To turn the allegations against Lance Armstrong into some sort of American-bashing on the part of the French is highly unfair, but then again, this hardly comes as a surprise given the jingoism of the media regarding sports news. The truth of the matter is that there will always be suspicions and the allegations will be hard to prove or disprove one way or the other.
On the one hand, the laboratory tests used to detect EPO in Lance’s urine samples are quite reliable, (urine keeps well when frozen!) but on the other hand, at this point, no one can yet rule out that these samples may have been mishandled or that sound procedures may have been violated. It is likely that experts will fight and nothing definite might ever come out.
But having suspicion is perfectly legitimate and reasonable when it comes to a sport where champions have had drugs for breakfast for years. Cycling has been ruled by lies and deception. This is a known fact. And of course there has been a shroud of suspicion surrounding Lance Armstrong himself since the late 90s as you can read here, or here. Suspicion may be unfair but it is a fact of life – once bitten, twice shy. It is also a fact that winning the Tour de France seven times at the age of 31 (and after cancer) looks like a miracle. This, in some ways, also explains why the French and the Americans see the whole story from total different angles.
The French have a more cynical view of life – they would not believe in miracles even if miracles existed. [stories must have some sad ending]. The Americans, on the other hand, have a much more optimistic view of life [stories should end in happiness.] – they would believe in miracles even if miracles did not exist.
In this story Armstrong is a mythical figure. He is our modern superhero. It is all the harder for a lot of people to see that he too may have faulted. That's probably why 71% of Americans believe Armstrong. The French on the other hand are very wary of anything that is too 'nice' and fairy-tale like, anything that could make them look gullible.
Sure, there may be some anti-Americanism on the part of a few French (that newspaper L’Equipe published a picture of Armstrong with G.W. Bush is hardly a coincidence) but you cannot reduce the whole thing to that. There is more to it. Some people may also been a bit upset about the competition itself and the predictability of Lance’s victory. It takes away the fun of the game. The lack of suspense makes some people question the fairness of the competition.
Now of course, the (mostly American) media are playing the American-bashing card – after all there are there to make big bucks out of this controversy and they are delighted of the spin. Fox, for instance has turned the snit between the French newspaper and an individual US citizen into an attack on the United States as a whole. Well that’s Fox all right isn’t it? It also seems that Lance Armstrong himself is playing this card (see CNN’s interview with Larry King) and that’s unfortunate. But I would not blame him so much. It’s got to be emotionally tough, and attacking – even lashing out – may be the best defense. And who knows… he may be innocent or have taken the drugs “à l’insu de son plein gré” [without his own free will] as former French champion Virenque would have put it.
My (French cynical) take is that they may all be doped anyway and maybe it does not matter so much because we’ll probably never know. Too much money is involved for the story to go away. My (American optimistic) view, however, is that it certainly does not take away the courage of those champions and Lance’s lasting impact on the fight against cancer may be more important than petty fights over alleged drug use.