No More Facts for Lance

9 June 2011

5:07 PM

9 June 2011

5:07 PM

It seems that, in cycling as everything else, when the facts become intolerable it’s no longer credible to insist upon them. That being the case it’s not, perhaps, a great surprise that the Facts for Lance website appears to have disappeared.

In one sense the question of whether or not Lance Armstrong ever took illegal performance-enhancing drugs is immaterial. He cannot prove a negative but nor do all those negative tests establish his innocence either. The difficulty for Armstrong and his legion of admirers is that the circumstantial evidence against him has become so substantial that you need to be unusually credulous to suppose that none of it can be true or that all of it is motivated by greed, dishonesty or personal issues.

Armstrong’s team preferred to cast aspersions on the character and reliability of his accusers. If Floyd Landis had lied about his own drug use how could his accusations against Armstrong be trusted? Ditto Tyler Hamilton. And Frankie Andreiu. They’re all discredited! All of which is all well and good but when you lose George Hincapie the game’s a bogey.

Now, as the New Yorker’s Michael Specter, author of a gushing profile of Armstrong back in 2002, acknowledges Armstrong appears to be changing tack. Instead of attacking the credibility of his accusers his people are condemning the frivolous waste of time and money involved in the ongoing federal investigation. On this they may have a point. Nevertheless it’s not looking good for Beatified Lance.


And this is where the interest lies. There are two types of people: those who earnestly need to believe and those who don’t. Armstrong’s supporters are in the former camp, the rest of us in the latter. It’s a little simplistic to characterise this as Faithful Americans vs Cynical Europeans but there’s still some truth to that useful shorthand.

The Miracle of Lance – It’s Not About The Bike was an excellent, telling, title – became a church in which no dissent was tolerated. No wonder it took on a cult-like quality. Heretics were denounced and expelled as a warning to the others. Inconvenient questions were ignored; all that mattered was faith in the prophet.

Since cycling is not short of religious imagery, the Cult of Lance fit perfectly within cycling’s greater narrative. Yet the difference was that Armstrong attracted legions of new believers, many of them much more invested in him than in the sport itself. Their need to believe was all too apparent and deeply strange to the rest of us for whom the question of Armstrong’s drug use was of little real consequence. 

That is, the doping question makes little difference to my own views of Armstrong’s achievements (great but largely limited to the Tour). The argument was only partly about Armstrong, it was also about his followers and their desperate need to believe in their idol.

Are Armstrong’s achievements lessened by doping? (If this is ever proved.) Not as far as I am concerned. Indeed they might be made all the more real, a matter of flesh and blood, not some miraculous revelation brought forth to inspire the world. Feet of clay or not, they’d be victories won by a mere man, not some paragon of virtue and suffering whose example should be a lesson to us all. 

Worship not graven images and all that. Because, actually, it is about the bike after all. It will be a sad day for the believers when or if this is all confirmed but it will at last permit a more sensible, measured appraisal of Armstrong the Man, not Armstrong the Myth.

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Show comments
  • porkbelly

    @J Redner: read Hincapie’s tweet again – he said he didn’t talk to 60 Minutes, not that he hadn’t testified to the grand jury that Lance used drugs.

    The real story of Armstrong is that he was a talented but not exceptional cyclist (unlike Lemond) who happened to be exceptionally responsive to a well-conceived doping program. He brought doping in cycling into the modern age by using science (i.e. Dr. Ferrari) and cynically used his recovery from cancer as a career springboard and PR magic bullet when the sport desperately needed a hero.

    Now it is all unraveling as his former henchmen spill their guts to the Feds, and wait until his diehard fans find out about how he has been spending their Livestrong donations! Not pretty.

    And no, Carlos Sastre should never have won the Tour, and Sean Kelly was a classics man not a Grand Tour contender. The real tragedy is Jan Ullrich.

  • J Redner

    Hincapie himself tweeted that what 60 minutes said about him was made up. So you can’t throw in Hincapie. People, and you will write what you want unfortunately even if the facts are not based on the truth. It’s the definition of irresponsibility.

  • tommyt

    All this talk of “guilt” and “innocence” annoys me.

    Is a sportsman who takes drugs any more morally dubious than one who dives to get his side a penalty, handles in a ruck or claims a catch when he knows the ball has bounced ? ANd as far as I know no-one is trying to indict Michael Owen, Neil Back or Mark Taylor.

    Doping in cycling is also a different kettle of fish form doping in most other sports. So Ben Johnson took drugs so he could shave a tenth or two of his times, Bonds allegedly took drugs in order to get a few more homers – big deal. Cyclists are asked (by cycling fans) to push their bbody well beyond the limits of human endurance, if you race two trous a year then you are looking at over 5000 miles on a bike, over 5 or 6 mountain ranges at an average of cracking on for 30mph. If they want to take a pill or a needle to help satisfy our demands then let them.

