Armstrong supporters unfazed by doping accusations
ASPEN, Colo. (AP)
He's powered his way up the Pyrenees on his bike after recovering from cancer. He's listened to the doping allegations leveled by former cyclists and is agitated by the accusations.
Only this is Peter Kelley, a real estate broker in Aspen, avid cyclist and cancer survivor.
And he's definitely got Lance Armstrong's back.
To Armstrong's most ardent admirers, the seven-time Tour de France winner will always remain a champion no matter who calls him a cheat.
He's the person who helped launch Livestrong, a foundation that provides support to cancer patients, and hardly the cyclist embroiled in a doping scandal.
''Show me one other person in his position who's raised millions for cancer, who's lit the way through darkness for so many people,'' said Kelley, who's been in remission from cancer for 26 months. ''He literally lit the way for me by his example. He made a difference in my recovery.''
Kelley was among the 50 or so people who showed up for an auction Friday night to benefit the Livestrong organization. The group bid on items such as a signed Armstrong jersey and his bib from stage 13 of the 2000 Tour de France.
The conversations ranged from the appetizers (the salmon on a potato chip was quite popular) to the weather (rainy and cold) and even touched on what's being said these days about Armstrong, who's back in the headlines.
That topic was hard to ignore.
Earlier Friday, ''60 Minutes'' reported that George Hincapie, a longtime member of Armstrong's inner circle, told federal authorities he saw Armstrong use performance-enhancing drugs.
This arrived just a day after another former member of Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team, Tyler Hamilton, told ''60 Minutes'' he also used PEDs with Armstrong.
These disclosures come a year after Floyd Landis, whose 2006 Tour title was stripped for using steroids, shifted the focus of federal authorities' cycling investigation onto Armstrong, claiming he and Armstrong had both used drugs while members of the U.S. Postal team.
But the Hincapie revelation mattered little in this room.
''It's so easy to be cynical and critical of people,'' said Rob Bordan, a real estate broker in Aspen. ''But there are certain things that are unequivocal: (Armstrong) was tested and came up clean, and he's started a very large organization that does an enormous amount of good for people.
''Those are the indisputable facts. Everything else seems to be up for some sort of level of interpretation.''
There's certainly no disputing this: Armstrong has increased the awareness of cancer and made yellow bracelets quite fashionable, distributing 80 million since its inception seven years ago. He's also assisted Livestrong in raising more than $400 million.
Some of that money comes through grass-roots efforts such as hosting events like this Aspen auction. There are also concerts, wine tastings, golf tournaments and other fundraisers, including a 5-year-old's lemonade stand that raised around $300.
''Everybody has a story about cancer, whether it's yourself, brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, grandparents, somebody. There aren't many people in the world that haven't been touched by cancer,'' said Phil Hills, the executive vice president of development for Livestrong. ''And there are probably very few people of any type that have put as much into any fight as Lance has into the cancer realm.''
Raifie Bass, a real estate agent, meandered over to the auction items, picking up a pen and placing a bid for Armstrong's bib.
A two-time cancer survivor, the 43-year-old is a self-described ''cycling geek,'' watching the Tour of California each night and the Giro d'Italia most mornings. Like a lot of fans, he grew up cheering for Greg LeMond and then Armstrong.
''Lance is a true inspiration for so many people,'' Bass said. ''Just a person that really is a great motivator for me as a cyclist and as a cancer survivor.
''What Lance has done for the global message of cancer and awareness, it's unstoppable.''
And if it ever were proved that he doped?
''I think it would be sad,'' Bass said. ''I think from a cycling perspective, if that was the case, and I don't believe it to be true, but if that was the case, it would hurt his legacy as a cyclist.
''But it's not how many Tours he won or what he's done for cycling. It's what he's done for cancer.''
Kelley couldn't agree more. He went through aggressive chemotherapy to recover from lymphoma, then returned to an active lifestyle that includes skiing and biking.
''It wasn't like I had the attitude of, 'I'm taking the bull by the horns and I'm going to beat cancer,''' Kelley said. ''You just don't know. I knew what I was going to do - continue to live every moment as fully as I could.
''Lance did it. I did it, too.''