The first time I saw Lance Armstrong, it was at the 2000 Tour de France. I didn’t pick him out of the peloton, but I was there on the Champs-Elysees, quite unintentionally, and he was there in the pack, winning his second Tour victory. Something about that day stuck with me, and for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I became a fan of professional cycling.

The next time I saw him in person was a few years later. I’d read his book by then, bought magazines that featured him, bought myself a USPS jersey, watched the Tour on TV, put a Graham Watson poster on my closet door. Lance was speaking at a health fair in Indianapolis, and so my mom and I watched as he and Reggie Miller bantered back and forth on the stage. He was there to celebrate the work of the doctors who had helped him recover from cancer. I was there because I thought, “When else am I going to see this guy in person?”

The third through twentieth times I saw him were at the 2005 Tour de France. Mom and I traveled together to almost every stage. We only missed the last few days because we had to come home for a family wedding. We were there to watch the Tour, but also to give Mom something to distract her from the fact that Dad had come out to our family, and we were now carrying that secret with him. She and I cheered, we whooped, we hollered, we clapped. We caught every piece of caravane swag we could. We took pictures. We slept in weird little budget hotels and ate good food. Lots of mussels.


Photo by Liz Boltz Ranfeld, 2005 Tour de France

The last time I saw him was only a glimpse. Mom and I were back at the Tour in 2008. We were standing by our car on our favorite mountain–Alpe d’Huez–trying to get our campsite just right. I was facing the steep rock wall beside the car, and Mom was facing the road. Amateur cyclists were powering up the road all day and all night, and Mom looked up as two of them were headed toward her. One was dressed in white. She knew, immediately, that it was Lance. “Hi, Lance,” she said, strangely calm, as he slowly climbed toward her. “Hi,” he replied. I spun around. “Wait, WHAT?!” “I just saw Lance!” she exclaimed. It was true. That day, Lance Armstrong and Jake Gyllenhaal rode up Alpe d’Huez together, and I missed it because my back was turned.

Lance was never my favorite cyclist. That spot was reserved for Floyd Landis or Dave Zabriskie or Cadel Evans. Sometimes Lance did things that made Mom and me high five each other. Other times I’d hear of something he did and shake my head and say, “What a dick.” When people asked if I thought he was doping, I generally said, “Who knows? It certainly seems plausible.” Slowly, that turned into, “Yeah, probably.” Then, “Yes.”

Now, the truth is out. Definitively.

I can only guess at Armstrong’s motivations in all of this confessing he’s doing right now. I am at times a cynic–he’s doing this because he has a fierce need to “control the narrative,” as he said in the interview. He is doing this because of what he can get out of it. He is doing it because he is a master manipulator.

Other times, I am more generous: he is doing this because it’s the right thing to do. He’s doing this because any normal human is going to feel guilt over an adulthood of lying and cheating.


Photo by Liz Boltz Ranfeld, 2005 Tour de France

I don’t find myself all that angry with Lance. Certainly not for doping, because I really don’t feel very upset when I hear that athletes dope. I don’t even feel all that upset with him for lying about it, because what else could a person expect him to do? I don’t think I’m a fan anymore, but what is a fan? If it’s true that he was a driving force behind the doping culture of the Tour, I am certainly discouraged. If he screwed over people I like a lot–Floyd, Zabriskie, etc.–then I’m pretty disgusted. When I see the way he treated people and lied and sued those who stood against him, I think he’s capable of being pretty damn awful.

I’m not going to give him a pass just because he has done good things in his life.

But he has done a lot of good things. Just because the good doesn’t excuse the bad doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge the good. Livestrong is important to a lot of people. The folks who love that organization are the ones I feel for the most in all of this. They don’t deserve to be dragged through the mud along with Lance, who somehow manages to look not terrible, even when he is covered in mud. I am hopeful that the organization can continue without its founder.

I think the thing I am most amazed by in all of this is the fact that Lance is the PERFECT reminder of the fact that we humans are capable of existing in contradiction. We are really good at compartmentalizing. We are capable of doing really good things at the same time as we do really bad ones. If we are unwilling to accept this fact in Lance, we might also be unable to accept it in other people–people we actually have relationships with. Maybe Lance can give us a lesson that doesn’t have anything to do with cycling or doping or arrogance or self-obsession. Maybe he can help us look at the confusing actions of people we know and think, “I get it. I get how you could do this terrible thing, even when you usually do such wonderful things.”

I hope that the good things that Lance did can continue to thrive, despite the bad things. I hope that there is some justice for the bad things. Most of all, I hope that the folks who were directly hurt by the bad things are able to move on and find peace for themselves.