Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reflection on Lance Armstrong

For 8 years, ever since I first fell in love with the sport of Cycling, I have proudly worn a Livestrong bracelet on my left wrist. There is a full shelf in my book collection that is chocked full of yellow spines and bold yellow letting filled with information on the ins and outs of the sport of Cycling and more specifically, Lance Armstrong.

As media outlets do so well these days, when I woke up this morning on virtually every news outlet the titles screamed of Lance Armstrong's confession to Oprah. The reporting ranged from purely factual to that reminiscent of an angry mob demanding Lance's head on a platter, and I do not begrudge anyone on either end of the discussion of their opinions or feelings. The fact of the matter is Lance Armstrong systematically lied, cheated, and ostracized others all while reaping the benefit and avoiding the consequences of his actions.

In the past when people asked me "Do you think he doped?", I often responded with "I don't know. It doesn't really matter to me, the seven wins aren't what interest me about Lance". As someone who grew up idolizing the great inventors of years past, what I admired about Lance Armstrong during the era in which he competed for the seven Tour De France titles was not his athletic ability, but rather his wherewithal to examine, engineer and improve upon the commonly accepted fundamentals of the sport and the detail and level of execution to which he was able to do so.

Before Lance Armstrong arrived on the podium in France, the world of cycling was still fairly crude. The majority of teams were still riding aluminum bikes, with descent mechanical components, and virtually no helmets. A lot of the norms for fitness, maintenance, and understanding of how to win was based on the historical status quo and traditions of a competitive sport that was well over a hundred years in age. When Lance Armstrong returned from his battle with cancer he took a detail oriented approach to examining every aspect of the sport.

With his teams at Nike and Trek they developed wind suits with dimples like a golf ball to reduce drag during time trials, they were some of the first to look at not just weight reduction with carbon fiber bikes but how the carbon fiber was laid up so it was stiffer, more compliant and allowed for a greater transfer of power then any other material on the planet. They recorded, analyzed and reproduced the most common wind scenarios for the various stages of the Tour de France within wind tunnels so they could test, refine and develop the fastest racing technology on the market. He and his team were meticulous about the power data, caloric intake and some of the first to implore the use of compression recovery techniques. The Lance Armstrong team helped launch the technology and science of cycling into the world it is today where we are measuring bike frames in grams instead of pounds, where amateur cyclists can intelligently and accurately discuss power-to-weight ratios because of affordable power meters, and where training regimens and recovery cycles are hotly debated topics on forums everywhere. Much of this being trickle-down benefits of the work that Armstrong and his support team did. This is the part of Lance Armstrong I have always admired.

The fact remains though that Lance Armstrong committed a number of wrong-doings which he did not own up to nor face the consequences for, all while perpetuating a state of fear for those who did speak the truth, and that is not a person I admire.

This leaves me with a decision: do I continue to wear the bracelet that for me has represented the ingenuity of an American mind to challenge and fundamentally change an entire industry, or do I remove it because as it turns out that same harrowing attention to detail, ability to methodically analyze circumstances and commitment to building the fastest human racing machine on the planet is the very same one that chose to dope and in the process lie to and deceive the many people who believed in him? This will take some consideration.