Two days ago Lance Armstrong announced his retirement from professional cycling, again. Talking Treads didn’t exist the first time Lance Armstrong retired from the sport of cycling. Good thing too, because if it had, you’d be reading the same post for a second time. My relationship with the idea of Lance Armstrong is complicated. During his reign as champion of the sport I only moderately cared about cycling. I worked at the Recreational Sports office on campus and, as a result, had a passing interest in all sorts of sports I’d previously had no interest in.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that I would become more seriously interested in cycling. I had been a track and cross-country runner in high school and the parallels are pretty obvious. Without getting too far into my history as a cyclist, it was in this timeframe that I got out the Giant Boulder I purchased when I graduated from the 8th grade, and started riding a little single track. It would be a few years before I bought my first road bike (an unbranded steel frame from the late ’70s with shifters on the down-tube with a top tube that measured 6 cm longer than the bike I ride today) but I always see that time working in a bike shop, talking about Le Tour and Lance Armstrong as the catalyst to my self-identification as a cyclist – a roadie to be specific.
So, my history as a cyclist feels linked to Lance. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Lance is credited for inspiring to the renaissance of road cycling in America – and, judging by the number of those ugly Radio Shack jerseys from last year I see out on the road, he still inspires people to start riding. The truth is that, at least for a time, I counted Lance as something between amazing athlete and hero. How couldn’t I? A man, a jerk maybe, but a man who survives testicular cancer and comes back to the sport of cycling and dominates one of the most grueling and difficult events in sports. How couldn’t we mortals be impressed.
It is impossible to talk about Lance without talking about doping – trust me, I’ve tried. The question of whether or not Lance doped might never be answered. Personally, I’m long past defending or accusing Armstrong. It’s not that I don’t care or need to rationalize away the likelihood that all my cycling heros have bent or broken the rules. It’s more that the accusations and positive tests for athletes like Floyd Landis have left me unwilling and unable to say, one way or another, which cyclists are cheaters. Instead, I watch to tour the same way I watched Barry Bonds break the single season home run record – interested but disconnected.
It’s not going to matter if Lance is a convicted or exonerated as cheater (or, more likely, neither) his story has already affected cycling. People like me started riding on the heels of his post-cancer domination. Some long time fans stop caring about the pro-tour as the evidence against Armstrong and other top cyclists grew.
There’s a lot of talk about what the post-Armstrong era of professional cycling in America will look like. Will the new fans stay? Will they abandon the televised races? In my mind, none of that matters. The pro-peloton will survive. The question I think is most important, is will the cyclists that are out there because of Lance – the ones in their US Postal Service jerseys and on their Trek bikes – will they take up the mantle and pass their love of riding to a new batch of cyclists?
Well, will you?