Op-Ed Series #1: On heroes, by LeMond Fitness CEO Mark Handfelt

An essay by LeMond Fitness CEO Mark Handfelt

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Editor’s note: This is the first of several essays VeloNews will publish regarding doping in cycling. We invite readers to offer opinions in the comments below the essay or send in longer pieces that we will consider for publication separately. Send them to sfrothingham@competitorgroup.com.

Mark Handfelt has been CEO of LeMond Fitness since March. Prior to that, he was a partner at the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. He represented Greg LeMond and Floyd Landis in matters including the ongoing federal investigation into doping in cycling.

I recently had the good fortune to spend three days at the Tour of California. During that time I was reminded of many of the reasons I love cycling. Its pageantry and varied tempo painted out across a beautiful landscape; the nearly universal accessibility of and affection for the freedom associated with riding a bike; the efficient power transfer from ourselves, through our equipment, out onto the road. The list goes on and on.

I’ve also had the good fortune to come to know Greg LeMond and Floyd Landis on levels both personal and professional, working as an attorney for each. They are two very different men, with very different lives and outlooks, tethered together by many things, including the circumstance of being the first and the most recent Americans to stand atop the podium on the final day of the Tour de France, and their experiences with the other American that stood atop that very same podium in Paris more times than any other man, Lance Armstrong.

Regardless of whether you consider any or all of these men a hero, the fact remains that heroes are necessary, and it’s the dynamic around that need and its fulfillment that has, at least in part, contributed to Armstong’s current dilemma.

Since time primitive, society and culture has created the hero for its own purposes, initially and primarily to help deliver us from the fact that threatens our very core … our inevitable death and its constant dread that circulates through our subconscious mind, percolating periodically into our conscious enough to keep us uncomfortable about our continued existence. Consequently, our big heroes have been those that have demonstrated valor and have had the courage to face death down — or bigger heroes yet, those that have died and returned from the spirit world.

Lance Armstrong has had a compelling, heroic story. He faced the prospect of an early death similar to that faced by millions of others, and through a unique combination of grit, determination, good fortune and medicine, he survived and thrived on a global stage. So it’s understandable and natural that when courted by a champion who has in public appeared countless times as the confident, charismatic, charming survivor from a tough Texas background, millions of people anoint him hero for their own legitimate purposes. We need to hear and we need to believe stories such as Armstrong’s. Their influence calms our natural anxieties, and sustains, supports and inspires us in our day-to-day existence. The hero, for most, is typically good.

But for those within arms-reach of the hero … managers, teammates and advisors, for instance … the intoxicating dynamic of being in close proximity to the cycle of events and communications that create the hero, compromises their ability to maintain good boundaries around what would otherwise be their own individual goals and priorities, and to make good decisions that would otherwise assist them in realizing those goals and priorities. It doesn’t take long for the hero such as Armstrong to co-opt these people, as well as the others that anoint him from afar, for his own selfish purposes, including maintenance of the hero status … a status the hero has grown to enjoy, one to which he feels entitled and one that has elevated him to a stage larger than life itself.

Because of the nature of my relationship with each of Greg and Floyd, I’ve witnessed firsthand the harsh and unnecessary impact suffered by each of them, together with their families and friends, after questioning Armstrong’s truthfulness as a cyclist. Both men have paid, and continue to pay, an extraordinarily high price as a consequence of those honest questions … the same questions that were being asked by many others at the same time, albeit with a little less volume.

Answers to those questions are now being provided by individuals that have not been previously involved in the public debate. For those that continue to ask questions, questions that aren’t being answered by Armstrong or his circle, expect to see more of the same dynamic of intimidation and devaluation as employed against Greg, and Floyd, and Frankie and Betsy, and Tyler, and David Walsh and Paul Kimmage, and the list goes on and on. Also expect to see more attempts to distract that portion of the public that remains interested in getting truthful answers. Like the facts4lance website, the current Armstrong playbook is poorly designed, worn and without credibility; it’s a playbook that risks much more than whatever remains today of Armstrong’s legacy as a hero.

We can no longer ignore all the clues, all the evidentiary pieces strewn about. To do so is pure fantasy; denial on a grand, global scale. Life is not a fairy tale. People make decisions, act on impulses and fall susceptible to influences every day that they later regret. Deciding to take, and then owning, responsibility for those actions is generally the way that most people live most of their lives, successfully. The decision to take responsibility is often more complicated and difficult than the consequence suffered as a result of the poor conduct. In this situation, that may not be the case with respect to the consequences which could potentially be suffered by Armstrong and his circle, but failing to step forward to own that responsibility, truthfully and honestly, risks all that has come before and all that yet could be.

The integrity of the sport of cycling and its governing body is in tatters. Worse yet, as a country we are again left to question the integrity of one of our anointed heroes … a hero whose influence has transcended sport, resulted in fabulous personal wealth and permitted him the special, nearly spiritual, privilege of mediating people’s emotional and other response to issues of sickness, life and death. Issues that for those effected are personally much larger than any concern they or others may have regarding the integrity of the sport of cycling or sport generally.

Like many heroes, Armstrong has come to believe his own larger than life persona. He continues to live in a fantasy of his and his advisors’ making. The American public does not suffer lightly those that insult its collective intelligence, nor does it continence being lied to, repeatedly. Armstrong’s advisors hold themselves out to be accomplished, experienced professionals, but they have misapprehended and misjudged the problem they were hired to solve. Their hue and cry over wasted resources rings hopelessly hollow and is disingenuous. Armstrong is in the best position to clearly control the allocation of those resources by truthfully offering up answers that directly address the question of his use of PEDs, and by providing what he knows about others who have the power to either influence or control the outcome of sporting events on a global scale.

The axle on the Armstrong juggernaut is broken. Regardless of how well the engine is running, the wheels will eventually and inevitably come off, likely in a spectacular fashion. And when they do come off, the juggernaut will spin wildly out of control, careening from one lane to another, again taking out more innocents and those rubbernecking to see the carnage. It will destroy for many more the hope that man can successfully face down his deepest fears and demons and come out better for the experience.

Since Armstrong has failed to acknowledge and act on that which is apparent to nearly all who have followed his career and the sport and who have not succumbed to the fantasy of it all, his advisors must step up and counsel their client to responsibly guide the juggernaut to the side of the road where it can safely come to rest. Any other action in the face of the growing avalanche of evidence, and the blatant disregard and disrespect for the intelligence of the fans and the members of the general public who were courted by his behavior and by his statements, risks the gravest of consequences for their client, for the sport of cycling and most importantly, for those that believed.

Accepting that risk with all that is at stake is irresponsible, although I acknowledge that it is their absolute right to do so. That said, if they so choose and they get it wrong, the price to be paid by Armstrong and his circle will indeed be very, very high. But the price to be paid by the millions who were encouraged by the hero to believe, and did believe, will be a million-fold more. Risking that result is not something to which Armstrong has a right, it is simply selfish.

Since March 1, 2011, Mark Handfelt has been the President and CEO of LeMond Fitness Inc, located in Woodinville, Washington. Prior to that, he was a partner practicing corporate law in the global firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C., where his clients included both Greg LeMond and Floyd Landis. A Clydesdale class, heads-up style of rider, he is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Northwestern University School of Law. He lives in Kirkland, Washington.

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