I took drugs to win medals…
Is that all?
I took drugs to win medals says top athlete… not Lance though. Having had to witness the decimation of a sporting hero in a tasteless and unethical parody of justice - the nanny state, gossip, tale telling, verdict without trial, it’s almost impossible not to reflect upon symbolic demise of the ‘world’s largest “democracy”’. We now know that everything about Lance is evil, but in this myriad of hatred, anger and disappointment, can we single out the worst of the worst?
I think we can, and sadly we need look no further than the skinny ankles of Bradley Wiggins to see it. Black socks. Black socks that come halfway up the calf muscle. This tastelessness has gone unremarked in the world wide press, and yet, we, as cyclists, know that there can be no worse legacy to cycling - sport of the resilient and flawed hero - battling their demons, overcoming pain, mountains, cobbles, inspiring teammates, rivals and fans, all swept away by a fashion faux pas, and the secret jab of a needle.
What other evil can we uncover from this era of our sport, the sport, the reflection of all the aspects of life, the sport in which we are personally involved, not standing on the edge shouting, but out on the roads, riding? Starting with socks, what other irreparable damage has Lance done?
Let me take you back to the post Indurain era - the vacuum of cycling superheroes. The UCI bans the Pinarello monster TT bikes, non traditional cycling nations are to be kept outside - we don’t want Obree’s maverick innovation, we don’t want Americans winning European races, we want the mystery of the riders from behind the Iron Curtain. Black shorts, trade tops, Spanish teams combining to prevent a British winner of the Vuelta (well some things never change!).
Into this vacuum steps Lance. Working around the UCI, in a good way! Producing stunning TT performances on a Trek badged Litespeed Blade. Changing the seams on his clothing to make it more aero. Testing in the wind tunnel. Riding bikes from an American manufacturer, bikes which anyone can buy or ride, not just paint job imitations. Focusing on the small, incremental, marginal improvements to get the best performance. Opening the world to sports brands and culture, beyond the limited scope of cycling. Opening cycling to the larger world of big company, big budget sponsorship. Super teams, towing the bunch through the Alps. Domination through attention to detail.
Without Lance there are no ‘marginal gains’, no Dave Brailsford, no Team Sky, no Trek (or any other bike brand that has gone global - Specialized, Cannondale), no super teams, no aero TT bikes, no Rapha, no British cycling revolution. The Lance era is also the era of British hero Chris Boardman, the era that Mario Cipollini revolutionised - matching shorts with jerseys, changing designs for different races, Valentino Rossi-esque panache. An era where technology and cycling led the sporting world, an era which gave birth to this era that we enjoy. Scientific training - psychological preparation - Wiggins, Cavendish - without our history there is none of this.
Next time you head out on your carbon pro bike, with aero wheels, technical clothing, energy drink, and black socks, think of Lance, it’s not so easy to airbrush him out. Did he cheat other riders out of results, as much as he inspired other riders to greater achievements.
For more on Lance’s legacy see Pez Cycling.