Friday, January 18, 2013

The Very Sorry Song

Partially,  I suppose I was never expecting a voluntary admission. An involuntary admission, yes, compelled under oath when subpoenaed for Johan Bruyneel's arbitration hearing, sometime this year. And it's entirely possible that what's happened over the last two nights was prompted by a desire to get out in front of that.

It's also possible that there's some genuine regret in there, too.

The big news, of course, is Lance Armstrong admitting using banned drugs in his campaign to win the Tour de France an unprecedented seven times in a row. One one hand the news doesn't exactly surprise, since it merely confirms what we already knew from last August's USADA decision. But it's one thing to see the facts, and another entirely to see the man himself own up to them.

For myself, I don't feel as if I needed to hear an apology. And I didn't hear exactly what I wanted to hear, although to be fair, that wasn't the right venue for what I wanted to hear anyway. As I've said before, what needs to come out is exactly how it was done. He needs to supply names and detailed information to the relevant authorities, so that it can be made completely clear how he was able to evade the testing protocols for so long and so well. I think it's telling that so many of his former teammates ran afoul of drug tests after leaving his team. That's why I'm looking forward to the Bruyneel hearings, since that's where the rest of the story is liable to break: how his teams were able to subvert the testing process. That's the mojo that former Postal/Discovery riders failed to bring along to their next teams, and it showed. And that was never Lance's department.

For what it's worth, I really do think that he rode clean those last two years, 2009 and 2010. It was clear that he wasn't the same rider he was, before his first retirement. I'd chalked it up to age and being out of the saddle for three years, but lack of "juice" might have had something to do with it, too. And I think he's genuinely sorry, at least to this extent: he had to explain it to his kids. If you have kids of your own, you'll understand. There are few humiliations quite as excruciating as having to explain a failing to your own child. I can only imagine how it must have stung to explain having lived a lie for decades.

On the subject of apologies ... I owe one, to the extent that I touted the legend. I bought it, hook, line, and sinker. Later on, I began to look at it more critically, but at first I was a true believer. I failed to follow my training, and examine all the evidence. I do regret that.

All that said, I still love the sport. It's a magnificent display of human fortitude. There's nothing else quite like it. And it's all the better now, with better, more accurate tests far more diligently applied, both in and out of competition. That's the one silver lining in the storm clouds, that what we learn in the months to come will strengthen the hand of the referees against the cheaters. That will give those of us who watch an assurance that what we're seeing is real, not artificial.

It'll take time. It won't all happen at once. But the sport will be cleaner and stronger for it. And if Lance Armstrong has a road to redemption, it must lie along that path, exposing the dark secrets long hidden. Only time will tell if he has the courage to walk it.

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