The Lance Armstrong Pile-On

Let’s get something straight from the start. I’ve never met Lance Armstrong. I’ve never worshipped him, either. And my family owns Bicycling Magazine and I’m the CEO of the company it’s a part of. I once saw him speak at A Clinton Global Initiative, and the way all those “alpha males” were fawning over each other and calling each other “my friend” over and over kind of made me want to puke, even though I didn’t quite understand why at the time.

Cycling and I go back a long way. My father built a velodrome in the early 1970s. He even bought houses for young, broke cyclists to live in while they trained. He brought famous cyclists over from Europe to promote the sport (this is how I ended up as Eddie Mercxx’s chauffeur for a weekend). Since this was the 1970s, and thus, before Title Nine, as a girl I was not a budding racer, I was a groupie. I hung out at tracks in Montreal, Vienna, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. But my home track was Trexlertown. I hung out with riders before Lance Armstrong was potty-trained.

Here’s what cyclists are like: They’ve got the Fever. And what they lack in big paydays down the road (let’s face it, they are never going to earn what a top football or baseball star will earn), they make up for in ego. True, their bodies are amazing (yes, there is still nothing sexier to me than a man’s shaved and oiled leg). But today, while the times have changed and the drugs have changed, if anything, the egos have probably gotten bigger.

Such is the passion within the sport that I only learned a few weeks ago about the omertà—the code of silence. What’s funny is that I now understand I have experienced it personally in a past relationship with a cyclist. I refuse to name names, but y’all know who you are and what you didn’t say.

Back to Lance (see paragraph 1)…did he really damage the sport or just expose what we suspected all along? While I never met him, I know a lot of people who did, and very few of them came away with a favorable impression. I won’t use the word I most often heard, but you can guess. It rhymes with gas pole.

Racing is a beautiful sport to watch. But that’s not why my Dad built a velodrome and bought Bicycling. He did it because he wanted to see more people riding bikes. Because cycling is healthy. Because it’s cleaner than driving. Because it’s beautiful. And fun.

You don’t need dope to reap those benefits.

I actually see the fall of Lance as a perfect segue into a new era of cycling, one that embraces women racers and riders, one that’s more welcoming to outsiders and is humble. One that celebrates the joy and romance of the sport and the activity, without the testosterone-driven, chest-thumping, ego-fueled, false-hero-worshipping, win-no-matter-what attitude (the pukey part).

But I could just be dreaming. This summer all three of my daughters suddenly woke up with the Fever. My oldest rode in her first race. My teenager goes out for bike rides after school just for the fun of it. And no, she’s not riding to the store to buy cigarettes the way I did when I was her age. And my 6-year-old learned to ride on the velodrome in their Pee Wee Pedaler program. I saw the Fever rise right before my very eyes: her intense focus, the falling off and sliding down the track and being more eager to get back up on the bike than to find a Band-Aid for the track rash. She has pink-and-white streamers that fly in the wind when she’s going fast, and a basket, too.

Cycling will never be the same, thank god. You all can wait for your apology from Lance, and the fanatics can cling to their omertà traditions. But there’s no future in it. It’s the obsession with \wining that creates a culture of cheating and lying—whether it’s the Tour de France or any other event in the sport. Any one of us who participates in the code of silence is complicit.

I dream of a day when we worship sports heroes not for their physical prowess alone, but for their integrity, too. I dream of a day when we celebrate people not just for world-record–breaking times, but for their courage and positive attitude, as well. I dream of a day when the truth is easier to tell than a lie.

I dream of a day when we put our obsessions, our cash, and our attention into things that really matter and that make the world a better place. Where sponsorship money goes to building bike paths rather than big egos. Where media attention goes to the pleasure of the sport, rather than the desperate need to win. Where boys and girls grow up with heroes who don’t let them down.

I know. I’m dreaming. But to quote Bruce Springsteen, “There’s a code of silence and it can’t go on.”

It’s time for a code of truth.



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28 Responses to The Lance Armstrong Pile-On

  1. Sarah L. Murch November 19, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    Amen sister I hear you loud and clear!

  2. Dana B November 19, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Great post, Maria. I love lots of what you share in here, starting with that awesome photo of your littleist on the track! I also love the mention of scandal in the guy you dated and his code of silence (though I’m not on board with a guy having smoother legs than I do).

    I felt a lot of what you’re talking about here during the election this year. It’s so frustrating to hear about how much money is spent trying to say just enough while still maintaining that ‘code of silence’. It’s enough to make me wish there was a reset button on sports and politics–let’s be real and put the money to work where it deserves to be.

  3. Lisa November 19, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Please run for office! Seriously love your ethical grounding, enlightened views and old-fashioned orientation.

