The Yellow Washing of Lance

Lance racing MTB

The Yellow Washing of Lance has happened over the past week with articles like this from the AP, tweets, and profound messages of support, including a shut down the USADA campaign. While a now former good cycling friend told me to F off because I didn’t profess my devotion to Lance like he does.

Lance could wear a Janus mask, as he tells a reporter he’s happy to get beaten in a race, is totally over it, and just eating burgers, drinking beer now.

There are Two Lances

There’s a Lance that exists in the cycling world where anyone within a degree of him knows someone at divisive, distinctive odds with the healing person who’s transcended into a do-no-wrong hero. People who love him see trips to visit sick children in hospital while those that don’t see him for what he’s done on the bike, including the drugs.

We have this thing with idolizing sports figures until they get torn down. The same belief system that lifted Paterno into a god-like status, is willing to wrap Lance in a warm blanket of yellow bands and feel-good, slickly marketed slogans from Nike.

This week he abandoned his team mates, an industry, and devout fans of the sport. By not challenging the charges, he’s guilty of them and some of us cyclists feel he quit the sport when it most needed him.

I expect Lance to live gloriously in Livestrong yellow, thrive, and say to his critics, from a retirement villa “how ‘bout them Apples!?”

But them apples have been pulled from a jersey pocket and tossed by the roadside. For those that believe so strongly in the bike like we do here, it was never about that for Lance.

Now he rides for those that believe in who he’s become, not who he was on the roads of France.

On Twitter

I’m sharing this thread from Twitter because of the context to the larger issue about Lance, his legacy, and our community. Livestrong has done all those things its supporters and donors say it has.

Doug and Byron

Doug Ullman and me at SXSW

What Livestrong has also done with cancer besides branding and marketing, is politicize it. If you don’t post a devotion to Lance, you’re a hater and pro-cancer. When those with yellow bands criticize those without for not believing like they do, we’re seeing Rovian-style politics at play. Absolutist viewpoints from pols teetering on the extreme.

Lance is a far more complex character than that and I hope his fans can understand the differing viewpoints. For the non or sort-of believer, Livestrong does not wash away his sins on the bike. Some, like us, are in the middle of the Lance scale of justice.


  • MTB Photo by David Schloss and SXSW photo by Mathowie
  • Not sure if he coined it, but Anil Dash said Yellow Washing on Twitter last week.
  • How ‘bout them Apples is a famous Lance saying from a race, when he dropped all of his rivals and went on to win. It’s synonymous with his defiance of critics.


There’s actually an important difference between what LA is accused of and what went on at Penn (and this matters to the tone of the adulation.)  The difference being that nobody (to my knowlege) has accused LA the racer of anything other than being very good at dope cheating in a pretty much proven field of dope cheaters.  To my recollection nobody has accused him of child-abuse/rape/etc. nor of covering up those things.  Your analogy helps explain the psychology, but the actual crimes are quite different.

On the other hand, livestrong, like many high profile charities, has drawn some probably justified criticism - but that’s kind of a different topic.

I’m not so bothered by “did LA dope or not” - I’m bothered that the sport is trying to “be clean” based on “no doping allowed” but clearly doesn’t have its technical act together (I’ve written about this before.)  Kick somebody out in the middle of a race, or before the start of next year’s race?  Certainly.  Years and years later?  7 titles from 1999 to 2005 stripped in 2012?  7 to 13 years after the fact????  The anti-doping forces need to GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER. 

This isn’t a murder case, it doesn’t make sense to fight about things 3/4 of a decade after the fact.  Doing so just encourages people to try to repeat LA’s feat (win a bunch, sock away huge money, become a famous good person for something else, say “rotten apples, eh?” when called out.)  That does NOT help the sport or cycling in general.

i’m pretty sure Paterno and Armstrong faced slightly different decisions in their professional careers. 

“of course, Amstrong won the Tour….after all, his soigneur is a pedophile”

The comparison to Paterno was related to how he was worshipped, but failed so many.

Sure.  And in both cases the failures (or alleged failures) were in the past, and one of the awful aspects is the untimely slow resolution.

As for people’s attachments to “heros” - human psychology is weird, and that’s just the way life is.

