Lance Armstrong And The Tour de Farce

Right around the time Felix Baumgartner jumped from space, a better known individual fell from a greater height without a parachute. Cancer survival and noble charity work notwithstanding, Lance Armstrong, who called the Tour de France "a contest in purposeless suffering" in his autobiography, 'It's Not About the Bike', subjected his admirers to something similar as he landed with a thud that finally broke the hypnotic spell under which his fans operated all these years, and the saddest part of this entire exercise seems to be the fact that after waking up, we do seem to remember everything.

That he systematically doped (and the USADA report, which reads like a John le Carre novel, establishes that, irrevocably) doesn't just take away the facts of his achievements, but more importantly, it takes away the fiction. There is a fundamental difference between Tour de France and other racing events, say, Formula 1. The most famous and inspirational moments of F1 occur on the podium, those of the Tour occur during the climb of the Ventoux, since the point of something as grueling as cycling for over 2000 miles is the implacability of the event. A medallion at the end of it dissolves into bleak irrelevance; the only truth lies in the trust during the ride. The veins on the neck of the rider stand out as a single vein of impressive earnestness. That is why fans stand so close to the riders passing by; to see the obvious pain on their faces and to try and relate their own naive-seeming problems of life and livelihood to the bigger picture of human will and endurance. Fiction/Inspiration. That is now safely dead, along with the humanity of the event; and what we are left with is a bunch of insecure man-machines injecting their bodies with stimulants to collectively fool everyone who love and admire them, by racing on specially designed cycles along picturesque landscapes, towards the finishing line. It is still an extremely difficult sport, but so is bike racing, if you replace EPO with petrol.  It doesn’t matter to what degree a stimulant improves your performance, what matters is that we thought we knew what the body could do in the absence of it, and what matters even more is that now we probably never will. You know a sport is over when all that remain are technicalities and equipment. Nobody cares about Federer’s racquet or Bolt’s shoes. And yet we learn that for more than a decade, we cared about mere equipment; for that is exactly what Armstrong and his team-mates treated their own bodies as; with utter disregard to everything they said they stood for and we fell for.

A sport that exemplifies differential human strength stands nullified if said differential is non-human in nature. Lance Armstrong was being only partly honest when he said that it wasn't about the bike; since now we know, it wasn't about the 'thing' riding it either.