“Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.”

There was a miserable and wholly predictable reaction to Tyler Hamilton’s revelations about Lance Armstrong and doping amongst the “Twateratti” last night.  It was the same dullards saying the same thing over and over again trying to outdo each other in the moral indignation stakes.  It was a baying mob and baying mobs are scary unbalanced things drunk on their own self-righteousness and as far as I could see just plain hatred.  Just so that we understand each other; Armstrong is just and ex-cyclist, right?  You’ll have to excuse my ignorance here if I misunderstood and that all your bilious outpourings were directed at a war criminal, or an international arms dealer or someone who beats cute puppies to death for a laugh.  But I didn’t get it wrong did I?  You were actually getting all upset and angry because you believe that a cyclist took drugs and won’t admit to it.  Is that really it?  Does it worry you that much? I always read Twitter because @procyclinglive keeps me updated on the racing I have miss when I’m at work.  I don’t Tweet because I’m not a sanctimonious, self-indulgent prick with a swollen, engorged sense of my self worth that I think that the whole world really wants to know what I think and feel over and over again in a 140 characters or less.

Armstrong and US Postal are under investigation and I’m happy to wait for the outcome.  I don’t pretend to know because I wasn’t there and I am not in possession of all the facts.  I’m not going to make guesses based on any personal prejudice and share it with the world because I’m not a prick.  The ongoing Federal investigation is being hijacked by a lynch mob eager to tear Armstrong limb from limb not because he may have broken the law but because they don’t like him.  Or are you actually upset because there may have been a fraudulent misuse of US taxes?  If you are, then I apologise unreservedly to you and take it all back and concede that you are truly an upstanding pillar of the community and not a desperate little grubber hiding behind a your twatter name tossing out spiteful comments for the amusement of your pointless little friends.

As a life long cycling obsessive I don’t see what I’m getting from this or how this benefits me. The only people who get anything out of this are the anti-Armstrong campaign whose dislike for the man is understandable but wholly disproportionate.  He is just an ex-cyclist after all.  He is a divisive figure and to all accounts an unpleasant bully but where is it written that he has to be likeable?

What is this irrational hatred based on?

Is it because he an unpleasant bully?  Hinault never won any popularity contests but somehow has never attracted the same level of vilification that Armstrong endures.

Is it because he may have doped?  Merckx actually tested positive three times in his career yet somehow we don’t care and we get all misty eyed and nostalgic and talk about Stage 17 of the 1969 Tour de France and that 140km lone break.  Doping has been an integral part of the sport since the end of the nineteenth century.  The sad fact is that everyone has doped.  Anquetil doped and he never hid that he took drugs and in a debate with a government minister on French television said only a fool would imagine it was possible to ride Bordeaux–Paris on just water.  He and other cyclists had to ride through “the cold, through heatwaves, in the rain and in the mountains”, and they had the right to treat themselves as they wished, he said in a television interview, before adding:  “Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.”

Coppi admitted to drug taking on national TV in Italy and regularly took “la bomba”.  If you don’t know “la bomba” is amphetamines.  If we hate Armstrong because he’s a cheat then why don’t we hate Coppi, Anquetil and Merckx as well?  Because they also took performance enhancing drugs to cheat.  What about Henri Pélissier? In 1924, Henri Pélissier and his brother Charles told the journalist Albert Londres they used strychnine, cocaine, chloroform, aspirin, “horse ointment” and other drugs.  The story was published in Le Petit Parisien under the title Les Forçats de la Route (‘The Convicts of the Road’). Pélissier died in 1935 – shall we dig up his mouldering corpse, prop him up in a chair and try it in court like the Cadaver Synod in Rome in 897?

If we are going to hate Armstrong for these reasons then we should hate all the others as well because he is no different.

Underneath that this veneer of glory and heroism professional cycling has always had a squalid, shabby and corrupt side but we have to accept that and deal with it and understand that it didn’t just start in 1999, all our heroes were dopers.  We also need some perspective and realize that we are dealing with cyclists here and not Nazi war criminals.  Let’s not forget the past but let them all rest in peace.

We need to move on.  We should be looking to the future.  We should be looking for ways to make sure that doping isn’t an option for tomorrow’s heroes.   The sport is in a mess and the fight to reform it will not be without controversy and casualties.  The demands on cyclists are too high and the rewards too low.  I think that we have to thin out the racing calendar.  We will have to look very closely at the Grand Tours – do we need three?  The current arms race among organisers to make each successive race the most stupid race yet, sorry I mean epic and spectacular, is extremely damaging.  Look at the Giro this weekend – spectacular and epic, yes.  Realistic and achievable without doping? I’m not so sure.  And be honest when was the last grand tour that kept you interested every day for three weeks?  Look at this year’s Giro, Tour and Vuelta and make a list of un-missable days – how many? 7 or 10 maybe?  So why not just have 7 to 10 un-missable days?  I think that more 7 to 10 day tours outside Europe may be more interesting and would certainly up the sport’s global appeal and reach.  The world has moved on.  We are no longer living in the days of Desgrange.  We have changed our culture has changed.  Maybe we are no longer so happy to watch men smash themselves to pieces on the roads of Europe for three weeks just to see who can suffer the most.


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