Alex Bell: Lance Armstrong is here - we shouldn't care

I think it took me just a couple of days to finish Lance Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike. One of the most compelling biographies I’ve ever read, it’s up there with Andre Agassi’s Open in terms of superb modern sporting literature.

With his soft-focus, black-and-white image on the cover, you couldn’t help but be enthralled at this tale of a small-town Texan boy. His parents were divorced and mum struggled to make ends meet, but bred in Lance an indelible work ethic.

Against the odds, having also beaten cancer, he became the most celebrated sportsman on the planet, before one of the most dramatic drug-related falls from grace since sprinter Ben Johnson and footballer Diego Maradona.

Now Armstrong is here in New Zealand, wanting to go on a jolly bike ride with Kiwis. Not surprisingly, he’s been given a decidedly mixed reception.

Does Lance fit the definition of a sociopath? A personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behaviour. Yep, that’s Lance. Superficial charm and intelligence, absence of nervousness, insincerity and lack of remorse and shame. Yep, that’s Lance again.

The common argument around his seven Tour de France non-wins is that everyone was doping… that’s not far off the truth. Another salient line of defence is what about the millions and millions of dollars raised for those with cancer? That’s a tougher argument to counter. But counter it we must.

I could write a book myself - let’s call it: It’s Not About the Doping. It would focus on the death threats to those who threatened to expose his deceit. The war waged against Betsy Andreu, whose husband Frankie rode with Lance, including a media smear campaign. Former physical therapist Emma O’Reilly was labelled a ‘prostitute’ and ‘alcoholic’… those types of things.

Just last year, he was fined for letting his girlfriend take the blame for a car crash after they left a party. He hasn’t changed his ways and should not be welcomed here, by anyone.

He still won’t testify about the extent of his drug use. Armstrong used his recovery from cancer to prolong and assist his public image, offering him years of protection from anyone who questioned the legality of his victories.

Journalists were physically intimidated and threatened for even daring to raise the issue. He ran the most sophisticated and successful doping program sport has ever seen.

And now he wants to ride around Tamaki Drive and we’re all invited. Big deal! So why is he doing this? Is he just a nice guy, trying to redeem himself? I mean, he didn’t have to let everyone know he was here, did he?

He could have just kept it low key, done his business and flown back to his comfy pillows where he hopefully struggles to sleep at night. Whatever the reasons, it doesn’t matter. As the media, we have to cover his visit - it’s a massive story.

But in a world where the whole fabric of honesty and ‘doing the right thing’ appears to be anachronistic, let’s try and get some perspective and ignore the guy. Unlikely, I know. 

As a final point, the image of Armstrong on the cover of It’s Not About the Bike is quite prescient. One side in dark shadow, one in light – maybe this was deliberate and he was mocking us all along.