8.02.2014

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong was at the beer garden on the first day of RAGBRAI 2014, slinging beers for charity.

This fallen angel of the bicycle racing world didn't seem to be suffering any shortage of adoration from the throngs of cyclists who joined the crush around the beer kiosk to get a chance to see this infamous icon, or better yet...get a selfie taken with him.

My friend Sherry and I entered the fray and inched our way closer and closer to Lance and his security entourage. It was Sherry's first RAGBRAI and as we got close to Lance, I pulled the packet of TEAM CRAZY BIRD (our bike team) stickers from my jersey pocket and peeled one off its paper backing.

"Here, Sherry," I said, handing it to her. "Slap a team sticker onto Lance Armstrong when you get close."

"Really?" she asked. "Is that OK?"

"Of course," I replied. "Look at all the stickers he already has on his t-shirt."

"Should I ask him first?" she asked.

"If you want to," I said. "As a courtesy. But I am sure he will be fine with it. A TEAM CRAZY BIRD sticker is one of the most prestigious awards you can ever receive."

I took Sherry's iPhone and turned on the camera, holding it high to get a good vantage point as she moved in. I could not hear what she said to Lance over the din of the crowd, but he smiled and nodded, so I assume he acquiesced to her stickering request. Sherry pressed it onto his shirt just below his rib cage on the right side of his abdomen.

I snapped two good images, the first of Sherry holding up the sticker and moving it toward Lance, and the second a post application shot. Here they are.



Why is Lance Armstrong still so popular after his fall from grace? I suppose it is his celebrity. Granted, he lied and had his seven Toure de France trophies revoked for using performance enhancers, and he's a bit of a dick to women. But he still raises a pantload of money for charities and at heart I think he means well. No one is perfect, and his imperfections are magnified by the scale of his fame and mainstream recognition, good and bad, and that is what draws people to him.

Kim Kardashian is popular, even though she contributes less than nothing to the advancement of society or human well-being.

There was a story on NPR recently about a painter who successfully forged fakes of famous painters for years and made huge sums of money selling them, even to museums and collectors who should have known better. When he was outed, his fame turned to infamy, but he suffered no decline in popularity. Indeed, more people began to come to him clamoring for look-alike paintings of famous painters, and he continued to charge hefty sums for these.

A friend of mine despises Lance Armstrong for his lying and womanizing, but I think she misses the point. It is this dichotomy between ideal and imperfection that intrigues people and draws them in. People want to see this fallen angel. It makes them feel better about their own imperfections and insecurities and bad habits.

All of us think we are generally good people even when we stumble and make mistakes or do bad things we know we shouldn't. Lance personifies this.

A few years ago, during the years when Lance Armstrong was raking in Toure de France trophies, I sat next to a bicycle racer on a plane and he gave me the inside scoop. This gentleman assured me that all the top racers took performance enhancing drugs. He also claimed that he did not, and that he could never hope to do better than fourth or fifth place in a race against competitors who were illegally doping. I don't know how credible this guy was, but when Lance was exposed, it kind of validated what he had told me on the plane. I wasn't too surprised, but I did feel kind of let down by Lance anyway. I wanted him to be awesome and he was just pretty good. One could rationalize and argue that if all his competitors were also on performance enhancers, then it was kind of a level playing field, but that would be kind of a weak sauce rationale. Plus, his competitors would all have to come clean and admit to doping too.

One can sympathize with Lance to some extent, in that he was made an example of by the bicycle racing anti-doping agency, whatever their name is. See, Lance Armstrong is still a recognizable name and the agency that seeks to expose dopers is not memorable. That says something.

In any case, I got a bit of a thrill being within spitting distance of Lance Armstrong, and I had no compulsion to spit on him. One of the cockier members of my bike team had wanted to ask Lance if he thought beer was a good performance enhancer, but he never followed through on this comment as far as I knew. I think that would have been fair game, although it would probably have annoyed Lance and his handlers.

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