Lance Armstrong has been erased

We’ve been noticing something odd about this Tour de France: Lance Armstrong has been erased. It’s like he never existed. Nobody mentions him on TV or in the press, and the Eurosport channel never shows footage of him from past events (and before this, you could bet a year’s salary that you’d see at least one “great moments” shot of him in every day’s coverage).

The confirmation of this erasure came after Stage 16, which ended with a descent into Gap. On one tight corner just a few kilometers before the finish line, Alberto Contador overcooked it and lost control. The camera found him remounting his bike, just as Chris Froome came zipping around the same corner and had to do some fast crash avoidance, going off onto the gravel and having to step off his bike as well. The two remounted and took off, with no real harm done.

This particular descent, and that near-disaster, rang bells in everyone’s memory. In 2003 the Tour made the same descent into the same town, and another rider got into trouble. Joseba Beloki overcooked the curve, slid on a patch of melted tarmac, blew his tire and crashed heavily on his right side, breaking his leg, elbow and wrist. Right behind him was the yellow jersey wearer, Lance Armstrong. What Lance did to avoid crashing into Joseba Beloki instantly became cycling history:

He missed Beloki’s wheel by a meter, narrowly avoided the gendarme standing off to the side, and then rode his narrow-tired racing bike across a field and carried it up an embankment as if it were a cyclocross race. Nobody had ever seen anything like it, before or since, and it became one of those clips that got shown over and over again in subsequent Tours.

Not anymore. I read three different accounts of Contador and Froome’s near-miss on Stage 16, and not one of them mentioned Armstrong. One didn’t recall the 2003 event at all, one mentioned it and named Joseba Beloki but not Armstrong, and one even referred to the famous ride across the field, but didn’t say who did it. And two of those stories were from cycling magazine sites, which really blew my mind.

This is ridiculous. Yes, Armstrong doped. Yes, he was stripped of seven titles. But has anyone noticed that those titles weren’t subsequently awarded to other riders? From 1999 to 2005, there are no winners of the Tour de France. Why? Because no top rider from that era could conclusively be proven to have ridden clean.

The International Cycling Union, in its decision to leave blank lines for seven years worth of Tours de France, has in effect admitted that Lance Armstrong (eventually) told the truth: At that time it was impossible to win a Tour without doping, because everybody doped. Therefore, the winner wasn’t the doper, but the doper who was also the best rider.

Lance Armstrong was the best rider of his generation. His bike handling skills, as evidenced in the video above, were top notch. His instincts and strategizing skills were the best in the field. And let’s not forget that he had the one great gift any endurance athlete could ask for: a larger-than-normal heart, courtesy of his genetics and not doping, which was capable of pushing more blood and oxygen through his system than a normal-sized heart.

He was, simply, a great athlete. And yes, he was also a towering asshole who vindictively terrorized anyone who tried to blow his cover on the doping. I won’t defend his lies or his disgusting behavior toward the less powerful, but it remains a fact that he was the best on a bicycle. Trying to pretend otherwise makes everyone look like idiots and exposes an appalling double standard. There are men on that Tour right now who were caught doping, served out a ban, and are now being cheered along. Why are they forgiven while Armstrong is erased from history?

Pretending that something didn’t happen does not, in fact, make it so. Last time I checked, the only people who actually believe it does were around three years old.

Can we get back to being adults now?

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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13 Responses to Lance Armstrong has been erased

  1. Power Wench says:

    NBC Sports did in fact show the clip of Armstrong’s famous ride across the field, but didn’t dwell on it as long as in past years.

  2. Lisa Shaw says:

    The fawning commentary on that video was hilarious! Oh yes indeed, he was a cycling god in his day.

    I agree that he was the best of the TdF riders, doped or clean, for seven years running and he deserves to be acknowledged for that. What the world of sport has done to him, to his name and to his legacy is a travesty.

