- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

Lance Armstrong is one of America's leading athletes, and one of its least appreciated.
That goes with the sport, burdened as it is with pharmaceutical products and discarded syringes.
Armstrong comes out of the shadows every July, clean as ever, which is the redeeming detail in a sport as sullied as cycling.
Armstrong beat cancer before he beat the best cyclists in the world.
The two are connected by the right drug regimen. Armstrong has not beaten the drug rumors, raised yet anew.
"If I had a dollar for every time somebody yelled, 'Doe-PAY, Doe-PAY,' I'd be a rich man," Armstrong said yesterday after stretching his lead in the Tour de France to 4 minutes and 21 seconds. "It's disappointing."
You are permitted to believe what you want, as long as it is qualified.
Who really knows what's what in cycling?
For every new drug test, there is a back-door prescription to defeat it. It only seems as if no self-respecting cyclist leaves home without a chemist.
Fair or not, Armstrong is tainted by the company he keeps and the innuendoes that never quite go away. That is as far as it goes, the same with baseball and the big bashers named Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.
Armstrong has passed every test, as his defenders note.
Armstrong is in his customary lead position at the Tour de France, the occasion marked by his claim on the yellow jersey, a fashion faux pas rivaled by the green jacket of the Masters.
Armstrong has completed the climb up Mont Ventoux, in the mountain stages of the race that has prompted some of his best work in the past.
The dots on the map twist the tongue and contribute to the absence of passion on these shores.
The excitement is an acquired thing, maybe a French thing, hard to fathom, like the French's fascination with Jerry Lewis.
The day-to-day activities come without a crescendo. The race is often over before it is over, in an anticlimactic way, and the jockeying on any given day only may reflect a larger strategy. It is all in the nuances, one of the favorite rallying cries of baseball and soccer.
A rider can maintain his lead by finishing 30th during one leg of the race, as Armstrong did Saturday. That's a ho-hum development, ill-suited to America's sporting tastes.
Otherwise, there is a lot pedaling, and a lot of head scratching, and a lot of scenery. There also is the spectacular crash on occasion. And rumors. And more rumors. And denials. And a collective, "Humph."
Organizers responded to the eyes glazed over by reworking the order of the stages, saving some of the arduous stretches of the race for the last week. The riders hit the Alps tomorrow.
Not that Armstrong is expected to falter. If anything, Armstrong is likely to put the finishing touches on his fourth consecutive victory, days before the final leg Sunday. It takes an enthusiast to appreciate the formality.
Try as he might, the taut Texan cannot run from the sport's considerable stench. All he can do is wonder if those casting aspersions are of sober mind and of proper refinement.
"I'm not here to be friends with a bunch of people who stand at the side of the road, who have had too much to drink and want to yell, 'Doe-PAY,'" he said. "It's an issue of class. Do you have class, or do you not have class? That's not the way a classy person acts."
As the icon of his sport, Armstrong is the biggest target. He rises above his sport before being pulled down by it. His contempt reveals a certain weariness with the process.
He is a name, if not a brand, just not embraced at a level commensurate with his achievement. He is the product of a niche sport and all its baggage, which superstardom was fashioned on foreign soil.
Armstrong also is part miracle man, uncomfortable though he is with the notion, and an inspiration to those fighting the c-word.
He is too good each July.
He is not too good to be true, as far as we know.


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