I began cycling for real in the 1990s. This was in no small part due to Greg Lemond. He was an American sporting hero. And, as history teaches us, he still is, now more than ever. History reveals so much. Darn hindsight is crystal clear.
In the late 1990s through 2005, when Lance Armstrong’s unbelievable exploits captivated a nation, Greg Lemond dared to suggest it might all be: not so believable. He broke the silence–the code of honor. And he paid dearly.
Lance Armstrong and his backers threatened and slandered him. This ruined his business. The irony is striking: the perpetrators of perhaps the greatest sporting fraud of all time trampled over something beautiful and real. Lemond wasn’t the only victim.
The doping culture ran talented sportsmen out of the sport, like local masters champion, Dr. Greg Strock, then a promising young rider who refused to submit to the doping culture.
When Mr. Lemond retired prematurely from the sport, I remember him saying something about a mysterious mitochondrial muscle disease. It turns out his muscle cells were fine; it was that his competitors’ cells were enhanced. He knew; and when he tried to open the eyes of Americans to something too good to be true–a cancer survivor who came back against all odds to “win” seven Tours–no one listened.
I thought I was done with Lance and the fraud. Expunged. I swore off reading about it. I needn’t explain the fraud to non-believers anymore. Oprah and others had done that. My imaginary friend chastised me for wasting valuable reading time on doping books and articles. I could have been reading more literary fiction.
But this 30-minute interview with Greg Lemond brought it all back.
His description of Lance’s extortion, deceit, slander, threats, bring it back. It’s a bad story. I don’t want it to make me cynical. Cynical is not heart-healthy. Yet this story is worth noting. It can teach. It informs. It underscores something I’ve grown more interested in: the value of history. I’m surprised how little we learn from history, in medicine, in politics, and in human nature.
Gosh, were we duped. “What am I on? I’m on my bike 6 hours a day.”