Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lance Boils

Mr. Lance Armstrong made it into the news by confessing that he cheated in order to win his seven Tour de France titles. As a commuter cyclist, I have opinions about this matter. But before I offer my opinions, I'll offer some thoughts.

* My only personal experience with Mr. Armstrong occurred in August 2008. I was about 3 miles from the Leadville finish. While drinking a beer in the back of a pickup truck, Lance said to me, "Good job. Keep going." Or he might have been talking to the cyclist next to me—I was tired. Regardless, Lance and I have a personal relationship, which gives me extra insight into this matter.

* It's common knowledge that a whole bunch of cyclists were doping. Whenever the subject of doping comes up with my friends who track this kind of thing a whole lot more than I do, I raise two questions:

Question 1: In any given tour during Lance's run, who was the top-finishing clean rider? Was it the sixth-place rider, the 18th-place rider, 126th-place rider? My guess is that it was one of the French riders who finished somewhere around 30th place, but I have no idea.

Question 2: Who was the last clean rider to win the Tour? Greg LeMond? Probably.

Miguel Indurain and the Spaniards most likely started the heightened EPO-style cheating back in the early 90s that made other riders believe they had no shot at winning without using PEDs. Are more recent winners like Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre clean? Again, I don't know.

One nice thing I've noticed while half-watching the tour over the last few years is that even the strongest climbers look like they're struggling on the steep ascents. It's possible they're clean.

Now, my opinions:

* While the cheating is bad, it makes sense on the "everyone else is doing it" level. What makes Armstrong's behavior particularly loathsome is how he went after accusers. He actually sued people for accusing him of doing something he was actually doing. He acted like a bully, both personally and legally.

* Armstrong has one of those great and terrible personalities like the best and worst conquerors. Armstrong starting LiveStrong is like Mussolini getting the trains to run on time.

* We don't celebrate moral courage that often. When was the last time you heard of a corporate executive who made a decision based on moral good rather than financial profit?

There is an interesting story in the news about the dramatic decline of violent crime coinciding with the drop in lead pollutants—especially lead paint and leaded gasoline. Apparently, lead made a bunch of urban youths more prone to violent behavior. Back in the day, energy executives saw studies about the damaging effects of lead, but instead of using ethanol as a gasoline additive, they went with the cheaper lead approach. Once the lead paint got cleaned up and we switched to unleaded gasoline, urban folks became less crazed.

I want to hear more stories about people doing the right thing, even though it costs them. There's no better place to start that with Lance Armstrong, who showed the courage of a winner in admitting to cheating. Bravo, Lance!

Good job. Keep going.