  3. Inge says:

    That they didn’t give it to a new winner, means that the second rider was suspected or has been confirmed as dope-users. Doesn’t mean that everyone took and doesn’t mean that you can’t win without it. They just don’t look further than second place. Besides if everyone was clean, there would also have been a winner and maybe not Armstrong. Contrary to you, i don’t automatically believe he was the best. He had the best organised way of getting dope, which means the best doping method and he won with it. Only if the dope had been the same all over, would you be able to make this statement. Here that clearly wasn’t the case. Did the dope make him the best or did he have a natural ability? It is debatable. Before his sickness, he couldn’t win the Tour. Afterwards, he and his dope did. So at least this is up for discussion whether he truly was the best.

    Secondly other number ones did also lose their place. Only the seconds there were not suspected and could be slid in. So this removing of his titles is not the big exception. It’s pretty normal procedure.

    Now, all this has really little to do with what he did here. In this moment in time, he saved his ass wonderfully. But seriously, the fact that he was an asshole does play a role. Many of the reporters that dared suspect, have gotten that treatment as well as other riders that dared suggest it. It is human to now kick back so to speak. So they do. I understand that. It may not be as mature as we like it to be, but it’s human. But at least, we do have our own collective memory and can remember it ourselves, no?

    • oregon expat says:

      So this removing of his titles is not the big exception. It’s pretty normal procedure.

      Yes, it is, and that is not what I’m referring to when I say he’s been erased. I’m referring to his sudden absence from any history discussed during the tour, either by the announcers or by the press afterwards. The titles are only a part of that history, yet it is the whole that has suddenly vanished.

  4. Barbara says:

    It’s that element of make an example of him. He was caught and people were appalled. Yes it sucks that everyone was doing it and only he has suffered. Same thing happend to Jim Thorpe and Pete Rose. They did something wrong, got caught and suffered the consequences. Life isn’t fair, it never has been and never will be. I understand your upset, but don’t let it ruin your day. He may go down in history as notorious, but he will still have his name out there. If you take that risk to knowingly do something wrong then you also risk the punishment when caught.

  5. Kugai says:

    MiniTruth doubleplus good.

  6. Cathy White says:

    I had never seen that footage before, thanks for the link. It was really quite amazing.

  7. joanarling says:

    > Pretending that something didn’t happen does not, in fact, make it so. Last time I checked, the only people who actually believe it does were around three years old.

    God him/herself could not sink this ship.
    Core meltdowns cannot happen.
    There is no evidence of global warming.

    I think you are perhaps underestimating the power of wishful thinking. Or cynicism.

  8. Milemuncher says:

    For once we disagree. I am pleased not to have him mentioned. I want to forget because then I think less about the hurt and let down I felt for all the years I cheered him up cols thinking he was a hero when he was just a fraud. Sure, there were other frauds, but we now know he took lying, cheating, bullying and fraud to new levels, made them a science really, and somehow still does not get it that it was an aberration. He may, as you say, have been magic on a bike, but so what? He still let millions down and his sport.

    • oregon expat says:

      Actually I agree with much of what you say, Milemuncher. I also cheered him up those cols, and defended him long after most people were saying “guilty.” Realizing that my defense was misplaced made me feel like a naïve idiot, so the personal betrayal factor is pretty high. But I still don’t think it’s right to erase him, or overlook the tremendous boost he gave the sport in the US (what percentage of Americans even knew what the Tour de France was before Armstrong?), and to millions of folks who picked up bikes in part because of his example. A lot of those people are still riding, still benefiting, and his exposure as a doping liar doesn’t change that. It seems that we humans like our heroes to be gods, and if it turns out they’re not, then we relegate them to villain status. We’re not very good with complex shades of gray, or assholes who do great things.

      I think what bothers me most about this is the affront to my historian/storyteller’s instinct. Armstrong’s seven years at the top gave rise to a lot of history and great stories. Simply tossing those into the garbage along with his titles just feels wrong, and a bit akin to bookburning.

  9. Merlinmt says:

    I heard Phil Liggett mention his name in regards to this clip on NBCSports. For the first and only time it was like he existed again. You are right, no other mention, no other footage, never mind the years 1999 – 2005, they have seemingly chosen to forget the years 1996 – 2010.

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