  4. Karen L Freeland November 19, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    I always love your writings! Even though I don’t think a man should shave anything other than the hair on his face or head nor should anyone be worshipped other than God, I agree whole heartedly! It is essential for young people to have someone to look up to, to have a mentor. The way of sports these days has gotten way out of control. I think moderation is the key, as with most things in life….. Maybe now all those ugly, thick, rubber band brackets will go by the wayside?

  5. maria (farm country kitchen) November 19, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Ok Ladies, don’t decide you don’t like a man’s shaved legs until you’ve touched one! And sorry, I can’t run for office. Too many scandals in my past and no patience at all for the political process. But thank you.

  6. Sarah Stack November 19, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Great post, Maria! I agree, let’s end the code of silence!
    It’s also up to us to build businesses that reflect respectable
    values and make our country great again. Standing up against
    Big Pharma and the Chemical companies, which most companies
    trying to end the “code of silence” often have to do, is no small feat. We just witnessed a prime example of this stronghold with the failure of California Proposition 37 which called for something so basic, just label what’s in our food. I know you and your family have stood strong for generations against these atrocities, now it’s time for more of us to participate in rebuilding America by backing and standing strong with companies that reflect our vision of tomorrow.

  7. Debra Henn November 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Absolutely!! Great post! Love you Maria!! XO
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am thankful for you and how you speak the TRUTH. XO

  8. Bill Renken November 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    Maria, thank you for your article on Lance Armstrong. It is an excellent summary of what all cyclist should hope to gain from the “fall” of Lance Armstrong. That said, one cannot, and should not minimize the positive impact that Armstrong has had on American cycling, and the benefits his foundation has brought to cancer research, funding, and awareness. Honestly, did you ever think about wearing a rubber bracelet prior to putting on that little yellow thing you purchased for a dollar? Now they come in every color for every cause imaginable. In 2000 I bought a road bike from my local dealer, he only sold two that year (the other one he sold to himself) all other bikes sold were mountain bikes. Now I share the road with large numbers of cyclist. Like you, I am not a fan of Armstrong the person, but I am impressed with what he did for the sport. Additionally, Let us not forget that everyone that shared the podium with Lance have been found to be ”cheaters
    Now I will get to the point of my note, why should any organization in this country be allowed to pursue any individual beyond the length of the law to prove guilt. Armstrong did not violate any laws, nationally or internationally. Any civil judgments could have very well been carried out in court, without the assistance of the Anti Doping Organization. Millions of our dollars have been spent pursuing an individual that is no longer competing and quite frankly, not particularly relevant in cycling or sports today. Everyone knows the truth, but to your point, no one was going to talk. So a modern day form of “McCarthyism” was used to turn cyclist against cyclist, team against team, forcing stories with little or no physical evidence that never would have held up in court (just ask Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens). How would you respond if you personally were going to be held accountable for all of your past actions from 10 years ago, only the IRS gets to do that, and we all know how excited we are about the IRS. If this behavior is allowed in pursuing a Lance Armstrong, is it a far reach to consider that one of us could be next, be careful what you write, lest ye become someone’s “white whale” .

  9. Ann Martina November 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Maria, I’m totally with you on the legs thing!

  10. Donna in Delaware November 19, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    Dream on Maria, dream on!

  11. Donna in Delaware November 19, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    In a strange sort of way, I agree with the ‘point of note’ from Bill Renken. It is eerily similar to what I told my husband when he asked me what I thought about this debacle. The man is out of the sport. Why wait so long to do anything about his winnings? Something doesn’t seem to be quite kosher about all of this. He was tested several times while he was competing, and they found nothing at that time. It is all too strange for me to comprehend. I believe you Maria, about your past dealing with the cyclists, but one can’t be too sure about this Armstrong case. Could it be a bit of jealousy also, amongst the cyclist? I can’t say, but it’s water under the bridge and looks like too long ago to actually prove that he did anything wrong. Witch hunt? Maybe, maybe not!

  12. john campo November 19, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    Thank you Maria I have been asking for all of us to stop looking backward and feeling sorry for cycling and to say in words what we want the sport to be… No one would give me that until I read this and from the perfect person to say it. Thanks again.

  13. Liz Williamson November 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Maria I couldn’t aggree with you more. I used to be in the bike industry as a rep in Northern California, it was very widely known what Lance and his team were up to. The level of deception and how he treated other riders who went against him was also known. Unfortunately, I do think he recieved just punishment. It’s a shame for his organization, Lance has done a lot of good, which was why in a way I was sort of hoping he wouldn’t get cought! But he kind of had to, a lie like that can’t carry a on forever, it has to be exposed.

