I’ve read Lance’s book, “It’s Not About the Bike” probably 13 times. I’m a huge fan and in some ways I will always be. In no way do I think Lance should be let of the hook for what he’s done but I also don’t think he deserves the vilification he’s been receiving and here’s why:
The unfortunate truth is cycling is a very dirty sport. Have a look at this chart by the NY Times outlining the top five finishers who have doped in the Tour de France over the past decade:
In the cycling world the difference between winning and losing is separated by razor-sharp margins, not getting with the program, even if that program included doping, would have been synonymous to forfeiting the competition. This is a world where people litterally weigh their pooh and then weigh out their ration of plain pasta based on their pooh:food ratio! Every single detail matters. Lance didn't really have a choice whether or not to participate, he did was everyone else around him deemed necessary.
Too much credit is given to performance enhancement drugs, sure they are a HUGE help but it’s not like you or I could start taking EPO and suddenly be able to wake up and win a marathon without training for it. Lance didn't sit around popping pills all day long and then on race day decide to hop up on his electric bike and pedal up the alps. He's always been a fighter, an athlete to the core and worked his ass off every second he could. Listen to this early account of Lance’s training regime as a 12-year-old swimmer, “I began to ride my bike to practice, 10 miles through the semi-dark early-morning streets. I would swim 4,000 meters of laps before school and go back for another two-hour workout in the afternoon – another 6,000 meters.” 10 km in the water, plus a 42 km daily bike ride. At twelve.
Lance is a phenomenal specimen to begin with, he has recorded a VO2 max of 87, that’s more than triple the average man. This is important because naturally Lance is able to process Oxygen and feed is muscles three times more efficiently than we mere mortals ever could. My point here is Lance was never Joe Shmo to begin with but due to the era we seem to be in there would probably be no way even an un-aided superman could win the Tour.
“The truth is, if you asked me to choose between winning the Tour de France and cancer, I would choose cancer. Odd as it sounds, I would rather have the title of cancer survivor than winner of the Tour.” – It’s Not About the Bike (2000).
I think that the real blame should be put back on the USDA for letting this go so far in the first place. I don’t believe for one minute that if Lance took 500+ drug tests over the years that one of them didn’t test positive. Lance was a pawn in a much larger scheme and I hope that this scandal will help the cycling world get it's act back together.
The reason why the soft spot I have for Lance will remain is because at the end of the day he used his power for good and not evil. The man could have easily run off bought islands and started his own small country with the money he’d won but instead he worked tirelessly to develop the LIVESTRONG foundation which since it’s inception in 1997 has raised 470 million dollars and empowered millions with cancer. That's the Lance I want to remember and always will.