As the cycling world gears up for the Tour de France start this coming Saturday, July 5th, the sport is still dusting itself off. A generation of riders were found guilty of cheating in the late nineties through mid-two thousands. One of the most well-known riders was part-time Aspen resident Lance Armstrong who is now stripped of his many wins and banned from the sport. Organizers and riders alike say the sport is far cleaner now. Armstrong and two other former pro cyclists took some time to look back on the choices they made, and what comes next.
Armstrong and two other former pro riders appeared on the Rocky Mountain PBS program, Colorado Quarterly, last Friday, June 27th. When it came down to it, Armstrong said he didn’t think a federal, highly detailed investigation into cycling’s dirty laundry was a good idea. He spoke by phone from Aspen.
“I can look at what it’s done to our sport, I can look at how teams and sponsors are fleeing, events are folding, participation is down…”
And he adds the ripple effect can be seen in the cancer charity Armstrong started, the Livestrong Foundation…
“And again, it all stems from the choices I made, but this was not, with all due respect, this was not an effort to clean up cycling.”
The US Anti-Doping Agency conducted the investigation, and released a report in 2012 lambasting Armstrong’s earlier team, the US Postal Service, for having a highly organized doping program. Armstrong pointed out that doping in various forms has been well known in cycling through the years. Echoing similar previous statements, he described his decision to dope this way.
“You know it’s been dissected a million times over in a million different ways, and it wasn’t pretty. I’m not proud of it, but it was what it was.”
Former professional rider Scott Mercier also spoke on last week’s PBS program. He’s often described as a hero of that era, because he chose to quit competing rather than dope.
“The doping at that time was institutionalized. There was doping on US Postal Service in 1997, Lance Armstrong was not on that team. So I didn’t look at it as cheating, per se, it was against the rules, but no test for it. But there was no getting around that you were going to be a liar.”
That and other reasons prompted Mercier to end his pro career. Instead he decided to try his hand at other things, eventually restaurant and financial work. Armstrong says he didn’t have those options.
“You know my life and my situation was quite frankly just different. I mean I didn’t have that to rely on and we all looked at each other and we thought you know what, screw this. We’re going to dig in and play the game it’s being played, and fight.”
Mercier belives, in the long run, he and Armstrong both suffered-- one in tremendous public disgrace, the other in never knowing his full potential.
A younger former pro cyclist, Ian MacGregor, explained during the panel how his experience was very different about ten years later.
“It’s very important that everyone understands that I didn’t make a choice. I can’t stand here and say that I made a conscious decision not to take performance enhancing drugs, because of the reality of my situation was the first year that I raced as a professional was in 2005, and I was lucky enough to be supported by a group of people and by a sponsor who were trying to change what the mainstream didn’t yet understand.”
The conversation ended on the topic of friendship. Once famously cold to people who had crossed him, Armstrong said he now spends more energy on those bonds… and having a less hectic schedule helps.
Editor's note: Thanks to Rocky Mountain PBS for sharing their interview with Lance Armstrong, Scott Mercier and Ian MacGregor. You can watch the television version of their interview by clicking here.