We are all Armstrong’s domestiques

Editor’s note: Today’s edition of “Friday Funnies” was written Oct. 12 for the November 2012 issue of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

EPO all in my veins
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Acton’ funny, but I don’t know why
‘Scuse me while I pass this guy.

— from the affidavit of Dave Zabriskie, recounting how he serenaded Johan Bruyneel on the U.S. Postal Service bus in 2002

The parting glass

A fine wine turned to vinegar.

I’VE OFTEN JOKED that in helping to cover professional bicycle racing I was aiding and abetting a felony.

Well, whaddaya know? Turns out I wasn’t joking after all.

The revelations from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation of Lance Armstrong will be ancient history by the time you read this. Indeed, they were mostly off the front pages in less than two days, swept aside by Smokin’ Joe Biden flooring Paul “Lyin’” Ryan in their vice-presidential punch-up, the European Union winning the Nobel Peace Prize and rumors of a sexy new iPad mini on the horizon.

Ho-hum. Just another rich white guy getting away with something. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along; move along.

In the cycling media, however, it was all Lance, all the time. Nothing new there, either. Whether he was winning a Tour de France, berating an Austin doorman or boinking an Olsen twin, Armstrong was always good for the bottom line. Chamois-sniffers and haters alike dove headlong into every story and then went to war in the comments. Making money off Lance Armstrong was easier than stealing from the collection plate at a church for the blind.

STEP RIGHT UP! The cycling media were not the only beneficiaries of the fabled “Lance Armstrong effect,” of course. Pretty much everyone reading this magazine got a taste, from manufacturers to distributors to retailers, as the rubes flocked to our big yellow tent, wallets in hand.

In the United States he was the only cyclist the average Joe could name, and name him Joe did. Kids jeered “Hey, Lance Armstrong!” at anyone cycling in Lycra while their parents wrote letters to the editor assailing “Lance Armstrong wannabes” impeding auto traffic on the nation’s streets.

But when it came to the man himself, nobody took that name in vain. He didn’t even need the whole handle—when you said “Lance,” everyone knew of whom you spoke. This wasn’t some shaven-legged sissy on a child’s toy, taking up valuable turf intended for automobiles. This was the American dream come to life—a hard-ass Horatio Alger hero who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to put the wood to the Frogs in their own pond, pal around with musicians and movie stars, and beat cancer to a pulp with one oversized brass ball.

THE INCREDIBLE LYCRAMAN! It was one hell of a story, and far too good to be true, as the voluminous USADA report demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt.

But back in the day it was the only story the marks were buying. And though doubters arose one by one, the legend managed to stay a few switchbacks ahead of reality, in part because The Boss was ruthless about using his lawyers to crush the heretics, the way he once used his teammates to crush the peloton, and in part because people simply wanted to believe.

You can sell anything to a true believer. Just ask Stan Lee, who built an empire peddling incredible tales of flawed men in tights somehow emerging triumphant over evil. And sell it Armstrong did, with our help, until the product was long past its expiration date. None of us should feign astonishment at the stench now that the lid has finally been pried off.

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT. As usual, the messengers in this case are taking a beating. And I’ll agree, it’s tempting (you should pardon the expression) to go postal on Armstrong’s teammates for taking their sweet time about coming forward. But I think it’s a temptation best resisted.

To be sure, they profited from the deception. And to some degree they seem to have had a bit of fun playing their dirty little game, bullshitting the press, outwitting the dope cops, and improvising songs about drug use set to the tune of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”

But since they were led to believe that The Boss had the UCI in his pocket—and had with their own eyes seen him roll away unscathed from a federal grand jury, thanks to the U.S. Attorney’s Office—it’s not hard to understand why they kept their trembling lips zipped. This was a course of action recommended by the yellow jersey himself to Filippo Simeoni after he chased the Italian down in the 2004 Tour to threaten him with annihilation for testifying against the infamous drug-peddling doctor Michele Ferrari.

And in any case, we were all Lance Armstrong’s domestiques in what has at long last been revealed to be a grand Tour de Farce. So if the podium has a rank whiff of a Dumpster full of used syringes, empty blood bags and extra-virgin testosterone oil, well, breathe deeply, my friends. We’ve earned it.

That’s not garbage you smell. That’s money.

