Whilst the name Lance Armstrong continues to arouse conflicting emotions, his enduring legacy is one of hope and courage.
For many, the man from Plano, Texas is a fallen idol who betrayed a generation’s trust. To others he is an inspirational figure whose story was never solely about one man on a bike, and whose sporting achievements record only part of an outstanding story of bravery and triumph.
This week, the doping storm which rocked the world of cycling and saw Armstrong stripped of his titles and reputation, has again been played out in a Texas courtroom with a former sponsor trying to claw-back $15m in paid bonuses.
Allegations of doping have plagued professional cycling and the Tour de France for decades. Armstrong faced accusations throughout his career leading up to his 2012 conviction and subsequent admission of guilt on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Today’s stars carry a burden and determination to prove to the world they are clean. As spectators we can have some confidence that cheats will be caught and an assurance that today’s heroes, including Britain’s Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, are the real deal.
However, Armstrong’s legend was never one built merely upon sporting achievement and the Texan’s greatest triumphs were accomplished away from the roads and mountains of France.
Few could fail to be moved by the story of the boy from broken-home going on to win 7 consecutive Tour de France titles against all odds, a man broken by testicular cancer and re-built as the ultimate cycling machine. Millions drew inspiration from his fight for life documented in autobiographies It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, and Every Second Counts which went onto become bestsellers and motivational textbooks for Sales Directors the world over.
Armstrong provided the positive role-model of a survivor who refused to let disease (which at one point had spread to his brain, lungs and abdomen) beat him or wreck his life’s ambitions. Having overcome the disease, he established the Livestrong Foundation and raised $235m to fight cancer and advance awareness, whilst at the same time encouraging men to open up and talk about their health. Fellow sportsmen would join the struggle wearing the yellow Livestrong wristband and prompting other charitable causes to follow the lead. Movember and the Everyman prostate cancer campaign are among charities to capitalise on the foundation’s work, uniting men against a common rival. With titles including Men’s Health replacing so-called lads mags at the top of readership charts, the modern man is seemingly more aware of and more comfortable within his body.
Lance Armstrong’s courage and determination away from sport are as much a part of the folklore surrounding him as anything to have taken place on two wheels. In providing inspiration, motivation and support to cancer sufferers and a greater awareness of male health matters, he has built a legacy which transcends sport and continues to inspire today.