Cycling

Fans stand by Armstrong

2012-10-13 10:00
Lance Armstrong (File)

Austin - Lance Armstrong's fans in his cycling-mad hometown stood by their man on Friday despite overwhelming evidence that he cheated his way to winning his record seven Tour de France titles.

Armstrong, who denies taking banned substances, has been accused by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) of being at the heart of "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program" ever seen in sport.

But like many previous doping allegations - including when he was stripped of his titles in August - fans seem more influenced by the inspirational narrative of a cancer survivor going on to achieve unparalleled cycling glory.

"Lance is the most tested athlete and if it was such a big conspiracy as claimed it would have come out before," said Michael Blumenstein, in town for the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

He questioned the jurisdiction of the USADA and said it taking away Armstrong's titles doesn't mean anything.

Even those who believe Armstrong did engage in doping don't think it makes much sense to go back over races from 1999 to 2005.

"There's better stuff to do with government time and money than bust Lance Armstrong," said Jon Selden, as he waited in line at Franklin Barbeque.

"The titles are his that he won under the conditions at the time - everyone was doing drugs."

Tour de France officials said they were against awarding Armstrong's titles to anyone else as they seek to move forward from a "lost decade." The majority of those who finished second or third - and even lower down the field - have subsequently been implicated in doping scandals.

In Austin, Armstrong's presence can't be overlooked.

After his tour victories, the Texas capitol celebrated with Lance Armstrong Days and parades in his honor, and the Austin city council created a six-mile (9.6-kilometer) bike path through the center of the city that bears his name.

There's been no impact on Armstrong's Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, said general manager Craig Staley. Day-to-day business hasn't been affected by the controversy and customer numbers remain consistent.

A shopper who declined to give his name because he's a competitive cyclist decried the timing of the investigation.

"It's water under the bridge, just move forward, what has the investigation done for the sport?" he told AFP. "What Armstrong's achieved is bigger than the races."

The report's findings weren't a surprise to fellow shopper Jeff Sparman, though he said he hadn't expected revelations of vindictiveness and manipulation.

"I'm waiting to see if he comes clean," Sparman said. "I'd feel better if he did."

But Sparman said that even without the drugs, Armstrong's work ethic would always have gotten him close to the top. And his contribution to the sport remains significant.

"He created a whole new way of racing on the Tours, especially in the way he focused on the mountain climbs," Sparman said.

Student Victor Harris agrees.

"His overall achievements surpass his flaws," Harris said.

"Even if he did (dope), you can't take away how he raced in those mountains and beat them."

But some Armstrong fans were troubled.

"I'm in a weird place and still sorting through it," said Eric Mills, a mechanic at The Peddler Bike Shop who was being treated for testicular cancer at the same time Armstrong received his cancer diagnosis in 1996.

He viewed Armstrong as a combined cycling and cancer hero and during each Tour de France painted the street in front of his house, copying the French tradition.

"It's blown me away and I really expected him to be cleared as he'd never failed any drug tests before," Mills said.

The doping does not take away from all the people Armstrong has helped through his Livestrong foundation, Mills said, insisting: "I'm not going to turn my back and write him off."

Read more on:    lance armstrong  |  cycling
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