July 16, 2010
Lance Armstrong has delivered one of the most thrilling dramas in American sports history.
He conquered cancer, which left him with a heart for others wrestling with the worst thing in the world.
He vanquished cyclists all over the globe on his way to seven straight Tour de France victories.
He dated – and dumped – Sheryl Crow and Kate Hudson.
No doubt, Lance is one busy man.
Now, as his career draws to a close, we await the proper ending to the drama. This requires an answer to a troubling question:
Did Lance Armstrong, American hero, cheat his way to his astounding feats?
A federal investigation is examining doping on Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team, and Armstrong could soon receive a subpoena from his Uncle Sam.
He’s announced his reluctance to cooperate. He wonders if the investigation will turn into a “witch hunt.”
“I’ve done too many good things for too many people,” Armstrong said from France, where he’s puttering along as a mere shadow of himself. He’s done as an elite racer.
But his yesterdays aren’t going anywhere. He’s the greatest cyclist of our time or any time, and that only multiplies our desire to understand the full truth.
Armstrong is big – massive, really – but he’s not bigger than the feds. Yes, he’s done good deeds, but his virtues won’t silence the whispers that have chased him for years.
He must answer any and all questions. He must cooperate in this pursuit of the truth.
I talked with Ron Kiefel last week about Armstrong. Kiefel, who owns Wheat Ridge Cyclery in suburban Denver, competed seven times in the Tour de France.
He laughed as he recalled a long-ago introduction to a brash, obsessed rider from Texas named Lance.
“He was a young, pistol-whip kind of kid,” Kiefel said. “He was so determined, so focused.”
Kiefel did not discuss allegations against Armstrong. At this point, he chooses to celebrate Armstrong’s career.
Armstrong took preparation and dedication to a new level. He exposed the sport to millions of formerly disinterested Americans.
“Lance became a real, breathing thing for our sport,” Kiefel said.
He compared Armstrong to Michael Jordan, which is a proper, if not quite perfect, alliance.
Like Jordan, Armstrong is absurdly competitive. Like Jordan, Armstrong piled up a staggering number of titles. Like Jordan, Armstrong couldn’t resist the lure of an ill-advised comeback.
Unlike Jordan, Armstrong pedals through his life under a dark cloud of suspicion.
Maybe Floyd Landis is lying about Armstrong. Maybe the millions of Europeans, and especially the French, who suspect Armstrong, are just jealous of the American who invaded, and dominated, their sport.
I hope, along with just about every other American sports fan, that Armstrong rode a narrow, virtuous path to all his fame and riches, but there was a time in my life when I hoped the tooth fairy would place money under my pillow.
It’s time for Armstrong to give all of us the answers we need, the answers we deserve.
His Uncle Sam will ask tough questions.
And America’s greatest cyclist must answer. He has no choice.