What They Can't Take Away From Me (and Lance)
It was the second or third year that Lance won the Tour de France. I’d only watched a few minutes here and there, because cycling is boring, right? But one night, I was up with my son, who was maybe 8 years old, and he’d been watching all those crappy Drake & Hillary shows on the Disney channel all night and I wanted to find something we could both watch.
So I turned on the big bike race. The riders were on a mountain climb and Lance was in second place behind Jan Ullrich, I believe. There was maybe a mile to go and Armstrong zipped up his jersey, put his head down, and just jetted past Ullrich. Up the hill. It was like he’d been toying with the other rider all along and then just decided enough of this nonsense. It was one of the most amazingly athletic things I’d ever seen- up there with Gale Sayers changing directions in the mud- and my son also leapt from the couch.
So now we know for sure Armstrong had used banned substances to get stronger and faster. (Apparently, beating all those other riders on steroids wasn't enough evidence for everyone.) He lied about it all these years because he made a decision when it all started to never ever admit. As long as he kept passing drug tests he was clean in his mind. He portrayed himself to Oprah as a controlling monster who was always in charge. When you come at the king…
Lance Armstrong is a motherfucker who just wanted to win and so did whatever it took. It’s what you do if you're a hardcore competitor. You didn’t give a shit about your body or the possible ramifications; I know, having regularly taken a performance enhancing drug in the late '80s that was both harmful and illegal because I wanted to be the baddest writer in town. You just want to beat, no destroy all comers- and Lance did. Do you realize how many PEDs it takes to make us care about cycling or Dino Lee? But Lance just took it too far. The lie was more important than the lives he tore into. That’s where he crossed the line and provided the public's piling-on point.
The titles have been erased, but they can't take away that feeling of standing on a platform on the Champs Elysees as a world champion seven times. Or that mountain stage finish. Everybody knows who was the best. And everybody was doping, even the guy Lance blew up on the hill. In the competitive biking climate of the '90s and '00s, doping was how you showed the other riders you were for real..
I remember it being almost midnight. It had been a long day and watching the bike race was supposed to get us ready for bed. But then there was that magical burst from a man on a bicycle that filled me with adrenaline. I’ll never forget that moment. And I hope my son doesn’t either.