Friday Feature special: Lance Armstrong

Image courtesy of RadioShack

Unsurprisingly, the key topic of discussion – okay, the only topic of discussion – at VeloVoices Towers today has been a 40-something former cyclist and his not-quite-admission of guilt. Yes, we’ve frittered away our Friday by breaking into the VeloVoices drinks trolley early and talking about Lance Armstrong.

Unfortunately Jack is away on holiday this week, but Tim, Kitty and Sheree Skyped Panache in our Washington DC office – the Peloton Pentagon – to bring you a Friday Feature special of our thoughts and reflections on the day the cycling history books were rewritten. Want to know what we thought? Then read on …

The facts

The chess match is now all but played out as we finally arrive at the endgame. Last night Lance Armstrong announced that he would not contest the charges levelled against him by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). As a result, USADA have issued a lifetime ban and stripped him of all results dating back to 1998, including the seven Tours de France he won between 1999 and 2005. USADA’s announcement cited the following doping violations:

1. Use and/or attempted use of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents.

2. Possession of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions and related equipment (such as needles, blood bags, storage containers and other transfusion equipment and blood parameters measuring devices), testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents.

3. Trafficking of EPO, testosterone, and corticosteroids.

4. Administration and/or attempted administration to others of EPO, testosterone, and cortisone.

5. Assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering up and other complicity involving one or more anti-doping rule violations and/or attempted anti-doping rule violations.

Armstrong’s statement was typically forthright. He attacked USADA CEO Travis Tygart‘s “unconstitutional witch hunt” and his “outlandish and heinous claims”. He talked about his refusal “to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair” against an organisation which “at every turn … has played the role of a bully” – a comment which will have raised an eyebrow among those who have been on the receiving end of Armstrong’s strong-arm – and frequently litigious – actions in the past.

Nowhere in the statement is there anything approaching an admission of guilt, nor is there ever likely to be. We can only infer and speculate as to why this most combative and competitive of individuals has chosen to step away from the fight at this point. We do not know the facts. But we can certainly draw our own conclusions.

What happens next?

We have arrived at the endgame, but in reality it may be some time before we reach check-mate. USADA may pursue further sanctions against other riders and staff involved in the alleged conspiracy – bans have already been issued in a number of cases. Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, had earlier challenged USADA’s jurisdiction, and may yet take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) is maintaining a watching brief.

ASO, the organisers of the Tour de France, have issued a holding statement saying they will take no action until the situation between USADA and the UCI has been resolved. They might choose to promote the runners-up in the seven Tours Armstrong won. That would be uncomfortable to say the least: Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso have both been convicted of doping. Alex Zulle admitted taking EPO while with Festina. Andreas Kloden and Joseba Beloki have both been the subject of (unproven) doping allegations  in the past. Alternatively, ASO may choose to declare that those races had no winner – an embarrassing reminder for all time for the history books.

As for Armstrong, the story does not end here either. With his reputation severely damaged, he is likely to face multiple lawsuits from sponsors, business associates and individuals which will, at the very least, keep him busy for the foreseeable future, and could result in financial ruin.

All this, however, is idle speculation. Here’s how the VeloVoices reacted to the news today.

Tim

Armstrong’s statement is a masterpiece of obfuscation, but really this was just the full-stop at the end of a sentence which has been written over a period of years. The true believers will still believe. The armchair prosecutors will bemoan the lack of an admission of guilt. ‘Twas ever thus.

In that respect, nothing has changed. In many others, though, everything has: history will record Lance Armstrong as a no-time Tour de France winner. The all-American hero has been unmasked as the devil.

So while this is closure with neither conclusion or conviction – and I doubt the story will truly end here – it’s still a pivotal day. Some fans are sad, some are still mad and others are grave-dancing. A few will always believe, no matter what. Like many, I’m somewhere in between.

To me, he is still the greatest cyclist of his generation. He is also a cheat. I’m conflicted. Sue me. (Please don’t.)

It’s time to move on. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Lance was just the public tip of a large pharmacological iceberg, but let’s learn the lessons and march forward without constantly looking back. I hope ASO will declare ‘no winner’ for the 1999-2005 Tours as a reminder to future generations. I suspect that won’t happen, and Messrs Zulle, Ullrich, Beloki, Kloden and Basso will inherit those titles without turning a pedal. That might just be the greatest crime of all.

