Race to the Bottom
Lance Armstrong Trolls the Tour de France
You have to give it to Lance Armstrong: ‘Quit’ really isn’t in his vocabulary, even when it absolutely should be.
In a Tour de France already fraught with doom just days after starting—from 20-bike crashes to local cops protesting it as a soapbox for contract negotiations, even to the grim specter of a long-lasting, podium-clearing doping scandal—this year’s race has another, even more sinister and hideous problem: disgraced seven-time former winner Lance Armstrong.
Yeah, you read that right. Lance Armstrong is back in the saddle at the Tour de France, trolling one of the world’s most prestigious athletic events and spitting in the face of his lifetime ban. Unable to actually compete, he’s instead riding several stages of the race the day before the actual race does in a thinly veiled f-you to honest athletes, cycling’s governing body, and the legion of heartbroken fans he betrayed, all in his all-too-familiar role as the good guy trying to raise money for cancer.
It’s a role we now recognize as a farce, a mask to hide the stain under the faded yellow jersey.
Armstrong, of course, deserves to never race again. Having copped to juicing with all manner of illicit substances to win all those medals—of which he has since been stripped—and compulsively lying about it even after being found out, he is still without real regret. Yet his reputation for doping—and bullying the then-powerless who accused him of doing so—is so widespread, the disgraced celebrity athlete has been barred from other sports, such as the Chicago Marathon, a French Ironman, and even competitive swimming.
And the barely recalcitrant cheat has been pushing the limits of moral outrage more and more, unwilling or unable to stand down and let the bitter taste of poor sportsmanship and outright dishonesty fade from the public’s perception. Just this spring, he admitted to finally deciding to work with the United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA) to rat out his former rule-bucking compadrés in an attempt to reinstate his racing ability.
“From the very beginning, our hope has always been that he would come in, sit down and have a full discussion,” USADA head Travis Tygart told The New York Times after the fallen cyclist bragged about his meetings, but thus far Armstrong’s misdeeds haven’t shown any sign of subsiding.
Last week, Armstrong found himself battling with the prosecution in an ongoing court case seeking to question a possible former mistress about their sex life, with suspicions he may have fessed up to her about doping as far back as 1996. The federal government itself is suing Armstrong for $100 million, claiming he violated his contract and defrauded them when he was a member of the U.S. Postal racing team. The fight is so heated, his former teammate is invoking wartime law.
This year, Armstrong and a former sponsor were forced to pay $10 million to a promotion company that underwrote one of the bonuses he received after winning a Tour de France.
A forthcoming movie, too, paints a picture of Armstrong as a bullying, wild-eyed doping lunatic. It is based on a true story, after all.
Through all of this—the histrionics, the rehearsed admissions of guilt, the bullying, the shame brought not only upon himself and his sport, but also LiveStrong, the nonprofit he founded and built to fight cancer—the cyclist’s decision to use the Tour de France as a publicity vehicle and set rubber to pavement once again might be his lowest move yet.
“If you take me back to 1995, when it was completely and totally pervasive,” Armstrong told the BBC in January, “I’d probably do it again.”
It’s also his most telling. By making the calculated decision to openly mock the Tour and the hard work of those who actually earned spots in its coveted peloton, he has confirmed himself to be the self-centered, mentally unhinged egomaniac we all already suspected he was. It’s too bad he has to drag down yet another good cause with him.