The word “Tour” appears only six times (not counting the tour of his art collection) in this lengthy piece on Lance Armstrong: Lance in Purgatory: The After-Life – Esquire. The word “France” appears only once. It’s as if we no longer associate the man with his rise. Only his fall.
The Tour is back on TV this week, and though it’s starting in England, it’s the same old Tour. It’s live shots of the peloton clawing back to catch the little-known riders in the day’s heroic but ultimately doomed breakaway. It’s Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen chatting about castle architecture and William the Conquerer as the helicopter cameras show us some impossibly beautiful scene from the countryside.
Perhaps the Tour is the ultimate Buzzfeed personality test. Do you see the Tour as an utter fraud, a spectacle that masks the generations of cheating in the sport? Or do you see it as an exercise in persistence?
The Esquire story attempts to balance Armstrong’s good and bad. He still records video messages for cancer patients, and it emerges in the course of the reporting that Livestrong may want him back despite the blistering email he sent upon his resignation. He lives comfortably — for now. He has more days in court ahead. But he tries to live in the present with his golf buddies and his kids.
We know quite well that Armstrong wasn’t the only doper in the peloton all those years. More than half the winners of the past 50 years and the overwhelming majority of top 10 finishers in the Armstrong years have been caught. Do the others share Armstrong’s pariah status? How do they live today?
France has, of course, seen history far worse than a bunch of EPO-ravaged cyclists climbing its mountains. We’re now marking the 100th anniversary of the war that should have shocked the world into never taking up arms again. The Tour passes gentle fields that were once bloody. Villages that have somehow managed to patch themselves up.
So when we look at the Tour and the beautiful towns, castles and streams, do we think of the history? Does that history make the bustling and tranquil settings seem fraudulent? Or do we see peace and perseverance? Maybe even forgiveness?