A need to remember, pitted against a need to forget... The tide has only just turned for the better, but the dance inside our heads that goes back and forth will long continue, writes Anthony Tan.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

Why do we continue to talk about him?

Off the back of Cycling Central editor Phil Gomes' latest blog, 'Too soon to get the band back together?', Al Hinds, Rob Arnold and myself mused over him in this week's podcast (go to the 30:40 mark to listen).

US cycling publication VeloNews spent a great deal of time and effort this week writing about him, and the legalities of his participation in this Saturday's Gran Fondo Hincapie.

After many words penned, it was deduced that, "under WADA Code, Armstrong's lifetime ban prohibits him from riding in the USA Cycling-sanctioned 'non-competitive' event" - even though the event's eponymous owner-patron, George Hincapie, subsequently told VeloNews "Lance Armstrong had prior authorization from 'the appropriate governing body' to ride in the event".

We talk about him because for two decades, he was the most recognisable figure in a sport where, at one time or another, we were acolytes, true believers - far from the hardened cynics and skeptics many of us have now become.

Lance Armstrong - yes, I might as well say his name, even though mere mention of it is anathema to so many of you - transcended cycling. Lance Armstrong transcended sport. And, in the history of cycling, no other athlete, before or after him, has done that.

My guess is that even if he did ride clean - which, clearly he did not - there will never be another one like him. Ever.

That is why do we continue to talk about him.

In the March-April issue of Bicycling Australia, I wrote about him. Well, sort of...

Based on an ABC radio interview I heard last October with Richard Flanagan, this year's Man Booker Prize-winning author, for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, I headlined my column 'An Irreconcilable War'.

"Man survives by his ability to forget," Flanagan said of father's experience as a slave labourer on the Thai-Burma Railway during the Second World War.

"It's necessary to forget many things. But equally, freedom of the soul exists, somehow, in the space of memory. And there's a point at which we have to walk back in the shadows... and there's a point which we have to advance back out of the shadows into the light. It is a dance that goes back and forth throughout our lives. I don't know what my father felt finally, but I'd like to think he came back into the light."

A dance that goes back and forth throughout our lives... Is this not what many of us have gone through since 10 October 2012 - the day the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released its Reasoned Decision?

"Like Flanagan's father," I wrote, "those from Generation EPO probably view themselves as slave labourers: bound by circumstance, by mateship, by suffering and, perhaps most of all, bound by secrecy – the OmertÃ. Though the secrecy of kept memories – in cycling's case, memories of rampant drug use and, by consequence, continual cover-ups – can only be suppressed so long. The misdeeds of hundreds, if not thousands of cyclists, were still in the shadows and had yet to be revealed and reconciled."

It is why I disagree with Phil, who proferred a choice of two alternatives at the end of his blog: "You can choose to hold on to the hate, or you can choose to move on and see the USPS band for what they are, flawed human beings who made mistakes when they were young."

I don't think it's so black-and-white as that - continue to hate, or move on, nothing more to see here.

I don't hate him or any others from Gen-EPO, whether they have admitted their sins or not. But as I said in this week's podcast, it's unsuprising and not unfair that a career - no, make that a generation - of cheating, lying, and deception demands a requisite level of ignominy.

Yes, flawed human beings they are, just like us - but they were not so young, and we only found out the whole truth and nothing but the truth a little over two years ago...

In the comments under Phil's blog lay a clearly aggrieved Cycling Central reader of ours, 'PresidentWILKO22':

"The reality is that supporters move on from past dopers very quickly... move on so quick in fact that they forget past indiscretions and continue celebrating these riders. That is all riders excluding Lance Armstrong. The fact is that he was the one who brought money, sponsors and ratings to cycling.

"This is now a thing of the past as NSW Cycling showed us during the week. Mainstream media and sponsors have dropped the sport and invested in areas that bring a return on investment.

"I don't know what the answer is though cycling folk need to accept Armstrong was part of the problem and not the sole reason we have a sport that a minority are interested in. At the moment we have people like Mike Tomalaris celebrating the career of Stuart O'Grady at various functions. Stuart was a great promoter of cycling in Australia as Armstrong was worldwide though he also is part of why there is no investment these days.

"Until cycling fans forgive Armstrong as they did O'Grady, Hincapie, Valverde and Contador then there is no moving on. The NSW International Grand Prix Series will be the beginning of a slow road cycling death."

Can we blame him for the demise of the NSW Grand Prix Cycling Series?

My first reaction was that you draw a long bow, PresidentWILKO22. But today, as I stood on the beach after my morning swim and watched and felt the ocean's current under my feet, I thought about what you said, and of Newton's Third Law...

"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

For all the exposure, money, and philanthropy Armstrong and others of his ilk brought in, that tide of exposure, money, and philanthropy is now going back out, and its effects are reverberating the world over.

It's why the wider public perception of our sport, try as hard as we do to tell otherwise, is still smeared with the same tarred brush. It's partly why other than ASO, the majority of race organisers, from the Tour of the Basque Country to the NSW Grand Prix, struggle, and sometimes fail, to survive. It's partly why teams continue to fail to attract sponsors, and why clean riders fail to land jobs or contract extensions.

The tide of sentiment has only just turned for the better, but the after-effects of Gen-EPO will continue to roll in for many years yet. This is not the fault of him alone, but a generation like him.

PresidentWILKO22 was right.

And so the dance inside our heads will continue to go on... "An irreconcilable war, deep within the human heart", Flanagan called it; a need to remember, pitted against a need to forget.

At the end of the interview, the esteemed Tasmanian author quoted from James Joyce's Ulysees: "History is a nightmare from which I'm trying to awake."