x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lance Armstrong is left with a mountain to climb on his way to redemption

Shamed cyclist Lance Armstrong's willingness to spread blame about doping could alienate the few supporters he has left.

Lance Armstrong is back in the news.
Lance Armstrong is back in the news.

You have got to admire the man's nerve, if not his shamelessness.

"I'd like to think that there is some good in all this, but from my perspective, sitting here today, there has been nothing but damage done to the sport."

The sport is cycling, and "all this" is new revelations of doping among his rivals, dating as far back as 1998.

Lance Armstrong is back in the news.

Over the last week, Armstrong got back on his bike for the first time since his International Cycling Union's lifetime ban by taking part in the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which starts at the Missouri River in western Iowa and ends at the Mississippi River.

He also got back on his soapbox.

Like a philandering politician caught cheating, who, wife loyally by his side, promises that he has seen the light, Armstrong continues to pontificate about the best way forward for the sport he shamed, while at the same time not wasting an opportunity to spread the blame.

"As I have said, it was an unfortunate era for all of us," he told Cyclingnews. "Virtually all of us broke the rules and lied about."

Ah yes, the "other guy did it, too" excuse – does it dilute or accentuate guilt? Like many offenders before him, Armstrong would like us to believe it's the former, but it's the sheer magnitude of his achievements, and subsequent disgrace, that make his recent preaching so hard to swallow.

Armstrong's seven Tour de France titles (1999-2005) came only a year after he overcame testicular cancer, following his diagnosis in 1996.

His incredible story of human triumph transcended the sport. The world swooned and Hollywood stars fell over themselves to be seen with him. Despite a spectacular fall from grace that resulted in him being stripped of his titles and celebrity status, his infamy continues to this day.

It speaks volumes Armstrong's return to the news has even overshadowed Chris Froome's 2013 Tour de France win earlier this month.

It must be doubly upsetting for Froome and Team Sky that they have had to fend off allegations of doping throughout this year's competition, even being forced to submit analysis reports to the French media.

Froome, and last year's Tour winner Bradley Wiggins, have proven to be popular winners among cycling fanatics. Sadly, their names barely register among casual sports fans for whom cycling begins and ends with Armstrong.

Now, in attempting to tell cycling how to put its house in order, Armstrong is in danger of offending the very few supporters he has left.

Those familiar with Armstrong will not be surprised by this lack of self-awareness.

Throughout his career, he vehemently denied taking drugs, despite persistent rumours. Teammates, opponents and journalists who threatened to tell the truth were roundly bullied. Even after the game was up, Armstrong could not get himself to take full responsibility in a graceful manner.

In January, he finally came clean about in a television interview with Oprah Winfrey, admitting he had been doping since the mid-1990s.

"I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologise to people," he said. His story was "one big lie".

By then, however, even his apologies sounded insincere and contrived. Worse, he was later accused by cycling officials of lying to Oprah about the last time he had undergone a blood transfusion.

Where does Armstrong go from here?

If he is genuine about helping clean up a sport he claims to love, he could do worse than follow the example of baseball's most famous whistle-blower.

In 2005, four years after retiring from the game, Jose Canseco admitted that he had used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career; in his earth-shattering book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, he also claimed that 85 per cent of Major League Baseball players were doping.

The Cuban-American slugger was vilified for his revelations, but has since been vindicated on most fronts.

Can Armstrong be cycling's Canseco?

It is far too late for him to play the part of a fearless whistle-blower. His recent statements show that Armstrong continues to comes across as arrogant and lacking remorse. Perhaps a career in politics is a better option.

Yet who better to seek advice on drug cheats than the most calculating previous offender of all?

An attitude makeover is needed, however. It is difficult to take anything Armstrong says with anything but a big dose, if you excuse the pun, of cynicism.

Cycling finds itself in this sorry state because of his and, as he is keen to point out, other riders' unscrupulous actions.

Ridding cycling of the stigma of cheating could, ironically, be Armstrong's last shot at redemption.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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