His ultimate legacy most likely is out of our hands. Fans who may not yet be alive will decide who he was. To us, today, Eddy Merckx is the greatest cyclist who ever lived, not a fraud who tested positive for a stimulant while leading the 1969 Giro d’Italia and had his 1973 Giro di Lombardia win stripped for the same. Joop Zoetemelk is the hardman who started and finished 16 Tours—a record—and won one. He’s not a reprobate who was caught doping at the 1979 Tour, received a paltry penalty of a 10-minute time addition, and maintained his second-place podium spot. Jacques Anquetil is the five-time Tour winner who in 1961 took the yellow jersey on Stage 1 and wore it all the way to Paris, not a boastful cheater who said, during a French television interview, “Leave me in peace—everybody takes dope.” And Fausto Coppi is il campionissimo, the champion of champions, not an admitted doper who said on Italian television that he only took drugs when necessary—”which is nearly always.”
We live in a different age, one that may not allow the forgiveness of Lance Armstrong, that may hold him to be the creator rather than the product of the era he reigned over. We might even judge this champion’s cheating and lying too vile to permit the remembrance of the part of him that, even now, convinced that he doped to win the Tour, I can’t stop being a fan of: the plain fact that he was, as even his bitter enemy Floyd Landis told me when we spoke last year, “a badass on a bike.”
[And this sat well with me. It’s a sport. People cheat. It’ll be forevermore be the case. And the folks that win are all badasses. You don’t win if you’re not regardless of what you may or may not take.]
What would happen to the jerseys would be an absurdity.
Probably the most notable outcome is that Jan Ullrich becomes a unique champion, a four-time winner of the Tour, more decorated than Greg LeMond. Ullrich is, of course, an admitted and convicted doper. The farce on top of this farce would be the continued possession of a yellow jersey by Bjarne Riis. After the 1996 Tour winner admitted in 2007 that he’d used EPO to achieve his victory, the race organizers told him not to attend that year’s edition, and in the official listing of winners in the online archive and elsewhere, a blank space appeared where his name once was. The next year, he was back at the Tour as a directeur sportif, and his name was back on the list.
If Armstrong is found by USADA to have doped but, like Riis, somehow is granted possession of his bounty, thanks to his celebrity a Hadron Collider-worthy impact will occur between our society’s ideal of morality and the real-life ethical relativism of cycling (and just about every other pursuit in life involving money and fame). It’s a black hole—one that already swallowed Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador, who doped and, unlike Riis, lost their jerseys.
[And that’s the critical point. The record books are already a mess beyond fixing. Forget them. They are nothing.]