Cycling shame

I suppose a word about cycling is in order.

I know little about the sport, and even less about the inner workings of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him from cycling for life on Friday. But I know this: The idea of my approaching an editor and saying, "Look, I've got several sources telling me such and such happened. I'm not going to tell you who they are, and most of them probably talked to me in order to save their own skins, but I think we have enough to publish this story," is laughable.

I'm not naive. It's very likely that Armstrong, at some point in his career, doped. It's also very likely that just about every cyclist he competed against did, too. Which is not to excuse any cheating with the old "Everybody's doing it" excuse. But if everybody is doing it, and you beat everybody - seven times, after surviving the testicular cancer that very nearly killed you - then do you perhaps deserve a sliver of credit? 

Here's what I also know. This news makes me sad. It makes me sad for sports in general and this sport in particular, which my husband and daughter happen to love. For the start of the Tour a few years ago, my husband made a breakfast consisting of yellow-jersey eggs and sausage links shaped into wheel spokes. My daughter adores Andy Schleck (who has a real nose for cycling - don't forget to tip your waiters and waitresses) and will sit for hours, rapt, watching the riders speed through picturesque European towns. She sits beside her father, their eyes making the same movements, their faces reflecting the same excitement, their sometimes disparate interests perfectly melded for those moments.

Watching the Tour, we've talked about art, as the riders pass the Louvre; history, as they circle the Joan of Arc statue on the final day; literature, as their wheels turn across the fabled Champs-Elysee; the highs and lows of human nature, as anonymous strangers spend all day handing out water bottles and anonymous cowards throw tacks on the road; and resilience, as my husband and daughter consider their matching Live Strong bracelets and discuss the loss of important people to the disease Armstrong has spent his post-cycling life fighting.

I don't want Armstrong to have been a cheat. Realistically, I know there's little chance - even though he famously never failed a drug test - he wasn't. But I'm also not sure how much that matters, now. His refusal to seek arbitration to battle the doping charges against him, saying the system is corrupt and fundamentally unfair, casts him in a martyr role, and I know that's a calculated consequence of a considered decision. I also know when Armstrong accuses USADA chief executive Travis Tygart, in so many words, of conducting a witch hunt based on the word of what amounts to jailhouse informants, there is a growing wave of supporters and sentiment that agrees with him.

Armstrong has saved the face he can. His most ardent fans will defend him all the more, casual cycling observers will probably smell a whiff of injustice in Friday's ban while still admiring his achievements, and those who consider the sport poisoned beyond redemption will pin another pelt to the wall. It just seems a hollow victory for a man who has claimed so many inspiring ones.