January 22, 2013

‘Fastest doper’: Local cyclists give thoughts on Armstrong

Devin Golden

— Reminiscent of a roundtable discussion, local cycling enthusiasts inside Dalton’s Bear Creek Bike Shop had a variety of perspectives regarding Lance Armstrong’s admission to using performance enhancing drugs in his infamous professional cycling career.

The seven-time Tour dé France winner, who had each stripped from him by the International Cycling Union, confessed to doping last week in a taped interview with Oprah Winfrey, which was aired in two parts last Thursday and Friday on her own OWN network.

For some cyclists, this was the biggest black eye the sport has received. For others, like Dalton native and former professional Saul Raisin, it was depressing that someone would go to such extents and taints everything Armstrong ever did.

But for three in the Walnut Avenue bike shop, this was the next person to come clean or be found out. Neither Shane Adams, the shop’s owner, nor Derek Kozlowski, a customer, watched the interview. But they both said they’ve heard enough about it.

And they each had similar thoughts regarding Armstrong’s admission to cheating and its impact on the accomplishments — everyone was doing it.

“It was a level playing field,” Kozlowski said. “They were all doing the same things. He’s still the fastest guy doping. You don’t ride through that many miles and not be the best in the world. Do I wish they didn’t cheat? Sure.”

Adams, 41, does believe the scandal tarnishes what Armstrong accomplished.

“It taints it,” Adams said. “Do I still have respect for the guy and his ability? Absolutely. He was still the fastest doper in a field full of dopers. He pedaled every pedal stroke.”

Raisin said in a Friday phone interview he does not believe PEDs are as bad as some think. He affirms only a select few people with enough financial resources have the ability to cheat.

“Actually, I don’t think it’s bad at all,” Raisin said. “You’ll always have a few people who are trying to beat the system. ... It’s bad because (Armstrong) won the Tour cheating several times. In the sport of cycling, and in all sports, you don’t have many people doing it.”

But Kozlowski disagrees, and that’s why he still calls himself an Armstrong fan, even after the drama. He isn’t a fan due to Armstrong’s character — calling him “not a very nice guy” — but cannot overlook his accomplishments in the sport. Adams, who said he hasn’t believed Armstrong raced clean “for a long time,” agreed.

“Even though I’m not a fan now ... there’s still a lot of respect for the guy and his ability,” Adams added.

But should Armstrong’s strongest supporters feel betrayed? For many years, the cyclist denied allegations from numerous individuals — including former teammates — that he used PEDs. He even went as far as filing lawsuits against those who accused him of cheating.

“To be betrayed for something, you need to put him as an idol,” said Chattanooga resident Jeremy Smith, another of the shop’s customers. “I admire him for everything he did, but he’s not the reason I ride.”

But what Armstrong’s admission could mean for his accomplishments pales in comparison to his other feats.

“I could care less about his seven Tour wins,” Adams said. “I just hope it doesn’t diminish what he has done, or the momentum he has created, for the treatment and cure of cancer. In the grand scheme of things for me, that’s the bigger casualty in all of this is the potential he has to hurt what really could’ve been a true legacy in really bringing that awareness.

“I don’t think Lance’s redemption lies in cycling. I think his redemption lies in the Livestrong Foundation.”

As for a possible redemption, both Smith and Kozlowski feel it’s too far gone for Armstrong.

“I’d say no,” Smith said. “He went to the extent that he did and everything came out.”

Said Kozlowski, “People don’t like him because of the personality issues. No, I don’t think he can come back from it.”

But Adams feels the scandal won’t change any of the three’s love for the sport. And that’s why they feel somewhat apathetic to it.

“To the guys who are hanging out in the shop today, it doesn’t make a difference to us one way or the other,” Adams said. “He did so much to make cycling mainstream. I’ve been a cyclist for 28 years. I’ve heard every name in the book. He made it mainstream when it was on the fringe for so long. He made it respectable.

“But will this make any of us hang our spandex up? I doubt it.”