Ethics: Sir Lance-or-Not and Cycling’s Holy Grail


Knights of the Round Table

Here’s a partial list of the substances employed by bicyclists since 1896 to enhance their performance: Aspirin, Chloroform,Amphetamines, Erythropoitin, Clenbuterol, Cocaine, Heroin,  anabolic steroids, CERA, transfused blood.

Dozens of cyclists have died as the result of drug effects and many more have been caught and disqualified for using these and other substances or for being found with the paraphernalia associated with their use.

Competitive cycling ranks with professional horse racing for the asperity with which participants embrace illegal tactics to win.  It is acknowledged that it is part of the culture of the sport and no one should be much surprised that a parallel set of institutions has been created to monitor and prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

For decades the requirement was to pass body fluid tests with a negative result or successfully contest a positive result by employing any number of torturous arguments that were often successful.  A cyclist’s sanctity was largely premised on negative testing.

A few years ago the technology, if not the rules, began to change and other ways to monitor for substances or even transfusion of one’s own blood during an event came into being.  The sordid history of cyclist “doping” also played a role with US enforcement agencies showing a willingness to go after the purveyors, trainers, and medical personnel, including physicians, who abet the culture.

At least one US criminal investigation resulted in subpoenas and subsequent testimony of ten persons who apparently were willing to say that Lance Armstrong was involved in the use of performance enhancing drugs.  Tyler Hamilton, one of Armstrong’s team mates, has a book due out on September 5th that once again lays bare the sordid truth around doping.

Lance Armstrong is the quintessential non-quitter both with his cancer diagnosis and his athleticism. He has been in it to win.  The decision to toss in the towel now betrays his legacy and is puzzling.  It has the look of a not especially orderly, and hasty, retreat.

Lance, with his victory over cancer and his mythic Tour de France wins became a modern day Sir Lancelot, a romantic hero who amazingly,  recovered his own holy grail.  He was the essence of legend, right down to the name.

But, King Arthur’s Lancelot was similarly imperfect.  Lancelot committed grave errors.  In his later life he suffered great loss and became a tragic figure.

Sir Lancelot proves that in our own quest for meaning, perhaps in the form of a symbolic grail, that we must be willing to accept our knights  as potentially heroic but always imperfect.

Both Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis also sat at the Round Table and have fallen from grace after admitting that they doped, and at least in Landis’s case, lied about it.

Do we accord fallen heroes redemption?  If we don’t we should.  But if we do, we must also remember that those on whom we confer the status of hero are just like the rest of us with our haunting fears of failure and loss.


Sources: WSJ, NYT, Wiki





  • Steven G says:

    I don’t understand what the graphic has to do with the story, I don’t understand what any of it has to do with firefighting, and I don’t know why Lamar isn’t torqued off about the makeup of the Olympic basketball team.

    • Eric Lamar says:

      Let’s start at the end and work our way forward.

      I would as soon watch paint dry as watch basketball and I barely watched the Olympics.

      I am of the opinion that ethical considerations–honesty, fairness, morality, trust–cross professional and personal boundaries and by examining them in and out of context we learn about who we are and how we want to act. Firefighters (and fire fighting) do not exist in a vacuum. When we think we are different from everyone else we are being both foolish and reckless.

      The graphic is the Knights of the Round Table.

      I hope that helps.


  • Mike Ward says:

    I had to look up “asperity.”

    Nice post, good points.

  • Glenn says:

    I wonder how many doped up cyclist Lance beat in his quest to be the best of a bad lot?

  • Mike Schwartz says:

    Eric, thank you for taking a current, real life situation and making me think about it from a much larger, higher perspective.

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