Big Tex is at it again. This time he’s on a charm offensive – if a word like charm can ever be applied to one of the more sociopathic personalities in world sport – to convince the world that he is finally willing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Presumably in contrast to the carefully stage managed ‘truth’ he told Oprah Winfrey in his heavily trailed and widely broadcast ‘Confession’?
Well Lance I – and most other genuine fans of this glorious, if murky, soap opera we call cycling – have news for you. It’s over. Finished. We don’t need you any more – if we ever did. As a fully paid up ‘hater’ (since 1999) I’m firmly in the latter camp. I know there are others who have only just relinquished the Livestrong band but even they have had enough. Time to go back to Austin, to the hookers and blow and the 7 framed and worthless jerseys and the kids and the girlfriend and the water guzzling mansion and leave the fuck alone.
I’ve had my run ins with his Lanceness over the years – been one of the fucking little trolls that were the bane of his life when he was in his pomp, been blocked, unblocked, followed & even DMed on twitter (a lady, or anyone with any ethics, never tells – suffice to say he wasn’t the nicest of stalkers) and almost made my name by capturing his Tour recollections for a book – until common sense & loyalty to better friends told me the only person he ought to be telling his story to was USADA & WADA – like/unlike Miley Cyrus, I knew my frantic cybertwerking to make my name would only result in me being used by the Armstrong PR machine. I backed off and tweeted as much. Having done my bit over the years to explode the myths and uncover the fraud I decided I’d given him too much oxygenating publicity already.
But now with movies galore retelling his now sordid story and a truth – but apparently not reconciliation – commission set for early 2014 Armstrong is once again both a rather nasty flavour of the month and helpless to control his own narrative. Internet rumour can be safely dismissed as trolling, compliant journalists wooed and more truculent ones sued but now Armstrong is no longer believed or believable. The UCI Truth (if not reconciliation – why is that exactly?) Commission gives him one last chance to finally, irrevocably set the record straight – but will he? And do we, should we, care?
I’ve never been one for the ‘bad apple’ narrative that arose post Festina when doping could no longer be ignored. Not when the whole damned barrel has been shown to be rotten time and time again. Scapegoating of carefully selected riders led to Pantani and a lonely, sleazy death in a Rimini hotel room. Cycling already has enough blood on its hands. But what is inescapable is that Armstrong wasn’t just a user, he was a pusher too. Not the victim but the victimiser. He is that modern bogeyman, the Bully – the figure that haunts so many childhood and adult nightmares. No one wants a sport whose biggest star is demonstrably not a nice guy, even whilst we acknowledge that the biggest sports stars rarely achieve without a single minded determination bordering on the psycopathic.
But for a decade that’s exactly what Armstrong was – both the tyrant and the saint, the man who ordered his teammates to spit on those that questioned him whilst hiding behind a seemingly impregnable cancer shield. His legion of fan boys (and hired hands) could be relied on to shout down any dissenters on the wild west frontier of the interwebs. And there were always other dopers who could take the heat – whose own psycopathy and arrogance could be relied on to deflect revulsion. The displacement all the better if he was a Johnny Foreigner as he so often was. After all, those Euro mafia types just weren’t as upstanding as the doughty Anglo-Saxons with their total lack of an ingrained doping culture. Yeah, right.
Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish are among the voices calling for all of this to be put to bed once and for all, to let the skeletons stop rattling and rest in peace so the sport can move on, focus on the future, start to create some new myths. But with so many enablers still in the game – whether they’re doctors or DSes, whether they’ve fessed up or not to their dirty pasts – the sport needs to hear from them. It needs to have a proper deep clean, not just a tittle round the edges, as my mum would say. Sweeping stuff under the carpet may give a superficial impression of everything being clean and tidy but when the dog drags out that sticky condom from under your bed – or Michael Rasmussen outs Ryder Hesjedal as an EPO user – not doing a proper job has a way of turning up embarrassing secrets.
Time for Brian Cookson to prove he is genuinely the ‘new broom’ he was elected UCI President to be. Curious, then, that he his independent commission will seek only the truth about cycling’s troubled past. It will not, it seems, seek to reconcile that past with the sport’s present and future. Truth without reconciliation is like Laurel without Hardy and what does it leave us with? A whole load of inconvenient truth sloshing around with no clear resolution. A period of amnesty incentivises confession. A truth commission without reconciliation or amnesty is no invitation to break the omerta that continues to lock down the sport. Cycling doesn’t need a new broom so much as JCB to shovel the shit. It surely doesn’t need another tittler around the edges.
