Lance Armstrong

Robin Williams Still Making Me Laugh

I wish we could have had a Robin Williams Week (like Shark Week only funny) before he died, when we could have watched his old clips and laughed out loud. Instead it took his death to appreciate what a truly talented person he was. I also remembered I have a lot in common with him. We are both politically liberal, Californians, cyclists and huge bike racing fans. 

Of course his fame made it possible to ride in the team car behind Lance Armstrong when he was tearing up the Tour de France.  (He subsequently expressed his disappointment in Lance and still loves cycling.)

I am enjoying old interviews with Robin Williams because 1) he talks about cycling, 2) he shares my disdain for France. (My recent adventure has confirmed that I have had enough of France and French attitudes for a lifetime.) For example, on Fresh Air they replayed a 2006 interview between Terry Gross and Robin Williams and this line almost took me off the road, "When I speak French in Paris they say to me 'Stop speaking French. No. Speak englais.' Then they give their baby a cigarette."

He really lets loose on The Daily Show. Check out the second interview where he riffs on the French for much longer. 

And go ahead and laugh out loud. It is the best way to honor Robin Williams.

Justification vs Reconciliation


The first night in Timble we had the honor and delight of having dinner with Bob Roll. (Photo:  Bob Roll with Sandy Shepherd at the Timble Inn) If you do not watch cycling you will not know this former pro cyclist and one-of-a-kind color commentator for NBC Sports (cycling only). He is best known for his series "Ask Bobke." We had the evening to ask our own questions and listen to his excellent stories.

Within our group of 12 plus 3 guides we probably have 15 different opinions about Lance Armstrong. Bob was honest that he owes his career to Lance. He was on the verge of being let go by NBC because another former cyclist offered to work for free. Lance had already won a couple of Tours and he called the network and said that if they did not keep Bob on the payroll then NBC would never get another interview from him.  Bob's got a call from the Network offering him a contract. He is also personal friends with Lance. His comment was that he has been trying to encourage Lance. Bob feels he is looking for vindication when he ought to be seeking reconciliation. 

I have been mulling this over. The main difference between those concepts is in our motivation or stake. Someone needing vindication is coming from a place of ego and reconciliation is someone who is looking at the larger good. This is Lance's challenge now. His huge ego helped him dominate the sport and win 7 titles. (Yes they have been stripped, and with so many other people suspected of using drugs during those years it is complicated.) Now he needs to check his ego and put the good of the sport and his foundation ahead of his own needs. Reconciliation requires that a person really soften their heart to understand how they have hurt another and seek to make it right without concern for "being right". 

Lance still needs to be justified. And as long as he clings to that he will be seen as a pariah in the sport. He is capable of doing the work and growing past this; we all are.

It struck me as interesting that Greg Lemond has also had an uneasy relationship with the ASO and Tour de France. Meeting him on the evening of the Presentation of Teams has got me thinking about the similarities between Greg and Lance. Greg was the first American to succeed phenomenally in European pro cycling. He was shot by a family member while hunting turkeys (Dick Cheney style) and fought back to ride and win 2 more titles for 3 Tour de France wins. By all accounts he is a nice guy and yet he never has been able to cash in on his achievements in the same way Lance and later American riders did. He also maintains that he never used le juice.

On the other hand Lance managed his public narrative carefully. He apparently never got on with Greg Lemond, probably because Lance liked it when people thought he was the first really great US pro rider and that his comeback from cancer was unique. It might have felt to Greg like his own narrative was appropriated. Things got ugly when Lemond started questioning Lance's drug use while he was riding his victory laps. Lance tried to bully him and Greg came off as bitter.

In my leadership tribe there are people who are more comfortable with competitive people whose ego drives them to achieve than me. Because of personal experience with hurting people or being hurt by narcissistic people, I would rather forfeit and err on the side of over care than crush someone in competition. 