  14. Don Cuerdon November 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Right on, Maria. It took a man like your dad to flush me out of Vermont for a few years to work for your company. I believed in him, what he built, and what it stood for. Thanks for validating that for me here. I still have the Fever. I just got in from a 2+ hour night mountain bike ride at 27 degrees. Pirates be damned!

  15. Just Saying November 20, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    What a fantastic piece. Totally nailed it with the “gas pole” reference. Now, perhaps you should share this piece with your sister Heidi and her fellow board members at your dad’s track and ask them if there might be someone working there who fits the same exact profile you describe. Just a little hint…you published a book about him.

  16. Tom Fitz November 20, 2012 at 4:05 am #

    Interesting heartfelt article, but to say there is no future in competitive cycling is a bit cynical and not necessarily correct. People are competitive and because bike racing is beautiful, fun and really hard to do well, it will always be there as a sport. The reality is they have caught the dopers that the other sports also have but have not tried to catch, eg baseball, football, soccer, track, swimming, etc…. Sports are like business (because they are business), with enough money at stake some people will bend/break the rules to succeed. They always have and always will, so hopefully this will be a catalyst for cleaner sport for men and women bike racers.

  17. maria (farm country kitchen) November 20, 2012 at 7:06 am #

    Thanks everyone for your comments…I do believe there is a bright future in racing and cycling — what I meant is there is no future in the idea that waiting for an apology from Lance and clinging to the code of silence is going to last…

    Of course, I could be wrong.

  18. Mary McKhann November 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    You expressed it beautifully! Thank you.

  19. Bob Bleck November 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    Maria, nice article but I have one bone to pick with you here. The obsession with winning does not cause a culture of cheating. The obsession with cheating does. People cheat on tests, they use radar detectors to avoid speed limits, they have others punch their time clock, they cheat of their spouses, etc. They justify it by saying “everyone else is doing it, I’m just leveling the playing field”. I say no, you are tilting it in your favor, and you are cheating. The cheating culture will only get cleaned up when we clean up the culture. (PS, did we ever meet back in the day in Kenosha?)

  20. Jonathan Haile November 20, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    If you want to see your dream, watch the Paralympic Games. There may have been only one gold medal winner in each contest but they were all winners who had to beat their disabilities before they beat their competitors. This summer, I saw a stadium with 80,000 spectators spellbound. They roared the limbless round the track and sat in absolute silence so that blind triple jumpers could hear their coach’s hand claps to guide them. It was truly moving and the US media ignored them! But that is where your dream came true!

  21. Jodi November 20, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Thank you so much for this, Maria. It helped put clarity on the issue for me the way it explained your desire to puke. And thank you to your father and family for what you do and have done.

  22. Celina Gray November 21, 2012 at 2:30 am #

    “when we put our obsessions, our cash, and our attention into things that really matter and that make the world a better place. ” Oh yes!!! Thanks for this! It’s a pleasant surprise to know I’m not the only person that thinks and feels this way

  23. Cyndie November 21, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Agree Maria! Without a dream (a vision) there would be no hope!

  24. Malcolm White November 26, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Thank you for a little glimpse into your family and who you are. I read every issue of my mom’s Organic Gardening magazine decades ago. Rodale Press has had a huge impact on my life. Kudos and keep up the good work.

  25. Rollinhoagies November 28, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    Long live our collective devotion to cycling. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, it only matters that you enjoy the ride! XOX m

  26. Pete November 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    I think several of the respondants miss the point to what I believe to truly be the theme of the article. Trust. Unfortunately this “guy” is no different than many of the politicians, leaders, CEOs, and the like who believe themselves to be demigods and omnipotent. When they take on the role, and it’s a role they are fully aware of, they will stop at nothing to get what THEY want and stay a demigod. If it means cheating, stealing, altering food, dumping hazardous waste products, etc., etc., they’re going to do it. That’s just the way the ego works and has always worked. And because of their greed and self centeredness, they not only alter history, they alter the history of ALL OF US forever.

    Why are you on this web site? If you’re on this website it just “might” be because you’re concerned about your health. If you’re like me, the fast food places and the mega, super-duper corporations aren’t exactly the places I go to for truthful information. They’re going to pull a “fast” one on you just like this “guy” did on everyone. Yeah, yeah, he did some good. But was it really out of concern for other people or was it part of the “magic” act of his to get your attention else where? We’ll never truly know because the trust isn’t there anymore.

  27. David Stewart December 16, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    Great article but we need to stop worshiping athletes. That’s the main reason people get let down. We are men and women no matter what our accomplishments are. Appreciate, applaud, admire, look up to maybe, but never worship. I don’t worship my parents, but they are my heroes for sure. Lance knows what he did or didn’t do, and as he ages it will start to show. You can’t hide it forever…or maybe you can.

  28. lulu January 17, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    Spot on Maria!!

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