It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the Lance saga appears to have entered the endgame. Even now, it’s hard to find anyone who polarises opinion quite so much. Gary Imlach said something like ‘an argument about Lance Armstrong is almost a faith-based matter’. There’s a spiritual zeal to those who continually defend him, and an abject refusal to look at anything circumstantial, no matter how weighty that circumstantial evidence might be.
I can’t help but feel that Lance’s rustication goes someway towards discrediting that particular era of cycling in its entirety, and everyone in it. I think this is a good thing. It’s the final nail in the coffin. The best article i’ve read of late, and well worth a read, is by Jonathan Vaughters. I found it erudite, engaging and honest. I felt sorry for Christophe Bassons, in fact anyone who crossed swords with Lance Armstrong, the man with the biggest chip on his shoulder since the invention of the sliced potato and hot oil combo. I find it inconceivable that any individual would be able to ride clean and win 7 tours against riders who were engaged in systematic and scientific doping, including his team-mates. This is when denials of doping become a case of denial – if you don’t admit to it then there’s not a lot you can do about it. In light of this, asking whether Lance doped is not unlike asking whether Michael Jackson had plastic surgery. Both deny it, vociferously, but with a caveat or occasional exemption for medical reasons. The wider circumstantial and visual evidence appears to suggest otherwise.
Lastly, if he is stripped of his seven titles, then the redistribution of honours becomes faintly surreal. Take a top ten, any top ten, from within those 7 years. Remove Lance. Reallocate based on whether rider was clean/proven drugs cheat. Let’s use 2004 for an example: Armstrong/Basso/Ullrich/Kloden top four. Hmmm. That leaves Jose Azevedo as the winner. I think.
Here’s a sort of realigned top two from the Armstrong years, removing those who have been involved in doping scandals. it’s worth considering that Azevedo was a US Postal rider. and in case you’re wondering who Totschnig is… he rode for Gerolsteiner. We’ll ignore the Schumacher/Kohl connection for now.
99 Escartin, Casero
00 Escartin, Nardello
01 Kivilev, Simon
02 Azevedo, Sastre
03 Zubeldia, Sastre
04 Azevedo, Totschnig
05 Evans, Pereiro
06 Pereiro, Sastre
Or as a friend sardonically put it – ‘Boardman gets ’96 – he was 39th overall’.