In his life, Lance has faced a long series of battles:
- He was born to a teenage single-mother. Although he has great praise for the way his mother raised him, it can't have been a very easy life. His mother did have a few boyfriends and subsequently got married, but none of these proved to be a positive father figure for Lance.
- When Lance initially took up cycling it was not a very well known sport in his native Texas and very few people were even aware that the Tour de France was taking place. This also meant that English speakers were not so common on the tour at that time and apparently not particularly welcomed by the representatives of the more established cycling nations.
- Lance was struck with testicular cancer in his mid-20s. Initially the prognosis was not positive and the disease was expected to be fatal. However, he made a recovery and amazed everyone when eventually returned to the sport and performed even better than before.
- As Lance became the most successful competitor ever in the Tour de France it was not surprising that many other competitors regarded him as the one to beat. Lance relished adversity and continued battling when many other people would have retired gracefully and enjoyed the fruits of his success.
I think that the time has come to examine the fundamentals of the rules about drug use in sport. In many ways the debate on drug use in sport is similar to the debate on professionalism a few years ago. At that time amateur sportsmen seemed noble, but with the benefit of hindsight it looks like an elitist system that gave an unfair advantage to upper class athletes who could afford to take time off work to train.
I know that the analogy is not perfect, because drug use is dangerous. No athlete will die because he/she gets paid too much, but as we have sadly found out, it is entirely possible for athletes to kill themselves by over indulging in performance enhancing drugs. However, the rules should be adapted to focus on athlete safety rather than on the complete elimination of performance enhancing drugs.
Lance has plenty of experience of dealing with dangerous drugs. As he stated in his excellent autobiography many of the chemotherapy drugs used to fight his testicular cancer were a much more dangerous than EPO (he commented on the fact that the nurses injecting the drugs into his vein wore protective gear to ensure that none of the drugs accidentally spashed onto their skin).
I know it is a radical idea, but we would have a fair playing field if athletes were allowed to use safe doses of certain performance enhancing drugs under carefully controlled conditions.