"The truth? You can't handle the truth!"*
This morning, two former US Postal Cycling members confessed to doping. One of them, George Hincapie, rode beside Lance Armstrong for most of his 19 years as a professional cyclist. While not a big surprise, that the truth is finally surfacing is unsettling.
Labeling "everyone did it" as trite masks a much more complicated situation. Through serial denials and cute comments ("What am I on? I'm on my bike, four hours a day.") Postal tried to convince everyone they were riding clean. During an era when many (most?) of the other riders had tested positive at one point or another during their career, the protestations sounded hollow. Many of Armstrong's friends do not believe him. Yet....
It's July 2003. I'm working, meeting a friend for coffee. The Tour's penultimate stage is underway, Lance holding on by a razor's edge margin. Today's event, a time trial - the "race of truth" - will decide the Tour de France. My cellphone rings. My wife is yelling "He's down, he's down!" The upbeat tone tells me that arch-rival Jan Ullrich has fallen. Lance Armstrong will win. I will send my wife a dozen roses, which is our tradition. Yellow, for the color of the TdF leader's jersey. Yellow roses, for the Texan who energized American cycling.
I don't feel cheated by today's news. I'm not angry, and no real heroes have lost their gleam. If nothing else, it was a great excuse to send flowers to my wife.
UPDATE: As the day has gone on, rider after rider has issued a statement admitting to drug use and detailing a doping program at Postal, later at Discovery Channel, that was systematic, pervasive and coercive. Grim news.
A number of US lower tier riders weighed in this Cyclingnews article. An insider's perspective on racers who cheated to get ahead long before they made it to the Bigs and US Postal.
UPDATE: Today Trek, Anheuser Busch and Nike severed ties with Lance. In addition, Lance stepped down from his position with Livestrong. In cycling, when the wheels come off, you leave a lot of your hide on the road.
*Lt. Colonel Nathan Jessip (Jack Nicholson), A Few Good Men, 1992