What do Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey have in common? Neither of them has won the Tour de France. What’s the difference? Oprah is still eligible to ride, so she might still manage it.
This is Oprah’s second doper. The last was Olympic 100m champion Marion Jones – not long released from a prison sentence for perjury – who sobbed that, “I didn’t love myself enough to tell the truth.” I’m pretty confident Lance isn’t going to deploy the same line, simply because even he would have to acknowledge that no one would believe it.
What he will say? Anyone’s guess. “Lance,” Oprah will ask, “is there anything about your career that you now regret?”
“Well, yes Oprah,” Lance might say. “I’m really sorry for those stupid yellow wristbands. I got a rubber band caught round my watchstrap one day, and I didn’t want to look like a twit, so I made up this thing about them.”
“I’m sorry about those US Postal Service hats I used to wear, you know the ones that made my head look like it comes to a point? Those were a mistake. Johan told me they looked good, that everyone was wearing them, and that if I just wore them immediately after stages I wouldn’t get caught. I know now that that didn’t make it OK, and I regret that I was weak enough to believe him.”
“And?” “I took a bit of a, um, short cut.” “At last! Tell us more.” “Do you remember in 2003, when Joseba Beloki crashed, and I swerved into a field? I cut about 100 yards off the course. That was wrong. And I’d like to apologise unreservedly.
I know that my team-mates, rivals and peers accept that I did only what I had to do, but I may have disappointed a few of my more nitpicking fans.”
It’s going to be a long night. Even after they edit it to the advertised 90 minutes, it will make turbo-training feel like drinking cocktails with Dorothy Parker.
There is a frustration at the heart of this; that Armstrong isn’t going to be required to measure himself against anything other than the things he’s content to be measured against. On the sofa with Oprah, Armstrong will be the sun round which everything revolves.
Unlike a formal hearing, for example the USADA one he sidestepped, which might be based around quaint notions of truth, justice and honesty, the Oprah interview will involve presenting what Lance did wrong as seen by Lance.
Maybe that’s not cynical enough. The basic problem for Armstrong is one of presentation; lots of people have said he did wrong more convincingly than he has managed to say he did right. So there seems a good chance we’ll just hear about what he did wrong judged against what that portion of the public that matters to him think he did wrong.
Or maybe what that portion of the public that matters to him think he ought to think he’s done wrong. However subjective you may believe the truth of all this is, it’s the Ten Commandments compared to the PR-driven process Armstrong will bring to bear on the matter.
One also has to accept that the portion of the public he cares about is not cyclists. We’ve almost all abandoned him – but he didn’t care about us very much to start with. Oprah gives him a direct route to the most forgiving audience he’s going to find.
That’s what means he can continue to see it all his way, and what will ultimately limit the worth of the forgiveness that he’ll doubtless get. And I bet not a word of it is going to help the sport of cycling to recover from the revelations of the last few months.
Acts of cycling stupidity
You will recall (perhaps) last week’s column, which concerned my father and his regrettably rather hippy approach to bike maintenance. I forgot to mention that at Christmas he showed me a surprising innovation, in the form of a home-assembled multi-tool.
This consisted of half a dozen spanners parcel-taped together, and kept in the pocket of the tweed jacket he wears to go cycling. (My dad is not a Lycra kind of man.)
Alas, his bike has not one spanner adjustable nut or bolt on it – it’s Allen keys from end to end. A nicer son than me would probably not have pointed this out.
But before you judge me too harshly, know that I stayed silent upon the fact that all six spanners were the same (12mm) size.
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How to… repair a pothole
This guide is aimed at local councils, which, if the evidence around here is anything to go by, need the help. First, find your pothole. It’s best to start in the office – on your desk? Under your desk? No holes? Great! Job done.
If you’re foolish enough to have some system for allowing members of the public to report holes, don’t panic. When a report comes in, remember that many potholes repair themselves spontaneously, given long enough. Also, remember that some of these reports probably come from cyclists – fixing potholes will only encourage them to demand things like bike parking and golden elephants.
If you’re particularly conscientious, get someone to paint a ring round the reported potholes. Make sure they use the special magic paint that prevents cyclists hitting the holes and being thrown from their bikes into the road.
When eventually the threat of litigation inspires you, send some chaps in hi-viz trousers out to fix the holes. Make sure that, wherever there is a group of potholes close together, only one is fixed, ideally the smallest. Leave this for a few months.
There is a good chance the hole will reappear, in which case you’ll be able to put the money you might have wasted on any similarly futile attempt to fix the others into your spreadsheet as a virtual profit. This way, the more holes there are, the more money the council will have to spend on ‘cyclists dismount’ signs, and biscuits.