For seven straight Julys, from 1999 to 2005, the United States was engrossed with cycling. Those were the years that Lance Armstrong was dominating the sport. He won cycling’s premier event, the Tour de France, a record seven consecutive times.
Before Armstrong’s great run, he was diagnosed with life-threatening testicular cancer in the mid-90s. He was given a fifty percent chance of survival. In 1997, he started the Lance Armstrong Foundation that has raised over $500 billion for cancer research. Since walking away from cycling, Armstrong has dedicated countless hours to make sure nobody ever has to hear the words “you have cancer.”
Even with Armstrong’s great humanitarian work through his foundation and passing hundreds of drugs tests while he was competing, he has faced constant questions from doping officials and the European media about his supposed use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. This has happened continuously since his first victory in 1999.
Last week, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), ruled that Armstrong is to be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and have a lifetime ban from professional cycling. Armstrong has decided to give up the fight against those who believe he was taking steroids from 1999-2005. This decision hurts the sport of cycling.
I don’t know whether Armstrong used steroids or not, and we may never know, but that is not the issue here. The issue is the USADA continuing to go after the greatest champion cycling has ever known seven years after last winning the Tour.
Bike races are not a popular sport in America and thanks to Armstrong, it finally has a shred of relevance. With USADA’s decision to strip Armstrong of his amazing titles, the sport will again fall into a great pit of despair full of athletes whom people will fail to recognize or even care about.
To put it in other terms, imagine other sports that don’t have much relevance. What would sprinting be like without Usain Bolt? Irrelevant. What about swimming without Michael Phelps or beach volleyball without Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings? Irrelevant.
These events are on our collective sports radar simply because they have great champions who have dominated the sport and left legacies that people will talk about for years to come. Lance Armstrong and cycling should be no different.