Lance’s doping, the many victories in questions and many of his similarly doped-up rivals may be in the past but discounting the USADA’s case on that basis misses the point. It’s not at all just about Armstrong. He’s just at the center of a very crooked system and the commentary from the USADA suggests that they’re very aware of this.

The USADA may in fact be going after the UCI and USAC, both almost certainly central crooked players in the doping affairs. If that sounds strange just look up one of the several flow charts online detailing the connections between Lance, his wealthy supporters, the various teams he’s been involved with, USAC and the UCI. Follow the money.

By avoiding arbitration Armstrong has protected his carefully cultivated and marketed image somewhat, and perhaps protected his cronies to a certain degree. Had he accepted the arbitration the shit would have flown spectacularly. But if the USADA (and WADA and IOC who clearly support them) want to pursue the greater goal of cleaning the corruption out of cycling they’ll find a way to do so.

I hope we get to see this theater play out in the coming months. The danger is that the UCI will completely implode under the scrutiny, leaving cycling in a state of limbo. It might even mean the elimination of cycling from the Olympics for a spell until a new, cleaner organization can put the pieces back together again and lobby their way back into the Games. It would be a mess but it’s a catharsis that really needs to happen; The UCI are as dirty as they get and the sport of cycling will never be healthy again until there’s new leadership.

@henry absolutely and my posts to date have noted whether you think he doped or not, the governance of the sport is in crisis. Just this week, Pound said in an interview that six of LA’s samples tested positive for EPO but the test didn’t exist at the time. We’ve all heard that, it’s in two books, but for Pound to say it outright, it’s a shot across someone’s bow.

I also think and posted about Vaughters Twitter admittance to me before his NYT article that it was a move to assure his friends it was ok to admit it.

What I hope is the recently retired, 2nd biggest star in the peloton comes clean. What I think the pros need to know is that 1. we’re mad at them, 2. we don’t believe them, and 3. we’d forgive them.

If Lance had owned it, even took one for the team, we’d forgive and move on from this dark era.

Regarding the theater, I’d never thought my bike riding would lead to a blog and media credentials or a self-appointed role as an industry critic. Also that I’d hear from insiders what I have. The fitness fantasy, the suffering on 400 yr-old roads abroad, or Jens’ Spirt Eagle Guide are all part of that sports marketing and this maybe the greatest pitch ever sold. Mentioned that when I said,

Tuned into the sport on TV, see Exergy’s name all over it, know they haven’t paid for it, and those complicit in doping fraud are involved.

Complicit is the word and that includes those that call the sport on TV.

Livestrong hasn’t politicized cancer as much as Republicans have in their interference with stem cell research. Stem cell research is paramount in finding a cure for cancer.

For anyone to doubt that Livestrong does good things with the money donated, is simple ignorance.

Livestrong filled a huge gap in supporting people with cancer that wasn’t addressed seriously previously.  They were such a game changer in this area, that people forget that similar medical charities didn’t directly support people in the past are were solely focused on research investment.

That said, you can view Livestrong as either a a boon to people in need or a elaborate marketing campaign to ‘yellow wash’ one person.

Regardless of my thoughts on doping, Lance, and the USADA, it’s clear to me that Livestrong and Lance are focused on helping people and not on simply providing ‘cover’ to Lance’s reputation.

Many athletes start foundations to help people, few succeed.  Name another athlete that has taken it as far and enabled helping as many people.  You can’t.

Disconnect Lance the cyclist from Lance the cancer fighter. 

You don’t have to defend Lance the cyclist (he clearly did something outside the rules, the USADA is on a witch hunt, and professional cycling ecosystem is broke), to still support Livestrong.

Personally, I’m glad Lance dropped the fight. Cycling is already beat up from the more recent doping scandals.  Dropping things now starts to put an end to the drama, and helps both cycling and Livestrong move forward.

People need stop freaking out, go ride their bike, and focus on what’s going on today with pro peloton and Livestrong. 

Make your choices based on where you want to go, not where we’ve been.

@flea don’t disagree and I don’t think LS intentionally politicized the disease. It’s the fans and the community. Lance divides us.

@Micheal. Well said and I wrote this piece when the USADA first announced their investigation, then 3 more times. As an industry critic, it’s going to continue with tell all books and the fight is far from over. What I hope happens is more Pros confess, apologize, and we’ll forgive them.

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