Suspect? Cynically guess? I'm just looking for people's stories here. The internet wasn't exactly the indispensable piece of our everyday lives at the beginning of that Tour de France run that never happened (aside: does the 2005 Tour even have a podium? At all?), but by the end it was getting there. What was it like watching those Tours, and what did you think and feel at the time?
Me, I had no idea, but I have several interrelated excuses: I was a kid (ages 13-19), I was stupid (see the first part), and OLN/Versus/whatever it was called at the time only ever paid lip service to Armstrong. I did not actually watch the 1999 or 2000 Tours. I remember hearing news reports about how this guy who was supposed to die of cancer came back and won the Tour de France bike race, and isn't that wonderful. By the time the next summer rolled around, I was on a student trip to the UK, and I recall hearing a television news reporter talking about "Lance Armstrong leading at the Tour de France" and I thought 'Didn't that already happen?' It didn't click with me that it had been a year since. I wonder why I remember that so vividly.
By 2001, I was watching the race. I didn't really know that winning two mountain stages and two time trials en route to winning the race overall by close to seven minutes wasn't really something that should happen. Of course 2004 was the goofiest as far as that went, as he won five stages within a week en route to winning overall by about the same margin.
I remember it all, because I saw it all happen. And I never had any doubt, at the time, that it was all truly happening. And I really have no idea how to feel about that now, because without all of that I probably never would have become a fan of the sport in the first place.
Then came the retirement (quite strategic in hindsight) and that was when I first really noticed the doping allegations. I'm not sure how exactly I progressed, but much like the Kubler-Ross model of grief I went from "Oh, it's just sour grapes from sore losers!" to "They can't handle that an American won!" to "Well, hmm....maybe something did go on" to "But weren't they all doing it?" to "Aw, dammit." In that regard I do have some sympathy for the legions of sheeple who stay at Lance's feet. They've never really known to think differently. And like I said before, I'm sort of conflicted myself. Don't get me wrong -- I know he led the sport down a deep dark alley and did awful, awful things to it. It's just tough reconciling that with the memories I have and the outright deification he got in those years.
And I actually bought into Comeback 2.0, I'm ashamed to say. The whole narrative about riding for free and publishing his blood values online (and about that...were the numbers just invented from whole cloth? Because I don't recall any red flags being raised during the Astana/Shack seasons. Did I just miss them? Because surely someone out there knew how to read those numbers), I fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker. I guess I just want to believe people have good intentions.
But for you, what were those years (and races) of your cycling fandom like?