Lance Armstrong, the George W. Bush of Sports
Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, second right, rides during one of the stages July 20, 2006. Eleven teammates of Lance Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team, including Floyd Landis, have turned on him offering evidence and testimony to back up allegations that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs in competition, the USADA said. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a damning report last week containing testimony from former teammates and other witnesses against Armstrong, and has ordered that he be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. The international cycling federation is yet to indicate its next move.
The next thing you know, we'll find out he never even really had cancer. Short of that, it beats me what new revelation anyone would need to confirm the verdict Chicago Tribune sportswriter Phil Hersh delivered recently on CNN: "You can push Marion Jones and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Rosie Ruiz aside. Lance Armstrong is the greatest fraud in the history of sports."
Armstrong famously beat testicular cancer and assorted other illnesses to win count-'em seven Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005. But I might as well admit that, beating the Big C aside, the man never loomed too large on my constantly shrinking White Guys I Admire list. In 20/20 hindsight, wasn't his can-do vibe always just a little too much like one of those Charlton Heston sci-fi movies where a jut-jawed Chuck wakes up to learn he's the last American left alive on the planet? Even that too-perfect name—outside of comic strips, who the hell has ever really been named Lance Armstrong?—almost seems as if it should have awakened our suspicions from the get-go.
Now, of course, the doping allegations that swirled around him for years have been confirmed in downright icky detail by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's 200-page report. Nike and Annheiser-Busch, his two main sponsors, have already cut ties with him, and he's stepped down as head of LiveStrong, his cancer-fighting foundation. Back in August, Armstrong decided not to contest the USADA's verdict, apparently in hopes of preventing the damning testimony by his former teammates and others from going public. But the world doesn't work that way anymore.
Still, given how bad the rumors were, few of us could have guessed the reality would turn out to be even worse. EPO, testosterone—okay, groovy, we can roll with that. (It's not like we haven't been here before, sports fans.) Learning about the transfusions that recycled Armstrong's blood to boost his performance and make dope less detectable is a little more gruesome, though. The same goes for the revelation that he browbeat his less famous teammates into getting with the same program, leaving not only his own reputation in ruins but taking down a whole clutch of talented cyclists with him.
You can't really blame the French for taking a special satisfaction in Armstrong's disgrace. They never did cotton to the arrogant American—a Texan, no less—who dominated their foremost home-grown sports event for the better part of a decade, although they'd probably have hated him even more if he'd been modest. (That isn't to say they don't also know that Armstrong is no rogue outlier in the cycling world when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs; one wag calculated that determining the top ten finishers untainted by suspicions of doping in the 2005 Tour de France might involve reaching all the way down to the guy who came in 28th.) And sorry, but I can't resist seeing a parable—or a certain synchronicity, at least—in all this.
Remember whose presidential administration most of Armstrong's Tour-winning streak coincided with. He wasn't the only cocky Amerloque the frogs couldn't abide—and on our end, we had Congressmen renaming French fries "Freedom Fries" to punish them (they still weep on cold winter nights) for failing to get with the program in Iraq. Now it's turned out that all of Armstrong's victories were shams rooted in deliberate deception, just as a minority of nay-sayers kept insisting all along. To my knowledge, he never posed under a "Mission Accomplished" banner, but he might as well have. So let's all bid an unfond adieu to the George W. Bush of sports champs as we break out the vin rouge.
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