Long-time followers of Lance Armstrong react to his doping admission to Oprah Winfrey.
By TULLY CORCORANFS Southwest
Rob Landauer used to ride those roads outside of Austin, out in the Hill Country. Long rides, too. He wasn't doing it to compete, he was doing it for therapy.
"Basically pulled me out of a depression," he said.
He used to wonder if he'd ever cross paths with Lance Armstrong. Maybe Armstrong would blow by him on one of those hills some day. Maybe he already had. It's tough to see a passing cyclist's face.
"It was kinda cool to think that on any given ride, I might bump into him," Landauer said.
Landauer does not consider Armstrong a hero now, after he admitted to doping Thursday night, but he never did anyway. He says he admired him, but he doesn't let athletes burrow into his psyche much deeper than that. Landauer also says he has never taken any illegal substance. Not a toke at a party, not the hydrocodone pill of a buddy who just had his wisdom teeth out. He had a prescription for Adderall, but got off it because he felt he could achieve the same things by changing his study habits. Doesn't like to take medicine for illnesses. Doesn't even drink coffee.
He says the potential that doping could have on his athletic performance doesn't interest him in the least.
"If I wanted to change what I put in my body to perform better, I could probably just pass on dessert every now and then, or give up red meat or something," he said.
Landauer, however, is not a competitive cyclist, even though he is a good one, in addition to being a marathoner. He does lots of long charity rides, including one with connections to Armstrong, but he doesn't feel that Armstrong's doping admission – given to Oprah Winfrey Thursday night on OWN – is any serious reflection on himself or his experience with the sport.
"The way some people react to Hollywood gossip, or stuff like that, you'd think no one has ever gotten a divorce, or had a drinking problem, or had a troubled kid, or anything like that," he said. "Athletes make mistakes like the rest of us. Think for a minute -- how many times have you done something at work that would count as cheating, or dishonest, or something your boss wouldn't like?"
Other Austinites, however, feel betrayed by Armstrong. They felt inspired by his incredible story, and they swelled with pride that one of their own had done something so remarkable. At the time, they didn't mind that Armstrong was originally from Plano, though you'll hear that distinction being made more often these days.
"Austin definitely embraced him and treated him as one of our own, even though he's actually from Plano," said
Ryan Clark, a UT grad who lived in Austin for 25 years. "People identified him with our city, and we took pride in his accomplishments. Cycling is a sport that really fits with Austin's identity as a fit city with lots of outdoor activities, and he was the poster child for that image."
That has all changed.
"I honestly have not talked to a single person who still has a favorable opinion of him," Clark said. "There are some that are actually pretty angry and I guess feel betrayed somehow. I doubt that he'll have much of a public presence in the city after this."
Armstrong's interview with Oprah did not change much about how Landauer or Clark perceived his accomplishments. Neither is particularly offended by the doping itself, both acknowledging that it probably wasn't unusual. They lost respect for Armstrong because of the way he handled the accusations for so many years, lying and lying and suing people he knew were telling the truth.
Landauer has actually met Armstrong. A few years back, he was riding in the Texas 4000, which is a 4,500-mile ride that raises money for cancer research. Armstrong was involved, and one year took Landauer's cycling team out to Chuy's, an iconic Austin Tex-Mex spot.
"When he talked to my team, he was generally pretty humble," Landauer said. "Didn't hardly talk about himself. And hey, he took us out for Tex-Mex, and that automatically bumps you up in my book."
And so … it's complicated. In so many ways, Armstrong still seems like a pretty good guy, and in others he doesn't.
Landauer thinks Armstrong will retain some of his popularity around Austin. And the doping admission, to him, doesn't totally spoil his accomplishments.
"I think he'll still be an inspiration to some people, because drugs or not, his comeback was still bordering on miraculous," he said. "And he does do genuinely good charity work. But he'll also be remembered for this. So I think he'll be somewhat of a polarizing figure. Think Bill Clinton. That's a good comparison."
But the days of being this folk hero in this blue organic city, where the arts are important, where Whole Foods headquarters and where a cyclist can be seen as an apt representation of the local culture are probably over.
In the neighborhood where Clark used to live in Austin, there was what he described as a "beast of a hill." One year during the Tour de France Clark was running through the neighborhood when he came upon that hill. Someone had spray-painted "GO LANCE GO" at the bottom.
"More than the billboards and full-page newspaper ads of support, that's what I remember," Clark said, "because it was organic."