The May issue of Bicycling magazine ran with a cover photo of a grim looking Lance Armstrong and a provocative headline: Lance retires – he’s done (but is he finished?). Inside, writer Bill Strickland penned a personal piece on Armstrong’s ‘endgame’, with the standfirst, “It’s time to stop arguing about whether Lance doped and start figuring out what it means.” In the article, Strickland details his eventual arrival at the conclusion that Armstrong did indeed dope. In doing so, he is probably the second-to-last American journalist to reach this conclusion (you can guess the last one, dear reader); he is, however, at least to your author’s knowledge, the first to say so publicly in print.
Strickland’s article brings the experience of reaching this conclusion down to the deeply personal (for more on Strickland’s writing, see here), but he also briefly touches on the history of doping in cycling, suggesting that “we live in a different age” and the meaning that we attach to Armstrong’s possible/likely/inevitable guilt will be different from earlier generations.
This is all good fodder for your author, having already touched on cycling and ‘meaning’ in earlier posts (see here, for example). What doping means in cycling goes to the very heart of what cycling, and indeed sport, is about. What priority, for example, should we accord to spectacle, to the rules, to fair play, and to the well-being of the riders?
Conceptions will likely differ. France’s favourite cycling philosopher, Roland Barthes, said: “What is sport? Sport answers this question by another question: Who is best?” So is it just about winning, and by what criteria do we determine who is the best? As the fall and winter weather approaches, your author will be pondering these questions – and others – in a series of posts on the meaning of cycling: sport as spectacle versus the context of the game; the anti-hero and the tyranny of the rules; Mont Ventoux and memory; and changing perceptions of the peloton, views from inside and out.
As always, one hopes that this endeavour will be provocative, thought provoking, and perhaps even entertaining. While establishing the ‘meaning’ of cycling may prove elusive, we may as well pause in our own quests on the bike to consider the wider context, and to perhaps get a little closer to why we follow cycling with such passion. As Barthes also asks: “Why? Why love sport?”