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Lance Armstrong’s fall affects local cyclists

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George Burns/Reuters Cyclist Lance Armstrong is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in Austin, Texas, on Thursday.

It’s the same dedication that drives all cyclists. As the snow fell outside, members of the D’Ornellas cycling club pushed hard on their kinetic trainers right up until Lance Armstrong’s highly anticipated televised confessional.

As he wiped sweat from his brow, volunteer instructor Len Goodman lamented: “It’s a little bit sad to see the destruction of a sports icon.”

Many of the team members were attracted to the sport because of Armstrong’s unprecedented seven Tour de France victories. “Cycling was an edgy European sport,” he said. But all those people who were running before and looked down on bikes are cycling now, partly because of Lance and partly because they’ve blown their knees, he joked.

They set up a TV event to watch the Oprah interview together nestled among the shiny new cars in a car dealership that rents space out to the club.

“It’s a great opportunity to get together,” said City Buick owner Michael Carmichael, a longtime partner of the club. It’s a bit nostalgic, he said. There will be a lot of “where were you when,” he said.

Everyone here has followed the ups and downs of Armstrong’s career. From his brush with death from cancer to his miraculous recovery to his rise to cycling dominance. Then the doping allegations, the denials, the stripped titles and the lost sponsorships.

Only hours before the broadcast, Armstrong was informed that he was stripped of his bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Despite his fall from grace, the atmosphere was more pizza party than funeral.

“He’s still the greatest cyclist ever,” said club member Paula Rochman. “He’s from an era when they had unenforceable rules.”

Rochman, who is a lawyer when she’s not riding, had a double interest in the confession. “He’s setting himself up to be protected legally,” she said.

There was a general sentiment that everyone was doping, and it’s unfair to lay all the blame on Armstrong.

“He was still the best doper,” said club member Ken Deering, “he beat all the other guys.”

“It’s like Ben Johnson said: ‘It’s only cheating when you’re the only one.’”

Club founder and former Team Canada cyclist Eon D’Ornellas was patched into the meeting by Skype from Claremont, Fla., and held Q and A sessions during commercial breaks.

Before the interview even began, the crowd, braying for blood, asked him if he had ever doped.

“No,” D’Ornellas said, but he often questioned the other riders while he suffered during rides.

“There was so much pressure. He was so deep into this that he had to keep going,” he said.

But coming clean is important. “The sport will move on,” he said. “People aren’t cycling for Lance anymore, they’re doing it for their health.”

thestar.com – News