Tag Archives: armstrong

On yer bike, Mr Armstrong!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asked a couple of times if I’m going to delete a particular image from my photographic website (www.glibberyphotographs.com).

The picture in question is in my Sporting Heroes gallery. It was made in 2010 and features Lance Armstrong, taking part in his last-ever Tour de France Time Trial.

I’ve decided not to delete this image, not because I don’t want to erase Lance Armstrong from history, but because I still like it.

Lance Armstrong, Bordeaux TT 2010

The Tainted Time Triallist, Bordeaux, France, 2010

For me, it represents a moment in sporting history: the last hurrah in Europe of a man who, for many, will always be some kind of hero, if only for beating testicular cancer and returning to competitive cycling at the highest level.

Never first among equals

I hope it will also always act as a reminder of what we now know: that  – when he won his seven Tour de France titles – Armstrong may have been first but was never first among equals.

He was, as he admitted to Oprah Winfrey and some 28 million people watching worldwide, a serial cheat who’d used performance-enhancing drugs since before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Now, for me, he’s history. If he’s going to get on his bike at all, it should only be to ride off into the distance where, before too long I hope, he’ll become part of the distant past.

He was a hero once, but – as we now know – a deceitful winner of his palmarès. Shame on him for that.

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Armstrong: hindsight vs foresight

How many times have we heard it said?

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

In the case of Lance Armstrong’s doping misdeeds, we can probably say – with the benefit of hindsight – that, even from his earliest days as a competitive athlete, the Texan was so determined to win that he would do anything to come first.

We don’t know for sure, but hindsight suggests that, as a hard-riding, hard-running, swift-swimming triathlete whose thirst for victory seemingly knew no bounds, he might well have been using performance enhancing drugs for years before he became a professional cyclist.

So now, with hindsight, we can say we saw his downfall coming.

But can we, and did we?

And – if we did – would foresight have set off alarm bells so loud that even Armstrong would’ve heard them above the clamour of his adoring fans and the sound of cash registers ringing all over the world? And would he have changed his methods?

I doubt it.

For as much as Armstrong was – as others have said – a serial cheat, he was also a serial winner; a man so driven that such foresight as he might’ve had would have been scattered to the outer fringes of his peripheral vision as he focused intently on his plans for winning.

For him, the prize was everything. Nothing else was ever in sight. Over and over and over again.

Now, of course, hindsight tells us that – with foresight – he should have seen the eventual outcome long before it arrived.

But in Armstrong’s head-down, pedal-for-all-you’re-worth, win-at-any-price, the-prize-is-worth-the-pain world there was never any room for foresight.

It’s as if it was only for losers; people who, by thinking ahead, try to anticipate what might be round the next corner and take appropriate action. And then don’t win.

And that’s a shame because – with foresight – even Armstrong could’ve guessed that the discovery of his serial cheating would destroy his reputation and the exalted place he’s occupied in the only world he’s known for the last twenty years.

And, with foresight on his side, we might – even with hindsight – still be blind to his misdemeanours and see him for what he is: a very determined man.

Ultimately, neither hindsight nor foresight will come out as winners.

For hindsight has taught us nothing and we’ll learn nothing from foresight.

Perhaps Armstrong is the real winner.

After all, he was first in his time and seen to be first.

It’s only the wisdom of hindsight that’s condemned him for his lack of foresight.

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In praise of Tommy V

In all the fuss surrounding Lance Armstrong’s use of illegal performance-enhancing substances and techniques, one man’s contribution to the fascinating sport of cycling stands in danger of being overlooked.

In 2004, a young French rider – Thomas Voeckler –  brought an unexpected level of excitement to the Tour de France when, at the finish of Stage 4, he took the leader’s yellow jersey and held it until the end of Stage 14. It was an exceptional, enthralling effort, with Voeckler yielding only at his last gasp in the French Alps and having to pass the jersey to Lance Armstrong as the new race leader.

To most of us who follow the sport, Thomas was then still a comparatively unknown quantity.

Armstrong was Le Patron. He’d won the race five times and – despite Voeckler’s audacious stint in yellow – was on course for his fifth victory.

I was in France for that 2004 Tour, to watch the individual time trial up and round the 21 hairpins of the legendary L’Alpe d’Huez, and saw the excitement for myself.

I had gone to bear witness to Armstrong, but straightaway saw that Voeckler might well eclipse him.

To begin with, Thomas was young, he was French and, at a time when doping was less of an issue, he was presumed ‘clean’. Desperate for a home-grown hero to match the by-then-discredited Richard Virenque, the people of France had taken little Tommy V to their hearts and have adored him ever since.

I, too, was enchanted.

Standing at a hairpin bend on the lower slopes of L’Alpe, photographing some of the athletes as they rode by one-by-one, I waited until he came in sight and got off just one frame. He was in the coveted white jersey awarded to the youngest, highest-placed rider in the peloton. And he looked like what he was: a courageous boy in a man’s race.

The boy on the Alpe

Minutes later, Armstrong hove into view. Not wanting to miss a moment of the experience of being in what had become his commanding aura, I stood transfixed as he rode powerfully towards the hairpin, his face a mask of concentration. As he raced towards it’s apex, I darted across the bend to see him power out of the turn and up the next part of the climb.

I didn’t take his photograph, but the memory is etched on my mind.

Last year, little Tommy V captured our hearts all over again.

Seven years older, and against all the odds, he once more animated the Tour de France with his plucky riding and his never-say-die attitude.

Taking the yellow jersey at the completion of Stage 9, he held it all the way to the end of Stage 19, which – in an intriguing twist of fate – finished at the summit of L’Alpe d’Huez.

Once again he had animated the race. And yet again he had done it without a hint of doping or cheating of any other kind.

He simply rode his heart out to finish fourth when the Tour finally ended in Paris.

This year, after thrilling contests in the Pyrenees, he won the King of the Mountains competition, having won two Stages along the way.

Today, while Tommy V remains a hero at least to the French if not the rest of the world, Lance Armstrong – once acknowledged as an exceptional athlete – now looks like an exceptional cheat; the leading man at the heart of a drama described by the US Anti-Doping Agency as “the deepest, most sophisticated and successful doping programme [cycling] has ever seen”.

Voeckler may – for some – have an unpronounceable name, but Armstrong’s duplicitous behaviour begs the question: shall we ever understand the true meaning of ‘clean’?

It is, after all, an anagram of Lance.

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