Edited Version

Published May 24, 2011

By Twain Mein, Special to Yahoo! Sports

 

Taking a mountain bike ride with Lance Armstrong 13 years ago was unforgettable for me, and the most recent doping allegations against him have brought back a flood of memories as well as conflicted emotions.

 

I began competing in triathlons in 1987, the same year that 16-year-old Lance Armstrong became a pro on the triathlon circuit. Here's something I can take to the grave: I beat his run split at the 1988 Bud Light Championship at Hilton Head. My 10K split was 38:41 and his was 42:31. He did, however, beat me soundly with a 1:59 total time, 11 minutes faster than mine. Armstrong finished 65th and I was 370th.  

 

Years later, I learned that Lance once trained with a friend of mine while living in Austin , Tex. Lance, only 17, followed my friend to Palo Alto, Calif., to crash on the couch and train. By then, Lance had become a superior athlete. He went pro as a cyclist in 1992 and a year later won the UCI World Championship. In 1995, he won a stage in the Tour de France. But in late 1996, at age 25, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He completed an astounding recovery, and by 1998 was making a cycling comeback.

 

Yahoo! was a sponsor of the U.S. Postal Team that year, and a handful of employees were offered an opportunity to ride mountain bikes with Lance and his team on Mount Tamalpais just north of San Francisco. I remember the day clearly; we were getting ready to ride and Lance drove up and parked next to us. I was too star-struck to say anything while Lance prepared his equipment, but another testicular cancer survivor pedaled up and thanked him.

 

We were joined on the ride by other U.S. Postal stars, including George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton. Although we were too intimidated to talk to Lance, George and Tyler approached us at lunch after the ride, shook our hands and chatted. I remember Tyler addressing my friend Derrill as “Sir.” Tyler ’s sincerity and friendly demeanor, coupled with his gritty fourth-place finish at the Tour de France in 2003 while riding with a broken collarbone, have made his fall from grace difficult for me to reconcile.

 

Doping allegations

Lance is alleged to have taken EPO in 1999, when he won his first Tour. Do I think Lance took EPO or other performance-enhancing drugs? You bet. As a tri-athlete in the late ‘80s and a professional cyclist in the ‘90s, Lance was a poor kid with a gift, willing to do anything to win. The pro cycling field had been infamous for PEDs for decades, and it was likely the norm to use them. As a competitive age-grouper in triathlon, I regularly used ibuprofen and chromium picolinate while training and racing. If I had something stronger, I probably would have taken it.

I suspect that Lance’s awakening to the benefits of PEDs came when he took EPO as part of his cancer recovery regimen. It helped save his life, so why stop? It's pure conjecture, but Lance could have justified PED use as follows:

 

“EPO saved my life.” EPO and blood doping are technologies for the body. Just like a faster bike, if drugs can make you a better competitor, why not take them? Plus, the whole field uses them. Only a fool wouldn’t join in.

 

“The end justifies the means." If, in fact, Lance did continue to use PEDs through his Tour de France reign, perhaps he reconciled it by thinking, “What I am doing to raise awareness of the sport in the US and the world, as well as the Livestrong Foundation to find a cure for cancer, justifies doing whatever it takes to win.”

 

Accusations and reconciliation

So why are his former teammates accusing him? First to step forward was Frankie Andreu in 2006, then Floyd Landis in 2010, and now Hamilton and Hincapie. In addition to the pressure the latter three must be feeling from Jeff Novitzky’s investigation, jealousy and frustration might have played a part. They all have worked extremely hard during their careers though they are nowhere near as wealthy or successful as Lance. And hey spent the prime of their professional careers riding not for themselves, but for Lance, living in his shadow. The whole team was centered on Lance, and the technology and training were set up to support him.

Armstrong is the most dominant athlete ever. No one comes close, not Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Barry Bonds, Eddie Merckx or Ayrton Senna. No athlete has had a greater sphere of influence – from merchandising to popularizing the sport to working for a cause greater than himself. Lance was a Twitter pioneer; he revolutionized its use among athletes and celebrities by realizing the ability to create his own press, on his terms. Currently he ranks No. 50 on Twitter with more than 2.8 million followers.

Doesn't it seem like all our heroes eventually crash to the ground? But Lance Armstrong has done more good than harm. He reignited the nation’s passion for cycling and brought awareness and action to finding a cure for cancer. He may have cheated, but from the perspective of a guy who has admired him forever and brushed shoulders with him once upon a time, the positive impact of Lance's life outweighs the objectionable

 

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Original Version

 

Lance Armstrong-a perspective

 

I beat Lance Armstrong

 

I started doing triathlons in 1987, the same year that 16 year old Lance Armstrong became a pro on the tri-circuit. In fact, I actually beat his run split in 1988 at the Bud Light Championship at Hilton Head; my 10k split was 38:41 versus his 42:31 (he must have had cramps). However, that 17 year old did in fact beat me overall with a 1:59 total time, besting me by over 11 minutes, placing 65th overall versus my 370th.

