Yes, I know he cheated.
Yes, I know he lied.
But it’s not about the bike, like he said.
In late 2000, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She died in August of 2002. Shortly after her diagnosis, Michael bought her Lance’s first book, “It’s not about the Bike.” I had heard of Lance, but didn’t follow cycling. I decided to read it.
My socks were officially blown off. I was astounded by his recovery, his attitude, his return to professional cycling and the hope he was spreading among the cancer community and beyond. He was an American hero if I ever saw one.
But as it often happens when someone is placed so high on a pedestal, he fell from grace.
And still, I love him.
I don’t really care that he won seven Tours de France. Yes, that’s pretty amazing and yes, he did it all while on performance enhancing substances of one kind or another. But that’s not why I love him.
I love him because he’s human. We all make mistakes and at very long last, he owned them. I had wished that his story was clean, that he was clean, that he was above the fray. But he was not. It’s disappointing. But I don’t need him to be my hero.
I love him for giving me the love of cycling. It’s July. For those who follow cycling, they know that this is TdF month. Since reading Lance’s first book, I’ve been a follower. That’s putting it lightly. I went to France to see his 7th win on the Champs Elysee. I literally hopped up and down in my living room with Michael when he made Comeback 2.0. I then went to California to watch his return to the sport in the Tour of California. Once he retired a second time, I continued to attend the Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado and be glued to the TV and magazines for all the major tours, spring classics and cycling news.
But what I really love Lance for is reminding me to not blow my second chance. He was given a major second shot. He did some amazing things on the bike with that. He also deceived his friends, teammates, competitors, the media and the cycling world at large.
I am baffled by what he put his body through — voluntarily! When diagnosed with cancer, he was given a 1% chance of survival. He did it. And how! Seven Tours, an international foundation, a sea of yellow bands reminding us to “Live Strong.” But once he was back in full swing, he doped. He lied. And the he lied some more.
I think what’s been difficult for me during the time since he fessed up is that I’ve wanted to dismiss him entirely as a cheat and a liar. He did both of those things — on a grand scale. His actions caused others to lose careers. Lots of bad things. But I think it’s wrong to judge a person based on one thing. He is a liar and a cheat. But he’s more than that, as a human being.
He did lots of good things. I have spent time mentally wading through my thoughts and feelings on him. In the end, I am glad that he taught me about cycling. If you’ve read “It’s not about the Bike” then you know that it was about his cancer treatment as much as it was teaching non-cyclists like me to love the sport.
I learned words like peloton, domestique, director sportif, musette. I learned about places like Col du Glandon, Super Besse and L’Alpe d’Huez. I understood how the sport works. I learned about slipstreams and taking turns pulling. I learned to love the time trial and appreciate the athleticism of these men on bikes. I learned about saddle sores and life-ending crashes. I learned about the Big Mig, Eddie Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault. I learned that cycling was a gentlemanly sport, with lots of unwritten rules of etiquette. The list goes on. I love cycling. I am disappointed when the tour ends. I miss hearing Phil and Paul and Bobke.
I love watching careers of cyclists. I was devastated to learn that Ivan Basso had cancer only to flip it on this year and learn that he is the DS for a major team in the peloton.
No one can take my love of cycling away, not even the man who lied and cheated his way to the top of the sport. I idealized him. I think a lot of us did. He was a role model and he blew it.
Still, a very valuable lesson to be learned there. Don’t blow your second chances. Or even your firsts, if you can help it. I don’t need him to be my hero, I’ll be my own.
Allez, allez, allez!