Feet of clay


So now it’s all exploded
Off the back pages onto the front –

Confessions and contrition
Hearts emptied, guts spilled

Laundry aired, carpets lifted
And all the dirt swept under them

Dragged out into daylight
In a cloud of told-you-so –

Who’s left to raise
A glass or monument to?

Whose triumphs were their own,
Unaided by the blood-bag, syringe or pill?

What is there to believe
When every word and pedal stroke

Is now proved false
Or too good to be true.

What is a history worth
When spangled with asterisks

Stacked on footnotes
Or just left blank

As ink and decency recoil
From such names and such deeds.

All that comes out clean
Unsullied and unstained

Is the machine:
The one they all professed to love

But simply used.
It is not them. It is itself.

And in itself
It makes us more than men –

Faster, stronger, more alive
Than we ever dared to dream.

A fine, benign addiction
My stimulant of choice.

And even after everything
I’ll still take it every day.


A hard piece to write, and a very incomplete and inadequate expression of what’s in my mind right now. I’m still reeling from the USADA’s decision to annul Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories, Tyler Hamilton’s (long-overdue) confession and all the other dreadful revelations that have engulfed cycling in recent days. We all knew things were rotten in the sport: we just didn’t know – or dare to imagine – just how bad they were. Now we do know. And I’m so angry, disappointed and disillusioned, I don’t think I shall ever watch a professional bike race again. Sorry, Bradley. All that’s left is the bike itself. Which, thank goodness, is still more than enough. N.


6 thoughts on “Feet of clay

  1. A most sad series of events…but it does not change the inspiration that he gave to many with money he raised for cancer research…some how I feel parts of the story are missing and will never be told. 😦

    • Great to hear from you, Charles, and I agree: I think this is just the tip of very large and exceedingly grubby iceberg. And I’m sure the full story will never be told: the vested interests are too great, and the connections of the people involved extend too far and high. The sad part is, Armstrong could and should have achieved a huge amount without doping: his natural physical gifts would have made him a multiple Tour winner anyway had cycling been a clean sport; and the sheer force of his personality would have made him a powerful campaigner and advocate regardless of sporting success. There are many who point to his charity work to absolve him of his fraudulent results, and to some extent I sympathise: there’s no doubt that he’s inspired millions of people and been an enormous force for good in certain quarters. Do the ends justify the means? I think that’s a question moral philosophers, sports pundits and internet forum users are going to be having fun with for a very long time! N.

  2. I’m glad you wrote about this, Nick–I’m disappointed too, and I’m not a biking enthusiast. It is very disillusioning when our “heroes” fall–this has been brewing for some time, and I wish Lance had stepped up much earlier and taken responsibility. I would have had more grace, been more forgiving. I realize he did much good–raising money for cancer–and that perhaps we don’t know the whole story; the problem is that our “good” is tainted when we don’t own up to the “less than”. Just one poet’s opinion…

    • I think the only charge we can stick on Armstrong with any certainty is that he is who he is. ‘Being Lance’ is both his greatest crime, and his enduring punishment. His belief in his own legend (or should that now be myth?) was so forceful and overwhelming, it gave him a sense of entitlement, invincibility and invulnerability. There’s an excellent article in the New Statesman magazine I’d recommend to anyone interested in this case: notably, it’s not written by a sportswriter. http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2012/09/voodoo-cult-positive-thinking

      The 1999 Tour de France – billed as the ‘Tour of redemption’ after the appalling scenes of 1998 – was a magical time for me; when I finally tipped over the edge from mere enthusiasm into passion for cycling and everything about it. I owned a bike the same as the one Lance rode to that first Tour victory (I waited five years to get it) wore replica US Postal team kit, proudly sported a yellow Livestrong wristband – the works. I’m older and wiser now, and had already ‘moved on’ long before this storm broke. I’m shocked, of course, but not really surprised. And as silly as it sounds, the sense of betryal is still very real. N.xx

  3. Nick you said yesterday you weren’t ready to write about this so the fact that you now have shows your strength of feeling.

    And if you need to write more, please do, you write it so well anyway. So as well as giving us a good poem I hope the writing of it was a little therapy for you.

    The person who rides your machine is as clean and clear as the day is long and that’s what matters most. 🙂

    Christine xx

    • Thank you so much. There was a two-hour programme about the whole business on BBC radio last night, featuring interviews with Armstrong’s former team-mate (and serial doper) Tyler Hamilton and ‘soigneur’ (masseuse/team helper) Emma O’Reilly, plus bigwigs from the anti-doping authorities; it made for shocking, depressing, illuminating and heartbreaking listening. I felt very low afterwards; getting something down on paper, and your generous comment, have made me feel a lot better. N.xx

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