I don’t know whether Lance Armstrong doped. I don’t really care. I know a lot of people who will get worked into quite a tizzy defending him as an American hero and role model, who overcame cancer and the systematic doping of everybody else in the field for a string of glorious triumphs unparalleled in the history of professional cycling. Perhaps this is true, but I doubt it. Anyway, I happened to be in Las Vegas with an invitation to Lance’s “I’m returning to cycling” press conference and I decided to attend, despite a crippling Friday 9AM hangover. He is, after all, an American hero. Here are the random notes I jotted down during the press conference:
9:05 Lance is late. The cycling media has assembled in the impossibly drab Ventian Ballroom J for whatever the hell this is… a celebration of America’s famous cycling hero, I suppose. A noticeably large percentage of the cycling media is going with the shaved head look. It’s very strange.
9:17 All Rise for the honorable Lance Armstrong. The man certainly commands a presence. The room has gone silent and everybody is standing looking at the back of this ballroom. I refuse to turn around.
9:19 “Everybody good,” Lance asks upon getting to the stage. “I Got beat up a little last night…” I immediately take this to mean that Lance was out binge drinking lie the rest of us, but he continues: “… in the cyclecross event.” He is much holier than me.
The ease with which Lance discusses doping struck me. Most people might be a little uncomfortable sitting before room full of people and talking about injecting anabolic steroids into their asses. But doping is a central theme of Lance’s life. To him it’s perfectly normal that the doctor who will be testing him follows him around to press conferences to field questions from reporters. He talks about EPO and steroids like he is discussing what kind of muffin he decided to buy for breakfast that morning..
The return is a savvy move by Armostrong, and it’s not hard to see the wisdom in it. He has been retired for several years and doesn’t have anything to prove. Expectations are low, and I doubt whether he even cares about winning, so much as enhancing reputation/legacy. He has no reason to dope during this comeback. He can make bare all his drug test results, no doubt clean as a whistle, and shore up his reputation, whatever the results he attains. The only downside is having to go to press conferences like this to answer questions from cycling media geeks instead of sleeping in, waking up and rolling over for a morning bone with Sheryl Crow.
Greg Lemond sits front and center. After a brief opening by Lance, he opens it up to questions, and, to his infinite credit, calls on LeMond immediately. Lemond rambling nonsensically about VO counts, and EPO, and other inane bullshit. The look he wore while coughing up all this gibberish that was quizzical and uncomprehending, as he searched vainly for a point he was not smart enough to make… like a half-bright college sophomore trying to sound smart in history class. It’s pretty embarrassing to listen to a guy of Lemond’s stature ramble on like this, a former champion reduced to waking up early enough to get the best chair at a press conference to yammer at the star who surpassed him. Lance handled it with aplomb: “I feel like we should have a fourth chair up here.”
The world of professional cycling is a decidedly queer one.