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11 Responses to “We are all Armstrong’s domestiques”

  1. Jeff Cozad Says:

    Those wacky Brits…


  2. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    The BigTex effect was interesting and in my opinion not very good overall. Sure, it brought a lot of new folks to the sport, but for me the a__hole factor was demonstrated. I’m sure some smart guy can explain this effect with real data, but my theory is –

    “If you double the number of participants in some activity (like cycling for example) the number of a__holes involved does not double – it goes up by a factor of 10.”

    Fans of Greg LeMond tended to be those who embraced the European cycling culture (not the doping part) and wanted to be part of it while BigTex fans were mostly of the “kick their ass, eat their cheese” mentality. While we’ve had a few clients over the years who attributed their interest in cycling to the BigTex effect, they tended to be those not very interested in Italian cycling culture, but more of the type who simply wanted to cross the Dolomites off their “to do” list.

    So yours truly will not be missing BigTex, or his effects on the bike biz.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I was a late convert to bicycle racing, taking an interest in the Eighties, and over the years I found it instructive to compare and contrast LeMond and Old Whatsisface as athletes.

      LeMond was emotionally invested in the sport, taking great joy from victories and despairing in defeat. Old Whatsisface was a ruthless number-cruncher who could’ve been working for Bain Capital if he’d been born into the right family. Dude never looked like he enjoyed his work, because to him, that’s all it was — work.

      • C.L.H. Says:

        Okay, I’ve never been accused of being a Polyanna. I’m incredibly cynical, but I’ve seen good come from the LA myth and legend. I can’t tell you how many of my customers got off the couch and got on a bike because of that guy. Collectively, they lost hundreds of pounds and the local pharmacies were a little poorer because they were no longer dispensing high blood pressure pills, insulin, and pain medications to those cyclists. These people changed their lives by riding a bike. L.A. was the impetus. Multiply that by every bike shop across the country. They’re not going to stop riding because the myth was a lie. Oh, and I’m not taking my autographed Tyler Hamilton poster out of my office. It’s my daily reminder of the danger of being human.
        Should Lance be given a pass? Hell no. Did some good come out of it all? Hell yes.

    • brokenlinkjournalism Says:

      I am with you on this one Larry. There was a huge gap between the Lemond era and TCWSNBN era in terms of passion. Lemond had it for the sport of cycling, its culture, history and challenges. The newbie had it because it could make him famous, wealthy and a superstar. One was all about the struggle, the other about the fame.

      Maybe it was a sign of the times but it seems odd that the Old Guy had the passion during the 80s when all we seemed to care about was nuking Ruskies, making a million and driving a Beemer. Whereas the New Kid on the Old Block was all about slaying dragons, breathing fire and taking names during the 00s when we began to look inward and being empathetic. Truly a strange dichotomy.

    • khal spencer Says:

      I wonder, Larry, if the A-hole factor has more to do with the marketing of cycling to newcomers by Tex et al rather than a simple increase in numbers. Tex et al may have recruited those who just wanted to eat their cheese, so to speak. so your second hypothesis sounds more reasonable to me.

      Likewise I see more people being active in the League of American Bicyclists who are pro-bike because they are anti-car, rather than being pro bike because they love to bike. You get more stridency and bullshit that way, too, because the underlying motive is tainted by some other drive besides the love of the bike. Rather than wanting to go for a bike ride, they want to remake the world in the image of Northern Europe so we can all pedal slowly to work. Nothin wrong with northern Europe mind you, but its not an easy transplant to where I live. Pedaling slowly to work for me would be highly impractical, which is why I pedal quickly to work. Also, kind of hard to haul back the vittles and suds from Santa Fe on a bicycle.

      No good carpenter has only one tool in the box. The trouble with America is we only have a car in the transportation tool box. The trouble with the Luddites is that they simply want to trade one for one. The folks getting around NYC last week were doing it because they already had a bike to ride.

  3. Steve O Says:

    Another mea culpa:


    • larryatcycleitalia Says:

      That might be the best one yet, thanks for the link. But of course it comes not from the cycling enthusiast press, but a more general magazine, one with some demonstrated examples of the coveted and ballyhooed “journalistic integrity”. Most of the editorials on this subject from the former are way too full of excuses and BS….if they’ve shown up at all. I’m still waiting for one from the fellow who was arguably the biggest Tex cheerleader of them all….but not holding my breath.

  4. DUDE*n*DIVA Says:

    Reblogged this on DUDE*n*DIVA.

  5. Chris Says:


  6. Joe Says:

    I just found a book called “Bad Blood,” story about AMGEN and J&J. What a stunner to see that good ol’ boy Thom Wiesal was a founding partner at AMGEN. HMM.

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