Written for In the Bunch
Before it was out in the open, people often used to corner me with this question: “Do you think Lance Armstrong doped?”
With my neutral journo jacket on, I would tell them that if he had not, my theory would be that, at the very least, his team had doped on his behalf.
For crying out loud, in the aftermath of the Festina Affair the other half of the peloton had also been implicated (by Operación Puerto) and, despite this, none of them could keep up with him and his Blue Train.
Every July we witnessed the Posties drag a not-so-innocent peloton around France by the scruff of its neck; climbers and non-climbers routinely lined up in front of Armstrong on the most grotesque of terrain to run the best riders in the world into the red.
Then, one by one, the Posties worth mentioning got rapped on the knuckles for doping, while the others confessed and spilled the beans on team-mates who had not.
So, if one hypothesises that he had raced au naturale, and we already know most of his team-mates didn’t, it would follow that the latter had done so in support of Armstrong – quite possibly by design and for financial gain.
His lawyers would argue the “evidence” to be circumstantial, if not pure speculation, but two and two always make four.
You know, I don’t think the public wanted the penny to drop. We needed to believe in miracles and heroes and here was a person who personified both.
Even as the cracks started to show, we insisted on focusing on what was good instead of the ugly truth that had started seeping through them.
So, in our collective minds, we placed him above the law and he revelled in this shady underworld devoid of accountability. Any claims made by Armstrong were lapped up – those by his critics rubbished.
For a peek into this world, I downloaded convicted doper Tyler Hamilton’s tell-all autobiography, The Secret Race, the minute it was released. I got more than I bargained for.
If Paul Kimmage’s A Rough Ride was an eye-opener all those years ago, Hamilton’s cloak and dagger account of pro racing, where Armstrong is portrayed as the main villain, shattered my world. Not because they lived a lie, but because they sold it to us.
I felt like a fool for squandering months, if not years, of my life supporting something that turned out to be mere hocus pocus.
In his exposé, Hamilton describes how Armstrong coined the phrase “not normal” when referring to substance-enhanced performances by his opposition – almost as if he believed a different set of rules applied to them than to him.
I suspect a portion of the public will continue to hold on to the dream that is Lance Armstrong, but I have found my answers – they were scattered all over the e-pages I was flipping into the wee hours of the night.
LA’s performances were sadly just “not normal”.
Coetzee is a cycling fanatic whose PR company specialises in sports communications. Visit www.inthebunch.co.za or follow @In_the_Bunch.
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