As we watch the remaining 179 riders amble across the lavender fields of central France, I see an epic race struggling to deal with a reputation tattered by decades of doping and subterfuge. Since the height of doping in professional cycling earlier this decade, Tour de France organizers and the International Cycling Union have toiled tirelessly to rid the sport of those who choose to cheat the system and undermine the sport’s integrity.
Cycling is a beautiful sport. Pushing the limits of the human body – pedal stroke after pedal stroke – is exhilarating, self-affirming, and accessible to anyone, novice or pro. The professional sport is also a wonder to view as a spectator. A veritable team sport, the fabled maillot jaune is only achievable with the right combination of raw individual talent and a strong, smart supporting cast. Les domestiques are riders who relinquish their personal chances of victory every single stage to ensure that the team’s lead rider conserves the energy needed to scale mountains and reach the top step of the podium on the Champs Elysees in Paris. The science of aerodynamics and clever tactics make watching Le Tour a true marvel.
Beyond the beauty of this historic race, over the past few years, cycling garnered a new significance as an endeavor that inspires those afflicted with cancer throughout the world. Originating from his own personal battle with the virulent disease, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong launched the LIVESTRONG campaign in 2003-04, using his worldwide celebrity status to raise awareness and financial support for cancer programs. In 2009, LIVESTRONG convened a massive global summit with more than 500 world leaders, corporations, non-governmental organizations and advocates to formulate strategies to fight the disease. Armstrong’s story and presence as a sporting giant continue to inspire people and their families fighting cancer each and every day.
Mixing the powerful plot of inspiration and darker storyline of doping worries me. I count myself among those who derive energy from Mr. Armstrong. Losing three grandparents and my mother to cancer, as well as supporting my father through his recovery from leukemia, his superhuman status powered me through many a dark time.
So as we enter the final week of this magnificent journey through France, I continue to see stories alleging a connection between the clean image of Armstrong’s raw power and the dark, cowardly shadows of doping. As an attorney, I am trained to seek the truth in the interest of justice. That said, I worry as to what we’ll find, if anything at all, and what damage will be done in an extensive public search of the global giant. This is the one case where I hope every consideration is given to preserving reputation. This isn’t Marion Jones, Ben Johnson, Floyd Landis, or Tyler Hamilton. Lance’s reputation transcends athletics.
When following the story, just think about the millions who LIVESTRONG when the going gets rough and look to Lance for a spark to crank the pedals over once more.