 

Years later, I learned that he used to train with a friend of mine, Steve, while living in Austin , TX . At age 16, Steve dragged Lance around on the bike. At 17, when Lance came to Stanford, CA , to crash on the couch and train, Steve was challenged to keep up with Lance on the bike. Lance had become a stud.

 

In 1992, at just 21 years of age, Lance went pro as a cyclist. One year later, he won the UCI World Championship. In 1995, at just 24 years old, he won a stage in the Tour de France. But in late 1996, at the age of 25, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He completed a miraculous recovery, and, by 1998, was making a comeback.

 

Meeting Lance

That year, as an employee of Yahoo!, which was a sponsor for the Montgomery Securities/US Postal Team, we were offered an opportunity to ride mountain bikes with Lance and his team on nearby Mount Tam. I remember that day clearly; we were getting ready to ride and Lance drove up and parked next to us. I was too star-stuck to say anything while Lance readied his equipment, but another testicular cancer survivor came by and gave him some props, thanking him for his motivation. On the ride, we were joined by other US Postal stars, including George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton, as well as the management team that included Mark Gorski (former Olympian) and Tom Weisel (founder). While we were too intimidated to talk to Lance, George and Tyler were very approachable. In fact, after the ride, while having lunch, they came over and shook our hands. I distinctly remember Tyler calling my friend, Derrill, “Sir”. Tyler’s sincerity and approachable demeanor, coupled with his gritty 4th place 2003 TDF finish (riding with a broken collarbone), make his fall from grace hard to watch and almost un-reconcilable.

 

Doping Allegations

Lance is alleged to have taken EPO in 1999, when he won his first TDF. Do I think Lance took EPO or other performance-enhancing drugs? You bet. As a triathlete back in the late ‘80s and pro rider in the ‘90’s, Lance was a poor kid with a gift for cycling, willing to do anything to win. He probably didn’t know any better, and I am sure that athletes back then didn’t really know the potential hazards of performance enhancing drugs. The pro cycling field was infamous for PEDs for decades, and it was likely the norm to use chemicals for an advantage. Personally, as a competitive age-grouper in triathlon, I regularly used ibuprofen and chromium picolinate while training and racing. If I had something stronger, I probably would have taken it.

 

I think Lance’s real confirmation and awakening to the benefits of PEDs came when he took EPO as part of his cancer recovery regimen; it helped save his life. Have you ever taken a drug to help recover from an injury? If it works, why stop? Since 1999, I am not convinced that he took PEDs or blood doped, though it is probable. I think Lance could have justified PED use as follows:

 

“EPO saved my life.” EPO and blood doping are like technologies for the body. Just like a faster bike, if drugs can make you a better competitor, why not take them? Plus, the whole field was using them already. Only a fool wouldn’t use this easy means to get a leg up.

“The end justifies the means”. If, in fact, Lance did continue to use PEDs through his 7 year TDF reign, perhaps he reconciled it to thinking “what I am doing to raise awareness of the sport of cycling in the US—and the World, as well as the Livestrong Foundation to find a cure for cancer outweigh the repercussions for cheating. And I’m not really cheating anyway-everyone is doing it”.

 

Skeletons in the Closet

So why are his former team-mates coming out now to accuse him? It started with Frankie Andreu in 2006, Floyd Landis in 2010, and now Tyler Hamilton and George Hincapie. In addition to the pressure the latter three are feeling with Jeff Novitzky’s investigation, jealousy and frustration must have played a part. Jealousy -- because they all have worked extremely hard during their careers though they are no where near as wealthy as Lance and don’t have the string of TDF victories. Frustration -- because they spent the prime of their professional careers riding not for themselves, but for Lance, living in his shadow. The whole team was centered around Lance, and the technology and training were set up to support him.

 

Lance’s Legacy

Lance is the most dominant athlete in a sport-ever. No one comes close, not Joe Montana (4 Superbowls), Michael Jordan (6 NBA championships), Eddie Merckx (5 TDF wins), Ayrton Senna (3-time Formula One champion), nor Barry Bonds (762 home run record). No one athlete has had such a sphere of influence, from merchandising, to popularizing the sport, to working for a cause greater than himself. During his reign, from 1999 to 2005, he helped popularize road cycling which had been overshadowed by mountain biking. His merchandising efforts were phenomenal; over 70 million yellow Livestrong bracelets have been sold across the world. And, as of 2009, the Livestrong foundation has raised more than $325 million in an effort to cure cancer. Lance was also an early Twitter pioneer; he revolutionized its use among athletes and celebrities by realizing the ability to create his own press, on his terms. Currently he is the 50th most followed person on Twitter with more than 2.8 million followers.

 

Did Lance cheat? Does it matter?

It seems without fail that all super heroes eventually crash back to the ground. Guilty or not, Lance will likely end up formally accused and found guilty of using PEDs. But Lance has done more good than harm over his career. He re-ignited the nation’s passion for cycling and brought awareness and action to the cure for cancer. He may have cheated, but the positive impact of his life has been phenomenal. The good he has done has certainly outweighed the objectionable.