Last week Floyd Lands finally came clean about his history with performance enhancing drugs. In the process, he dragged several other prominent riders into the mud with him, most notably the seven time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong’s story is almost universally known. In 1996, he was diagnosed with late stage testicular cancer that had metastasized to several other locations throughout his body, including his brain and his lungs. His chances of survival were poor. He beat the odds in as dramatic a fashion as has ever been seen, returning to competitive cycling in 1998 and winning his first of seven Tour de France titles in 1999.
The inspiration gathered from his story, especially among those who are stricken with cancer, cannot be understated. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised roughly a quarter of a billion dollars for cancer related causes.
How badly might this foundation be damaged were Lance Armstrong to be conclusively implicated in a PED scandal? It’s ultimately an unanswerable hypothetical, but no reasonable person would expect the foundation to escape serious damage.
It’s not wrong to wonder whether or not Armstrong’s radical rebound was partially attributable to steroid use. After all, he had only won two individual stages of the Tour de France prior to the cancer diagnosis. Armstrong has been tested dozens of times, only to come back clean, and it’s not for want of effort by France. The French have been more malevolent toward Lance Armstrong than they ever were to the Third Reich.
Still, Floyd Landis, hardly a paragon of decency, may be telling the truth. After all, it took a Jose Canseco (never confused for a choir boy) to reinject momentum into the steroid debate in baseball. And testing experts are quick to point out that new tests are available which might be able to detect substances in old urine samples that the previous tests weren’t sophisticated enough to find.
But how much damage are we willing to inflict upon a noble cause in the search for an uncertain truth-one that, if learned, really doesn’t change the world very much?
Cycling is just a sport, and a niche one at that. Cancer is a global epidemic with many promising research leads, but that research requires funding-all the funding society can possibly muster.
I couldn’t care less about Floyd Landis, the integrity of professional cycling, or Armstrong’s history with steroids either. I do care about cancer research. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes, the truth comes second.