There was a very interesting discussion taking place on Twitter today between Bill Strickland, known to some as Lance Armstrong’s personal scribe, and respected fellow cycling journalist Shane Stokes (@TrueBS and @SSbike for those who tweet).
Bill has recently published an article in Bicycling (the beginnings of which can be seen here: http://www.bicycling.com/news/pro-cycling/lance-armstrongs-endgame ) in which he reveals how after many years of being a devoted Lance fan - a believer if you will - he has now come to believe that Lance has doped. Shane has questioned Bill’s lack of impartiality as a journalist. Their discussion has prompted me to write my first blog. Let me know what you think!
Bill Strickland is in a tough spot. He most certainly has been a great fan and supporter of Lance over the years, and he is the first to admit it. Bill has always been open about this. There have been suggestions that he has ignored evidence that Lance doped, that he is the key perpetuator of The Lance Myth, that he has not acted as a journalist should. Let’s think about this for a moment.
Bill is human and he is a cyclist. How could a person spend their career writing about the thing they love most in the world and not become emotionally invested? As Bill pointed out today, to like or dislike, to be a fan or not, is not a deliberate decision. It’s an instinctive reaction.
Lance Armstrong is no ordinary champion athlete. He can’t be compared to other great champions, and I’ll tell you why. The Myth of Lance Armstrong is not just a story about a giant of his sport. The Myth of Lance is the story of a miracle. He’s the guy that almost died, whose body was eaten away by cancer, and who survived to rebuild himself as an athlete. That alone was a great story, but Lance didn’t stop there. He became the most dominant Tour de France racer of all time and made himself the face and voice of cancer survivorship. He inspires millions to believe that if Lance can do it, they can too.
With Lance, it’s not just Lance The Cyclist, it’s all of it. He’s a Hollywood triumph-over-adversity story. It’s very hard not to get wrapped up in it, the story is so compelling. And compelling stories defy challenges. Like Mulder in the X Files, I want to believe, and Bill wanted to believe too. I can’t criticise him for that.
Let me say that I am not a fan of Lance Armstrong. I don’t like how he raced or his attitude. But if he is clean, he has done great things. The fact is we just don’t know if Lance has doped. I don’t want it to be true for cycling’s sake, but if it is true, I want to know, and I believe Bill does too.
Maybe Bill will learn from The Lance Experience and it will make him a better journalist. I just hope we don’t lose the man who prefers to stand by the roadside on a hors categorie col, instead of in the salle de presse, and look into the riders’ eyes.