Every summer in the Tour de France, you’ll hear the announcers call out dramatically, “He’s riding like a man possessed!”
The phrase is meant to describe each cyclist’s sweat-coated face, white with pain and determination to punch each pedal harder through the please-kill-me-quick Alps and Pyrenees.
But the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is taking the description to mean literally, “He’s riding like a man on performance-enhancing drugs!” Which of course, doesn’t sound nearly as poetic.
The agency claims retired seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong led a doping conspiracy, and aims to strip his record seven titles and ban him for life from competitive sport, which in my opinion is completely unjustified.
These accusations are nothing new for Armstrong, who says he’s been tested 500 to 600 times during his career, and never tested positive once. In his autobiographies, the cyclist talks in depth about drug testing —strange men stopping by his Texas home at all hours of the day demanding immediate samples of bodily fluids, including when his wife was in labor.
“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one,” Armstrong responded in a statement after learning of the USADA charges.
If you remember, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer with a tumor that had metastasized to his brain and lungs in October 1996, and he beat it. Then he came back to the tour, and beat everyone from 1999 to 2005.
After claims that his longtime coach Chris Carmichael was giving Armstrong performance-enhancers, Carmichael said, “Can you imagine? You work your ass off, and then people say you didn’t really do it.”
I know cycling’s past and present, littered with doping, needles and vials. Sure, I remember Olympic runner Marion Jones swearing she never used performance enhancing drugs, and then seven years later, forfeited her medals. Sports, in general, has athletes every few months admitting using to get an edge on the competition.
This isn’t who I believe Armstrong to be though. He once said, “Everyone wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my ass six hours a day.”
So why can’t it be possible that Armstrong is just that good? What if he does actually work hard to get what he wants? Why can’t we put hope in an athlete?
After winning his seventh tour, Armstrong stood on the Champs-Élysées podium and addressed his cynics, “I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you can’t dream big. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”
We’re always waiting for that one athlete to come along and blow our minds, but when they do, we always look for a way to be disappointed later.
Why can’t we believe in miracles? Why can’t we have a morally right hero, who shows us we can’t do the thing people say we never will like kicking cancer, then not quitting there, and helping other people fight as well. Why can’t we believe in the good? Maybe we should start.