Lance Armstrong's raw power and willingness to win at any cost made me uncomfortable from early days. Some people believe it is necessary to achieve great things. This is a question I am wrestling with in my work. CTI Leadership posited that collaboration was more effective than competition and I have embraced that philosophy. A small group of us on the Trek Travel team had a good conversation about this and I did not convince all of them that it is just as effective. Again it depends whether you are measuring by individual accomplishment or as a team or organization.

These are the things I am thinking about as I watch the Tour de France "Survivor Stage" (5) on the television in my room.

Lance Armstrong: a case study in mass reality denial

yellow jersey I recently finished Wheelmen by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell; the book's tagline is "Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the greatest sports conspiracy ever." A friend gave it to me in part to make sure I remained in touch with the truth. I put it aside for awhile to read other things and because it is painful to read.  One of the "other reads" was M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled.  This passage stuck with me: "Often this act of ignoring (reality) is much more than passive. We may denounce the new information as false, dangerous, heretical, the work of the devil. We may actually crusade against it, and even attempt to manipulate the world so as to make it conform to our view of reality."  I wrote in the book margin, "what happens when this goes on at a mass scale?"

It does not take imagination to see what might happen on a societal scale if enough are committed to a false reality or an idealogy: the Cold War, Climate Change denial... Let us take a less controversial, more personal example: Lance Armstrong.

Perhaps your "relationship to Lance arc" is similar to mine. I first learned about Lance Armstrong during his comeback after cancer. I read his book It's Not About the Bike and admired his beautiful wife and children. From the very first Tour comeback there were rumors about cheating and a small chink of doubt existed alongside the admiration for his courage and physical abilities. Meanwhile the Tour de France, Versus cable station, Nike and others were doing their utmost to sell us a golden hero. And lots of people fell in love with Lance Armstrong. This actually had the opposite effect on me. I call it my Watergate Vaccine because in fifth grade I can recall witnessing my teacher Mrs. Stone's disillusionment over Watergate and it taught me to be wary of people in power lest they disappoint.

I did enjoy Lance Armstrong's success. It meant that far more attention was paid to cycling and it made it easier to enjoy the sport. By the 5th or 7th tour win other rumors were circulating--not about Lance's doping, but about bullying. It may sound strange but this bothered me even more. People had already been saying things like, "Well if Lance is cheating with EPO then he is only doing what every other cyclist is doing."  Now people began saying, "Sometimes you have to use intimidation to win at elite levels." I have never been an end justifies the means kind of gal. I started looking for other cyclists to give my attention to and began to sour on Lance.

My love of cycling was sorely tested when Floyd Landis was caught cheating and stripped of his Tour de France win. Somehow I bounced back by the next July and got sucked into the pageantry and drama again.

Then Lance returned to cycling a couple of years after retirement and I was annoyed. It felt greedy and as though "It's Not About the Bike" was not true afterall.  At this point so many cyclists were getting caught for doping that it did seem to reinforce his most commonly used defence to accusers, "I have been tested hundreds of times and never been caught."  Now we know from books like Wheelmen and Lance's own admissions in ProCycling and other magazines that he excelled at covering up his doping as much as he did at cycling.  Lance invariably adds: I was doing what everyone else was doing.

Except that not everyone was doing it. And some very talented people, such as three time Tour winner Greg LeMond, chose to retire rather than dope.

What about our complicity in distorting the truth? Albergotti and O'Connell ask this in the epilogue to Wheelmen:

Millions persisted in believing in him until it became impossible to do so. Why?

That may be a question harder to answer than why his teammates and coaches, his sponsors and financial backers, collaborated in the lie. But society's gullibility in the face of ever-mounting evidence probably has something to do with its need for a certain kind of hero. Looked at this way, Lance is the inevitable product of our celebrity-worshipping culture and the whole money-mad world of sports gone amok. This is the Golden Age of fraud, an era of general willingness to ignore and justify the wrongdoings of the rich and powerful, which makes every lie bigger and widens its destructive path. 

I do not have an answer for society's ills, but I do know that I am not prepared to accept doping as the norm in cycling. And I am willing to forgive and forget a rider's past transgressions if he is willing to humbly confess and gracefully accept the consequences.  Even Lance.