How the peloton pulled me in
A few years ago, as my husband was watching sports on TV (insert eye roll), I heard the announcers using a word I didn’t know.
“What is that word, Mike?” I asked him. “What are they talking about?”
“Peloton, Ape. It’s when a large group of riders stays together in cycling.”
“I’ve never heard that word before,” I admitted as I scooted in next to him on the couch. “I like that word. Peloton. Cool! I learned a new word today.”
And that was the beginning of my love affair with the Tour de France. From that moment, I was hooked. At that time in 2009, I was employed by a West Virginia school district, so I didn’t work during most of the summer. I could hang out all morning and play with Elliot while catching as much of the Tour as possible.
Also during that Tour, Lance Armstrong was making a comeback at the age of 37. Riding for Team Astana, he set out to raise awareness for his LIVESTRONG baby and cancer research.
When the Tour is on TV, the ticker on the bottom of the screen continuously shows viewers where the leaders – the wearers of the yellow, green, white and polka-dot jerseys – are in the pack. That year, there was also a Lance Armstrong jersey constantly scrolling across the ticker; this ensured that everyone knew where the once seven-time golden boy stood for that particular stage.
I had never been a Lance Armstrong fan, per se. Of course, I had heard about his record-breaking, superhuman feat of winning the Tour seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, but I never watched cycling during the Lance era. So I did think it was kind of neat to see him in his element, although I always wished I’d watched him conquer the cycling world in his heyday.
During post-race interviews, he always seemed a bit smug and arrogant. But smart. He was a cycling tactician. He demonstrated that, while physical strength and endurance are, of course, of utmost importance, mental prowess and toughness are not far behind.
Armstrong finished third that year. The man who won, Astana teammate Alberto Contador, went on to win again in 2010, only to have that yellow jersey stripped away after being found guilty of doping.
Ah, doping. It has plagued the sport of cycling for decades. And thanks to guys like Armstrong and Contador and many others, it always will. When I first heard in October that the United States Anti-Doping Agency was stripping Armstrong of all seven of his Tour victories, I was sad, I admit it. I never wanted it to be true that he cheated.
It was widely publicized that Armstrong was going to finally admit to the doping allegations last night in the first part of his interview with Oprah. Even though I knew what he was going to say when she asked about doping, EPO, blood transfusions and testosterone, it still stung to hear him answer “yes” to all of them.
Then came the “no.” Oprah asked Armstrong if he had not doped, would it have been possible to win those seven consecutive Tours? His answer was, “Not in my opinion.”
There it was. The whole thing was a fraud. I started wondering, “Could he have won one Tour? Two? Three?” We will never know.
One of the things I found most appalling about the whole Armstrong case was his brazen, often rude, denial of doping. It went on for years. So why now? Why come clean?
Armstrong couldn’t keep up with the fantasy anymore. Obviously, he wanted to believe it more than anyone. Cancer survivor beats all the odds and wins the Tour de France seven consecutive times, then uses his frozen sperm to make beautiful babies and have the perfect life. During the Oprah interview, Armstrong referred to his perceived life as “mythical.”
Everyone loves a heart-warming story. You want proof? Practically the entire country believed the Manti Te’o hoax. In my opinion, that saga began as the result of lazy journalism. Armstrong’s story is obviously very different.
Was Armstrong still a superior athlete? Of course. He still is.
And, come June, I will still love the Tour. It will be the 100th Tour, by the way. But I will watch knowing that no one will ever win again without being heavily scrutinized.
Originally published on ovparent.com.