    Apropos of nothing Lod Sebastian COe set all of his world records whilst undergoing “blood doping” practices which whilst within the rules then are now deemed “illegal”.

  • Tristram Jones

    I agree: Lance is innocent until proven guilty.

    Lance has had a spectacular career, and a good part of his success is due to: hard work, a resting heart rate of 32, extra long and strong thighs, a really large heart. These, and a focus on one main race made Lance a triumphant winner.

    Cycling, unfortunately, has had many cyclists who have taken drugs to enhance their abilities. Maybe that’s because the drug takers do not have the physical attributes that Lance has. And maybe the former colleagues who have become foes are either
    1. so jealous they’d like to see Lance suffer from their accusations
    2. can only assume that since Lance is such a success it MUST have been due to drug-taking (ie they see Lance as a reflection of themselves)
    – or both 1 and 2.

    Jealousy can cause so much bitterness. I heard of a talented Australian actress who at the play performed by her drama school graduation class found her jar of face cream had been filled with needles. Such pettiness, such nastiness can also be the basis of drug accusations in cycling. And also to get publicity for a book to be published.

  • Sean Cardall

    Like Brian said innocent until proven guilty.

    Ok there isn’t normally smoke without fire. But people want to see Lance go down and convinced themselves he’s doped.

    Didn’t greg lemond and floyd landis have a massive falling out, Floyd said some pretty unforgivable things. All of a sudden there best pal’s trying to be Lance down.

    I Hope Lance hasn’t doped just for cycling as a sport.

  • sandamal

    Does this dimish his accomplishments: Yes it does. For this reason: Tour de France riders come in all sorts of types and combinations. What makes a Tour de France champion is his ability to not only recover but slowly get stronger over 3 weeks of physical abuse. They were the natural freaks of nature: the top .5% or 1%. Now Lance Armstrong was an amazing athelete…so was Sean Kelley. Kelley could sprint, time trial and occasionally climb, but he couldn’t sustain this over 3 weeks. Lance was a bit of a Sean Kelly: a one racer. EPO and blood doping created a shift that testosterone and amphetamines and other drugs simply could not do before 1991. It allowed the top 10% percent to within reach of the top 1%. People new to stage racing just don’t understand this. I completely understand why Greg Lemond is upset. He is was in that top 1%. He had epic battles with other 1% riders (Hinault and Fignon). Remember, not everyone in the tour dopes. A lot, but not all. If you look at a plot of all the winners over the last ten years, you’ll notice Carlos Sastre hovering in the top 10 (eventually winning in 2008) and fading back to oblivion. I thing Carlos was a top 2-3% rider and could have won more tours…but we’ll never know. That’s the shame of cheating. I hate cheaters. I hate what Lance and the doping community (coaches, doctors, organizers) have done to cycling heritage.

  • Marcus Dore


    well, facts4lance was always something of an embarrassment and a rather strangely named affair; because the one thing it was actually staggeringly short of was “facts”. Myths4lance would have been a more appropriate name, because an overwhelming majority of the “facts” appeared to my demonstrable untruths.

    @Brian Hendler

    Of course they have an agenda: it is called staying out of prison for lying under oath to a grand jury – a weapon which is proving remarkably efficient at loosening tongues where Lance Armstrong’s tactics of bullying, character assassination and litigation have previously proven remarkably efficient at keeping tongues tied in knots.

    As for the chances of escaping 500 doping tests – until very recently, the odds of that would, as it happens, have been remarkably high if you know what you are doing. The likes of Marion Jones passed far more tests and history shows that the vast majority of known dopers are only ever convicted on the basis of their own confessions.

  • Brian Hendler

    What amazes me about the American justice system is that Lance is guilty before he is anywhere close to a courtroom – I don’t particularly like Mr.Armstrong but is’nt there “the innocent until proven guilty”. Is’nt every person, not withstanding who he is, allowed due course? At the moment there is only circumstantial evidence. Who is to say that the Hincapie and the others do not have an agenda. Just as everyone says Lance is guilty it can be said that there is an agenda against him.And can someone please explain to me that in over 500 doping tests he was’nt caught. What is the chance of that happening? If he was doping as the others say he was, he was in the same boat when they were tested.If Armstrong was doping Hincapie was’nt? It seems too far fetched to believe. One thing is certain that when millions of dollars are at stake many will lie to save their skin or on the other side of the coin, lie to bring someone into disrepute.Its great to speculate and this is rich fodder for the press,but when and if all the facts eventually come out , then only will we know for certain.

  • Craig Strachan

    I saw Lance hauling ass up Stunt Road, Malibu a couple of weeks ago. He certainly looked impressive, if some way short of a miraculous revelation.

    (I overtook him, BTW. Of course he was on a bike, I was in a Grand Cherokee…)