Sheree

I’ve had a couple of hours to digest the news but am still feeling somewhat ambivalent. Lance has thrown in the towel to avoid a long, costly and damaging court case. But it doesn’t change my opinion of him, or of his achievements. He’ll always be a seven-time Tour de France winner. I do however believe that he – and many other prominent riders – cheated and were never caught. The really sad thing is that if no one had cheated the outcome of the races might not have been too dissimilar.

If he is stripped of his titles, unravelling the financial implications is going to be a complicated exercise. As an accountant, I await the financial fall-out with interest. Let’s not forget that a number of US companies profited from Lance’s wins. Will they get off scot-free? I am, of course, referring mainly to Nike, Oakley and Trek.

And what of the UCI’s role in all of this? Maybe the best outcome would be a thorough look at the roles and responsibilities of the various bodies – USADA, WADA and UCI – leading to greater clarity of their respective responsibilities plus better segregation of duties. You just know that this is going to continue to rumble on.

Kitty

My biggest concern is this: will the evidence that the US Anti-Doping Agency has compiled ever come to light? Surely everyone who has been involved in this systematic doping should be held up to the light. If not, what good is this doing? If the doctors, the directeurs sportif, the personal trainers, other riders and everyone around them who are facilitating doping aren’t sanctioned just as harshly, this type of thing will go on and on and on and on.

As for Lance himself, I’ve never had this hatred of him that half the world has, nor do I have blind faith in him like the other half of the world seems to have. He was the reason I started watching cycling but not the reason I continued to watch it – I found the whole sport fascinating, not just an individual rider. And looking back at footage of his wins – do I have to asterix them? – they’re not any less exciting for what we know now, at least not for me. It was the race on the day.

I want cycling to be clean but I’m worried that this chance to really clean house will just pass the sport by – again. Ding dong, the witch is dead – but the witch didn’t work alone.

Panache

In order for cycling to flourish it needs to be planted and nourished in healthy ground. Lance Armstrong polluted the soil of cycling with his cheating, lying, manipulating and bullying for too long. There is plenty of evidence/data and eyewitness testimony to show this.

I applaud Travis Tygart and USADA for being relentless in the pursuit of clean competition despite overwhelming political and financial pressure.  After all, that is their job.  The UCI would be wise to follow USADA’s recommendations for disciplining Armstrong.  The fact the sport’s greatest fraud of all time happened under their watch should be a signal that the UCI needs drastic changes, especially in leadership.

One cannot deny that Lance is an inspirational hero to millions who are fighting cancer. I feel for these people. I do not revel in seeing their disappointment. That said, I rejoice for Frank and Betsy Andreu, Greg Lemond and many others who have been destroyed by Armstrong for telling the truth.  These people ooze panache for sticking to their principles.

I cannot deny that I enjoyed watching Armstrong race. He is a supremely gifted endurance athlete and competitor. I believe he trained and worked very hard to achieve his results. But I also believe that he – like most of the cyclists of his era – used performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping too. He cheated. He should face the consequences.

I say the seven yellow jerseys should go to the lanterne rouge from each year – because those are the only riders who might have been riding clean at the time.

How do you feel about Lance Armstrong after today’s developments? Let us know in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Friday Feature special: Lance Armstrong

  1. Derv says:

    Does this mean that this Usada lot has new evidence to pass to the federal authorities to prosecute in a court of law as opposed to this rather kangaroo style court?

    • The federal investigation was more about misuse of public funds than about doping. It’s clear that USADA had gathered a lot of eyewitness testimony. It’s not clear exactly what it is. Releasing this evidence to ensure transparency would, of course, allow people to judge for themselves. I’m not entirely sure this will ever happen. But the reality is that Lance has clearly decided this was a fight he could not win, and to back down now was the ‘least worst’ option to minimise personal damage.

      I very much doubt many people’s opinion of Lance will have changed as a result of this. As we said in the piece, believers will always believe, doubters will always doubt, and both camps are 100% convinced they are right. Many (myself included) sit somewhere in the middle. I have always wanted to believe in Lance, but time has convinced me otherwise. I don’t have the facts, but I do have my opinion. Clearly you have yours too.

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