Of course we don’t yet know the terms of the Truth Commission but shining a harsh light on the sport’s dirty little secrets demands strong, firm leadership. Will Cookson’s much vaunted ‘collegiate’ approach prove the best way to deal with what the commission turns up? And there’s one last potential spanner in the works – on the day Cookson was elected UCI President, he ordered representatives from corporate investigators Kroll to swoop on the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland and secure data files and hard drives. In the process they seized McQuaid’s laptop. Who knows what those hard drives will turn up? The Hesjedal revelations have already raised questions about the probity of the Garmin team – what if the UCI hard drives turn up evidence that ‘good guys’ are just as bad as the ‘bad’ guys? All these known and unknown unknowns are positively Roveian in their potential complexity. But then it’s still shocking to me that so many apparently knowledgeable people were ‘shocked’ by the USADA reasoned decision.
And this has what exactly to do with Armstrong? This: if we accept that cycling is hanging in the last chance saloon toying with the final dregs in its shot glass then it needs every single alcoholic to finally turn militant 12 stepper or get out of the game once and for all. Rasmussen’s total lack of remorse is refreshing and I’ll take it every time over Armstrong’s mealy mouthed, half arsed version of his ‘truth’ but – and it’s a big ‘un – the sport needs its biggest bad boy to man up and finally confirm the truth revealed in the USADA reasoned decision. Why? Because the sport desperately needs some credibility. Because the truth will set us all free. Because without Armstrong – much as we all like to pretend he’s now an irrelevance – any truth commission is just a bunch of moaning ex-dopers that can be as easily dismissed as Armstrong’s detractors once were.
The self pity and the loss of his fortune might motivate Armstrong’s new found contrition but he must stand up and atone for the mess that he has helped to create and has become – whether he likes it or not, whether it’s fair or not – the poster boy for. Maybe even the uber bully still has enough lingering respect for the sport that he will finally be compelled to tell the 100% truth he keeps promising us. Me, I won’t be holding my breath. I’m glad Emma O’Reilly has finally found closure and a proper apology for the years of intimidation and abuse from a man who once called her the heart of his team. I hope Betsy Andreu finally tells her story. I have more respect for the wit, intelligence and honesty of those two women than I could ever muster for a man who will denounce the UCI because they ‘threw him under the bus’. Poor Lance, my heart doesn’t bleed at all. Karma, as they say, is a bitch.
Bottom line: if the once much vaunted political career is to get back on track, the appearance of genuine contrition sells. And lord knows there can’t be much more dirt that any political opponent can dig on him. A reduced ban will give him the opportunity to literally get back in the game and rebuild a legend based on all the tough PR lessons he’s recently had to learn. Will he get as far as the White House? Who knows – but a cancer survivor who can seize control of such a powerful narrative has to have high voter appeal. Do I want to see Armstrong in the White House? No thanks – once an overachieving alpha male always an overachieving alpha male. The world needs fewer ‘skill boys’ with their overweening arrogance and a hefty dose of charm. Professional cycling could certainly use more of the latter than the former.
So, Lance, in case you care – I’m over you. I won’t be taking you up on the offer of a chat or replying to your stalky DMs. I want my cycling new, cleaner and brighter. I want it free of the Bruyneels and the Ibargurens and the Leinders, the personnel purged by Sky in their ‘zero tolerance 2.0’, the sleaze and the silence and the synthesised substances. I want a minimum weight for riders and a proper probationary period for riders returning from a suspension. I want proper mental health support for vulnerable riders and proper education for young riders. I want world tour membership to be conditional on teams funding a women’s team. I want proper parity between the men’s and women’s sport. I want to believe what I see beyond a reasonable doubt but I want the sport to prove to me that I can trust it. I want romance and grand exploits and a whole shedload of other reasonable and unreasonable and conflicting things from the sport that I love.
I want a lot of things – I’m needy and greedy and demanding like that – but you know what I don’t want Lance? I don’t want you.