Nathan's column: Time to face a harsh reality
When you spend a lot of time on a bicycle, people tend to expect you to have a certain affinity for Lance Armstrong. At least, that's what I gather based on the number of people over the years who have yelled "Way to go, Lance!" or "Nice one, Lance!" or "Get out of the road, stupidface!" as I ride past their yard or their car.
OK, they maybe don't say stupidface, but the rest of it is pretty accurate.
Mostly, of course, this connection the non-biking public makes between the average wearer of spandex and the country's most famous drug user (sorry, Charlie Sheen) is because Lance Armstrong is the only professional bike racer most Americans can identify. Ask most people to name famous cyclist and their list will probably include, in some order, Lance Armstrong and Pee Wee Herman. Maybe Kevin Bacon as a bike messenger in Quicksilver. But that's about it.
The truth is, though, I've never been a big fan of Armstrong. I cheered for him to win the Tour de France because, well, he was the favorite. And because, what, I'm supposed to cheer for the German? I didn't ride my bike more because of him, though. I never wore the jerseys of his teams. I never put one of his yellow rubber bracelets on my wrist.
Actually, if we're going to get upset with Lance Armstrong about something, I'd rather it be popularizing that rubber fundraising wristwear than his history of using performance enhancing drugs.
That won't happen, of course. Not now that Armstrong's sort-of confession last week puts him into the most scandalous sports story of the year that doesn't involve an football players looking for love with imaginary women.
I still don't much care, but mostly because I was pretty sure years ago that Armstrong was cheating. Because nearly all of Armstrong's closest competitors in those seven Tour wins have admitted using performance-enhancing drugs. Because that's the way things were in those days. Because, I mean, of course he did.
Also, I'm pretty sure he grew a tail at some point. It's hard to hide those kinds of things in bike shorts.
The most entertaining part of this confession saga has been the reactions of people who, despite all French Alp-size piles of evidence, continued to believe.These are presumably the same people who continued to believe Mark Maguire and Sammy Sosa were clean long after they started routinely bursting their jerseys at the seams, Hulk-like, after home runs.
Buzz Bissinger, who as the author of Friday Night Lights knows a little bit about a win-at-all-costs mentality, wrote in an August Newsweek cover story -- as evidence against Armstrong really started to pour in and the man himself announced he would no longer fight the charges -- that he still believed. He told MSNBC last week the column "really shot my credibility."
Just wait until people find out he still puts out milk and cookies for Santa.
ESPN columnist Rick Riley got all worked up when Armstrong's confession was announced over a brief apology email the rider had sent him. He was angry, it appeared, because he had continued to believe and defend Armstrong. He was shocked that someone who had spent decades lying to everyone else would dare lie to him as well.
In essence, his argument is, "Dude, I thought we were friends!"
Professional bike racing will continue without Armstrong. There are a lot of talented young riders, many of them American, who have good things ahead of them. There appears to be a legitimate interest in making sure people follow the rules.
I don't know what it all means for me. Maybe fewer people will call me Lance on the road. I'm not sure that's a good thing, though. Sarcastic or not, it's probably better than, "Hey, Pee Wee!"