Rick Carroll: Above the Fold | AspenTimes.com

Rick Carroll: Above the Fold

An article I wrote last year about Lance Armstrong referred to his “once-impeccable reputation.” It was a grossly ignorant and over-simplified characterization of a very complicated and controlling man, and a reader nailed me on it in a phone call.

The caller, who claimed to have been a competitive cyclist at one time, told me – make that loudly lectured me – that anyone who knew anything about Armstrong never considered him to have the “once-impeccable reputation” to which I’d referred.

After a few minutes, the reader had gone into a rage, fuming so badly about Aspen’s collective crush on Armstrong that he hung up the phone. Slam. I haven’t heard from him since.

The Armstrong saga played out on the pages of this newspaper last year like it did in many other media outlets. But his plight was of particular interest to readers in bicycle-crazy Aspen. He has owned a home in the West End for about five years, still remains an honorary trustee of the Aspen Art Museum and continues to compete in numerous local bike races and footraces.

Last summer, a local “parking enforcer,” if you will, dropped by the newspaper offices to proudly show off a town bike, probably boasting a retail value of six or seven grand, that Armstrong had given him. Armstrong has patronized local bike shops and restaurants and dined with our sheriff a few times. Aspen’s mayor once lobbied, unsuccessfully, for a Lance Armstrong Day.

For sure, Sir Lance has loved Aspen, and Aspen has loved him back.

His Aspen critics have been in the quiet minority. And those who dared to speak out, and there were a scant few, often were called out for being insensitive and mean-spirited haters, as they were attacking this so-called humanitarian who was an inspiration for cancer victims everywhere. In a way, his critics felt the same type of scorn that Armstrong inflicted on numerous members of the cycling community and press who dared to question his integrity.

Never mind that the evidence against Armstrong was steadily mounting. And not just evidence that he cheated, which was an open secret anyway. Further proof that he could be an unapologetic jerk made his deteriorating image that much worse.

But Aspen, for the most part, has adored him. The town’s loyalty and defense of Armstrong has seemed no different from that of San Francisco Giants fans when Barry Bonds was in hot pursuit of Hank Aaron’s all-time home-run record or golf fans when Tiger Woods appears to be closing in on his 15th major win (they’re still waiting).

It’s become cliche to hear that sports fans are guilty of putting athletes on pedestals and that athletes are mere mortals who make mistakes. We get that. However, the cynic in me tells me that won’t change so long as the media machine keeps cranking in all of its forms – TV, radio and Internet, to name a few – and there is money to be made from an audience willing to pay.

But I must confess: I’ve got a bad case of Armstrong fatigue. His “tell all” with Oprah Winfrey spread out over two exhausting segments last week told me nothing other than that Armstrong is Aspen’s part-time version of Bernie Madoff on a bicycle.

No doubt there will be follow-ups on Armstrong here and everywhere else, but I have a laundry list of preferred sports stories:

• I’d rather read more about Aspen High School student Keegan Swirbul, who, at age 16, beat Armstrong by five minutes at the Power of Four mountain-bike race here in August.

• I’d rather see continued reporting on freestyle skier Torin Yater-Wallace, the Basalt teen who will be competing in this week’s Winter X Games.

• I’d rather know more about the breast-cancer survivor who musters enough energy to complete the five- or 10-kilometer event in this summer’s Aspen Race for the Cure.

• I’d rather hear from the back-of-the-pack half-marathoner who’s trying to shed 15 pounds or kick an addiction.

There are so many other stories to tell. But more Lance stories? We can’t ignore them, but personally, no thanks. His story is old, his race over.

And in regard to his “once impeccable reputation,” here’s some sage advice: When it comes to Armstrong, don’t believe everything you read.

Rick Carroll is managing editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at rcarroll@aspen

times.com or 970-429-9141.

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