‘That which does not kill us only makes us stronger’
That’s precisely how a cycling fan would have felt until Friday about the doping scandals that inflicted the sport of Cycling. The cases of Riccardo Ricco, Rasmussen, Kohl & recently Contador, were only meant to make the sport cleaner & stronger. For that matter, even Operation Puerto was reckoned to be the best thing that happened for the good of Cycling. However, the sport was dealt a killer blow last week when Lance Armstrong decided ‘enough was enough’ and withdrew from the case filed against him by United States Anti-Doping Agency.
It would be imprudent on my part as an outside bystander to comment about either Armstrong’s innocence or his guilt. However, there is one question that I have been brooding – was it only Armstrong’s decision to withdraw from the case? Yes, he had enough of fighting a favoured doping case. But what about countless others who worked selflessly for his triumphs? What about the sport that gave him the fame that he now commands and the fans who worship him? Should he have given a thought about them before abandoning the fight?
Cycling is probably the only sport in which one toils selflessly for the glory of another. George Hincapie wasn’t a world-beating cyclist. He wouldn’t have won a Tour de France, even if he tried. But he was a good rider, good enough to notch up some top-10 finishes, or even a podium or two. But he wanted people to remember him for an unlikely reason — the man who won Armstrong his seven titles. So for eight years, he rode; rode like a true domestique, rode for no one, not even himself, but Lance Armstrong. When he hung up his boots at the end of last season, his nineteen years of Professional Cycling were summed up in one sentence — only rider to assist Armstrong in his all seven victories. So when Armstrong withdrew his case, it was not only his name that was at stake, but careers of his former teammates & managers-Hincapies & Bruyneels.
Then there is the Sport itself, left in the lurch after Armstrong’s decision. No doubt, the legend of Lance Armstrong overshadows the sport of Cycling, for he stands as a beacon of hope to millions of cancer patients around the world. Hence, he has every right to take decisions in his own terms, least bothered about the shadows those decisions would leave on the sport. However, as an afterthought, would he be such an inspiration if Cycling had not provided him the opportunity? No, certainly not. It was only through this beloved sport that he reached the pinnacles of sporting heroism. Otherwise, he would just be another one of many who survived the deadly disease.
Then there are fans, the fans who sing hymns on their sporting legends. In case of Armstrong, these fans were even special, for Armstrong was a real-life hero. After hearing Armstrong’s decision to forego the fight, these fans are crestfallen; particulary those set of cycling fans who started following the sport because Armstrong rode it, for they realize their very reason for following the sport seems hollow. Suddenly, for them, Cycling has become an unknown sport.
In sporting circles, Armstrong wields a power that any Anti-Doping agency can only hope to match. Nothing would change for him after the ruling: neither his sponsorship nor his reputation will take a significant beating. He was quite certain about that when he withdrew from the case. Hence, true fans will feel let down by his decision. Because for those fans, he acted in his own interests at the expense of others; it was truly unlike Lance Armstrong they have known.