So, the most successful Tour rider of all time, inspiration to millions of cyclists and cancer sufferers, has thrown in the towel and accept the loss of his titles rather than face USADA’s evidence.
Doesn’t seem very in character for someone who battled cancer, battled up L’Alpe d’Huez in the 2nd and 4th fastest times ever recorded (as one journalist put it, check out the list of fastest ascent time which consist of a list of dopers and Lance Armstrong – a case of “by the company you keep, so shall you be known”?), and battled through a dozen Tours.
The decision not to defend himself against allegations and the supposed 10 former teammates lined up by USADA to give evidence against Armstrong certainly looks like an admission of guilt.
The only possible benefit of the doubt that can be given is that a man with a famously short fuse and arrogant attitude has genuinely had enough, and that following his close brush with death he’s someone with a real appreciation that life’s too short to spend it engaging in long running disputes. Maybe it was a snap decision. But to not defend the enormous expenditure of energy and willpower it took to drive himself to seven Tour victories seems a perverse decision.
As someone who’s certainly no expert on cycling (I only bought my first road bike 10 weeks ago, fortunately just early enough so I can’t be accused of jumping on the Bradley Wiggins bandwagon!) I can’t really comment on the doping allegations and whether his performances could only be done with artificial assistance. Certainly it seems that “everyone was at it” during the Armstrong era, so unless he was really an extreme outlier in the talent and endurance stakes, or that the way he rebuilt his body following testicular cancer gave him some form of advantage by stripping out all non-cycling muscle, or simply that he had the best team and psychological edge over all of his competitors, it seems unlikely he achieved such dominance without cheating.
Either way, the effect of Armstrong not defending himself on his status as an inspirational icon is huge. Lance Armstrong’s feats, books and Livestrong foundation have no doubt inspired millions to get fitter, not to mention cancer sufferers. The sense of disappointment and deja vu that many will feel at the fall of an icon is strong.
Whilst I doubt it will cause anyone to stop exercising who has already started to get fitter, it does mean that fewer people in future will be inspired to challenge themselves based on Armstrong’s example. His books will likely end up in the remainder bins.
No-one else in sport has the combination of profile and extraordinary back story to step into the gap Armstrong as a sporting inspiration. Paralympic althletes may be incredibly inspirational but lack the high profile. Usain Bolt is bigger in global profile and a great role model, particularly showing that sport can be fun (although his insistance that the 400m is too hard work to train for isn’t quite so inspirational for general fitness). Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis are fantastic but don’t have the global reach yet. And on the cycling front Bradley Wiggins has brought a modest and humourous attitude to the Tour that was distinctly lacking during the Armstrong era, but has a long way to go in terms of Tour de France wins.
Maybe the answer is that we should all stop looking to icons to inspire us to do sport and exercise? Maybe we should just take personal responsibility for our health and fitness, get out there and do it ourselves. We shouldn’t be expecting Olympic sports stars and Premier League footballers to be role models and the basis to inspire a generation.
Get inspired by the people around us, by our friends and neighbours who do extraordinary things like running marathons or triathlons whilst holding down jobs. Get motivated by the person on the next treadmill in the gym, by the local martial arts or dance instructor, by the regular walkers or the people we see cycling to work in all weathers.
We can all achieve lifetime fitness that will make our lives better and happier, and inspire others to do the same. Even if we’ve been put off sport at school, we can all find activities we enjoy and which will help us get fitter, whatever our starting level. Taking part in Konkura’s sport and fitness challenges are a great way to find new exercises and workouts, motivate your training, track your progress and make new training friends. And yes, there’s a growing section for cycling challenges– Lance, you’re very welcome to join in, as long as you promise you’re clean.