Alex Massie

Lance Armstrong: A Sceptic Writes...

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More Culture11: I've a piece arguing that no-one should be terribly happy about Lance Armstrong's decision to come out of retirement next season. Snippet:

Unlike fans in other sports, such as baseball or track and field, many cycling fans simply don't see doping as a criminal or ethical offense. In its way, then, cycling is the purest distillation of the logic behind elite sport: Super-human performance demands supra-human resources. It is the cost of doing business.

We might more profitably ask why our attitudes to drug-use have changed. Everyone has known for decades that the peloton has been a pharmacy on wheels. Until recently, this bothered few people. These days, the cycling controversies say more about society's wider drug-related hysteria than they do about the ethics and mechanics of professional cycling itself. Paradoxically, Armstrong's inability to fail a drug test exacerbates rather than alleviates this problem.

So, hate me people, I'm a Lance-sceptic. One thing I didn't mention in the piece is how Armstrong destroyed his chance of being considered the greatest cyclist of all time. Sure, he has seven Tour victories, but he never even attempted, let alone achieved, the Giro-Tour double. That remains the greatest feat any grand tour rider can aspire to achieve. Not everyone has managed it - indeed it's only been done 12 times - but all the great riders have at least ridden both races and most have won both tours, even if not always in the same year. All, that is, with the exception of Armstrong.

It's this failureĀ  - a failure of ambition, a failure of romance and a failure to honour the past - that in my view ensures Armstrong doesn't, despite everything, rank alongside Eddy Merckx (Giro-tour doubles in 1970, 72 and 74), Fausto Coppi (the first to do it, in 1949 and 52) and Bernard Hinault (1982, 85). Heck, even Miguel Indurain won a brace of Giro titles to go alongside his five victories around the Hexagon. To fail is one thing, but to not even attempt it is quite another...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietycyclingdrugs