailing ethos within the team soon eclipsed whatever principles or strength of character they may have believed they possessed. And it is not as if these allegations are brand new. As far back as 2010, Tyler Hamilton explained why he had not disclosed everything he knew about his USPS team after he had tested positive.
“If I told the truth: yeah, I took EPO and testosterone and an occasional transfusion of my own blood, then I would have had to open the doors and tell the whole truth and I would have taken down a lot of people in the sport. A lot of old friends – team-mates, co-workers staff members,” he said on the television programme 60 Minutes.
“And I kept my mouth shut for the sake of the sport. I didn’t want to hurt it any worse than it has been hurt.”
It was a strange logic: trying to protect the cycling game by the suppression of the fact that it had become a pharmaceutical basket-case. The high point of Hamilton’s career on the bike was the gold medal he won at the Athens Olympics. He soon became embroiled in drug controversies and finally retired in 2009 after he tested positive for a substance he claimed to have taken as part of a herbal supplement to help him cope with depression. The cost for him involves looking back at two decades as a sportsman which now feel and look hollow: he handed his Olympic medal back to Usada. He wasted the best years of his athletic life.