It's a well known fact that i love cycling. I like my bike. I spin at classes 4 nights of the week. I catch every race on tv and am making my way to the new Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in November to see my first live track cycling race event and i simply cannot contain my excitement for that.
It was back in the very late 90's I heard of this guy called Lance Armstrong who'd survived cancer and was riding in the Tour de France. Back then coverage was sketchy and on channel 4. I dipped in and out. The next year (2000) I watched some more on tv. Highlights. He won again. Then we started to hear the remarkable story. He'd had cancer, was fighting for his life and then this. I was hooked on cycling.
As the years went on the books came out. It's Not About The Bike being the first one. I got it for Christmas. I was hooked. Read it in record time (for me), couldn't wait to read the second one. The story was so moving, sad, uplifting and above all really inspiring. He was my hero.
I followed all the news stories his continuing, seemingly miraculous cancer recovery. Heck, it was all i could do to get my hands of some of those yellow Livestrong bands. I duly fired up the Livestrong website purchased 10 kids and 10 adults sized yellow bands and a t shirt and waited on them being delivered. I'd be in the cool club (before the bands were really mainstream in this country) and I was helping raise money to the charity too.
Year on year Lance kept upping his game. Year on year he seemed to win the Tour de France with such strength and steely determination, i loved this guy!
Then there were the rumours that appeared each year on the tour. A few trickily named european cyclists would be banned. The others would condemn them publicly, who knows what was going on privately.
I'd sit and watch (nightly highlights on ITV3 by now) and the US Postal train would just keep going. Fired up. All with one mission in mind. Get Lance that yellow jersey before the 8 or so laps of the Champs Elysees on the final day of the Tour de France. And that they would do. Supreme in the team time trials they were...
2005 the team turned into the Discovery Channel team (I never liked that jersey by the way) and still I'd be excited at the prospects of another Lance win, surely not? He seemed to fight hard battles in the high mountain stages with main opponents such as Jan Ulrich (where is he now?) and Alexandre Vinokourov. But I remember one day up the side of some hard to spell mountain he stared Iban Mayo down and passed him with apparent ease. Next minute his handlebars are caught by the string handle of a spectators bag and he's on the ground. Quick as a flash he's back up on the bike and off again. My memory can't recall for definite if he won that stage but i think perhaps he did.
I loved this show of athleticism. Of courage beyond anything i've ever seen before. Above all, of hope that here was someone who'd survived cancer winning year upon year arguable the hardest bike race in the world.
Then he retired. I was devastated. Then he came back. I was nervous. What if he wasn't up to it? What if he didn't win? What an actual red neck that would be. 2009 saw him race for Astana. Johan Bruyneel ever present by his side (in the team car). Alberto Contador was his team mate (I don't like him by the way). Alberto can dance his way up the side of a hill. He won that year.
2010 saw Team Radioshack appear with Lance at the helm again. It wasn't to be his year again and soon he announced another retirement, for good this time. It was time. The rumour mill still kept going, of doping allegations. Contador had ate some dodgy beef before a race, aye right! David Millar was back after serving his ban, good lad. And several others were failing pee tests all over the ship.
Current day. Yesterday. The day I lost a hero. I mean, i wanted to believe for so long that somehow they'd gotten it wrong. Who do you believe? When there's a stack of 'evidence' that lots of people have opinions on then there's no arguing against is, is there? I don't know, because honestly I can't bring myself to read it. I want to believe it's not true. Deep down (I think) I know it's probably all true. Let's face it, there's was millions of pounds being spent in this guy through sponsorships endorsements and other such business deals.
I feel duped. Like my usual self i have been naive again. I mean in the grand scheme of things he doesn't know me from Adam but you know, it still grates. Hurts even. Is that the right thing? Yes, I think it is. I feel hurt and a little angry but I think i still like him. I'm not going to apologise for that. There really is no excuse for cheating in any way, be it at sport, at work or in relationships. There's no excuse. However, I still wear my yellow band (have done for many many years now) and I still have a cool abstract painting of Lance hanging on my wall. It won't be removed. What can I say...
Lance, i have no words, just hurt.
I'm on the lookout for a new hero. Maybe you fit the bill?