Who is the Real Lance Armstrong?
The fight with his many opponents for his image, his integrity, his character would be every bit as difficult as the Tour de France, but he would win. Lance Armstrong always wins.
was eager to return to the peloton. He’d tasted victory in the Tour de France, he’d won stages in 1993 and 1996, and 1999 was his chance to wear yellow. When he stood on the Tour podium, he’d be standing up for every person who’d ever heard the words, “You have cancer.” He would show the world that it was possible to beat cancer—and also the world’s best cyclists in the sport’s most difficult race.
His superhuman abilities continued to create envy and suspicion among other riders, especially since they permitted him to win the Tour without crossing to the dark side. It was hard being so much more talented than the rest of the peleton, and it was nearly impossible to find a team of riders strong enough to support his incredible abilities without turning to illicit help. Maybe some of his lieutenants over the years had taken EPO to prepare themselves for the task of defending his jersey, but this wasn’t his sin. Honest Lance didn’t create those unfortunate realities, but he would never condone let alone encourage these doping efforts, and later, when these former teammates would confess or test positive, it would pain him to see them caught up in the doping circus.
But it didn’t feel right to condemn these lesser riders for needing illicit aid to keep pace with him. Indeed, when former pro-turned journalist Paul Kimmage asked Honest Lance why he welcomed riders like Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis back to the peloton after their drug doping bans and asked, “What is it about these dopers you seem to admire so much?” he lost his cool. Sure, a less talented rider might denounce rivals who used dope, might want to rid the sport of their kind, but Honest Lance did not need to poke his finger in their eyes. He was a strict commander of the peloton, but he was not so mean that he’d take away their sustenance. Relentless journos like Kimmage were giving the sport a black eye it did not deserve, and Honest Lance would not stand for this. Besides, Kimmage had compared him to a “cancer on the sport,” and no one compares Honest Lance to the disease that he wants more than anything else to wipe out.
“Cancer Survivor” was a vital part of Honest Lance’s identity and each time he raced his bike, he was racing for every person with cancer. He would never, ever let these fans down. He would rather lose than cheat on his way to his seven Tour wins, because if his wins were fraudulent, then so too was his hero’s tale. To win seven Tours post-cancer on nothing more than bread and water was to prove that cancer can be beaten, that survival is possible, that even when the cancer has spread to your brain you can overcome it and you can become a champion.
was piling up the Tour victories, but questions about his methods grew more intense. David Walsh, Greg LeMond, and even his former domestique Floyd Landis would point the finger accusing Lying Lance of doping. These challenges to his image infuriated him, and none more so than the ones lodged by those who had played the game and knew the rules, and now pretended they never understood.
When Lying Lance denied one doping allegation after another, he did so with a touch of truthfulness, because in those moments he truly believed he was innocent. The question was never about the drugs or blood boosting methods themselves, it was about cheating, and when Lying Lance told the media that he’d never tested positive, what he was really saying was that he’d never cheated. The thing that would be wrong, according to his rules, would be to get caught, and he was far too careful for that.
Lying Lance viewed himself as without flaw and demanded admiration from those around him. Any person who threatened this view or who dared to challenge it was quickly removed from his sphere of influence. To move in Lying Lance’s circle required a kind of hero-worship. Teammates and the string of starlets and celebrities who would fill the gap left by Lying Lance’s ex-wife were carefully selected not just for their appearance, but also for their loyalty and unquestioning adoration. At some level, Lying Lance’s closest confidants fulfilled his need to be held in the highest regard, and they helped him project a flawless image, to hide his secret methods, and to play along with the fantasy he’d carefully cultivated. As time passed, some of those in his inner circle began suspecting that, to Lying Lance, the alternate version of his life he’d created was indistinguishable from reality.