Lance

Much like the motto of the Canadian Mounties, the United States Anti-Doping Agency can claim they have finally “got their man.”

Yippee.  The world is now a better place.  Or is it?

When I walked into the office today, everyone was interested in my views on Armstrong’s decision not to pursue arbitration in the USADA’s case against him.  Apparently, since I have been known to ride a bicycle with some regularity, I am supposed to opine on these things to the general populace, most of whom cannot name a cyclist without the last name of Armstrong.  I told them to read my blog, specifically the February post where I discussed this issue at length.

For those who have not bookmarked that tour-de-force blog entry, you can reach it here.  My opinion on doping in cycling really hasn’t changed.  Performance enhancing drugs have been a part of cycling almost since its inception and stories of doping in cycling go back to the 19th Century – that’s right, the NINETEENTH Century.  Every few months, we are treated to another positive test result.  This year was no different, with Tour de France contender Frank Schleck bowing out after a positive test.  Fun Fact:  Frank’s brother, Andy, was awarded the 2010 Tour de France victory after that year’s winner, Alberto Contador, had his title stripped in yet another doping scandal.

But while all of these riders were big fish, Armstrong was the Moby Dick of cyclists.  And the people who sought to investigate him played the role of Captain Ahab to perfection.  Seven years after his last TdF victory and three years after he retired, they landed their whale.  And just as Captain Ahab is hardly a sympathetic figure, neither is USADA, WADA, the TdF, or the others who relentlessly pursued Armstrong over the years, long after the alleged offenses and quite possibly beyond the statute of limitations for some of the titles he earned.

At the end of the day, one is not left with a sense of justice being done, nor of a man being wrongfully accused.  After sifting through the questionable tactics employed by the investigators, the sullied backgrounds of the cyclists testifying against Armstrong, the incredible amount of effort/time/money used to build a case against a man no longer competing, and looking at the man himself, who clearly has a mountain of evidence against him (none of it of the smoking gun variety, I’ll grant you),  it is hard to find a hero here.  All you really feel is the sudden need to take a shower.

Will this really change anything?  I think not.  The chemists will continue to be one step ahead of the testers.  Such is the nature of PED testing.  Those who love Armstrong will continue to love him.  His charity work will continue unabated.  Those who do not care for him will continue to not care for him, but I suspect Armstrong rarely travels in their circles these days.  As the saying goes, the dogs will bark and the circus will move on.

There are three days until the Reston Century when my wife and I will tackle the 34 mile route.  I think there’s time for one more blood transfusion before we need to cycle off before the testing on race day.

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22 thoughts on “Lance

    • Thanks, Fizz. It should be fun. Last year I almost died in a thunderstorm of biblical proportions. Let us hope things are quite so eventful this year!

  1. Yeah sums it up nicely. I think everyone who knows cycling know that Lance doped, like everyone else. The rule of doping in cycling has always been its not doping unless you’re stupid enough to get caught. Travis Tygart apparently didn’t get that memo.

    • You can always go with what I call the “Eddie Merckx Defense,” which is to blame improper handling of the urine sample. Eddie was one of the first to offer this excuse when he was caught (for the first time) in 1969.

  2. Nice post, Steve. I pretty much agree, though it’s hard for me to formulate a rock-solid opinion about any of this–except that it’s a drag. I always figured he was doping, and I figured most others were, too–and I knew that they were all out-of-this-world cyclists just to be on that stage in the first place. I wish there was some sort of statute of limitations on this sort of thing, I guess. I’ll continue to think of him as a legendary cyclist, and continue enjoying my time on my own bike.

    • That’s a great story, Will. Armstrong is definitely a complicated figure. With the recent events at Penn State, we seem to have our fair share of flawed heroes as of late. Congrats to you and your wife!

  3. so do we condone the blood doping or ignore it just because it’s been done since the 19th century and so many people do it now-a-days? Isn’t a shame that people must find some artificial way to enhance their performance beyond practice and hard work?

    • My opinion is that Armstrong doped, as did almost everyone in his era. It is also my opinion that a great many cyclists (and baseball players, and football players, and track stars, and just about any other athlete who stands to make millions if he/she succeeds) are doping. This is why I let these people entertain me, but I don’t let them become my heroes.

      Should we condone it? No, not when we can prove it. I may think Armstrong doped, but Armstrong never admitted to it and never tested positive. Not once in over 500 tests. As near as I can tell, he will be the only athlete ever to have been found guilty without a positive test. Ever. That hardly seems fair, does it?

      The investigations into Armstrong are many and they include bungled chains of custody on years-old urine samples along with testimonies of former teammates, most of whom were caught doping themselves and many of whom with a personal ax to grind against Armstrong. WADA couldn’t make a case. The TdF couldn’t make a case. After a two-year investigation, US Federal Prosecutors couldn’t even get an indictment (and the saying, “indictment is so easy you can indict a ham sandwhich” comes to mind). But USADA picked up the baton after all these previous investigations and was prepared to go to arbitration with it, 13 years after the first allegations were made. So much for the right to a speedy trial.

      So the question arises, if any other cyclist in the peleton endured the same level of scrutiny as Armstrong, what would investigators discover? The fact is no other cyclist has faced this much scrutiny and despite it all the case is not ironclad. And to strip an athlete of seven TdF titles should require something close to an ironclad case, IMHO.

      So there it is – while I believe Armstrong doped, I don’t believe he should have his titles stripped because what I believe and what I know are two very different things.

  4. You and I appear to be in total accord here mate.

    Did he dope? I believe yes like the rest of the Peloton.

    Has he been proven to dope? No.

    Has he been tried and covicted by an organisation? As good as.

    Is that Justice? Not as we practice it here in the UK.

    A complete and utter mess and you could argue a witchhunt from start to finish.

    A sad and dispiriting episode…

    • That’s an intriguing question you raise, James. It will be interesting to see what the TdF does. In American college sports, it is occasionally necessary for the NCAA to vacate a championship. In those instances, the runner up does not get the title and there is simply no champion that year for that sport. It’s not a great solution, but nothing is when you retroactively change the outcome on the field/court/ice/roads, etc…

  5. The difficulty about being relaxed about doping is that if it is common and nodded through on the grounds that everyone is doing it, then it makes it difficult for people who want to participate without doping to have a chance of doing well. I wouldn’t have liked a child of mine to take up a sport that demanded chemical assistance even though s/he might have been able to look after me well in my old age. Is there any research on the life expectancy of elite athletes in drug ridden sports?

    One answer may well be to have less impossibly demanding stages in the big tours where you have to be able to produce inhuman form day after day if you want to win.

    It was interesting to read your take on the affair. Thank you for taking the time and trouble.

    • I certainly don’t condone doping and fully agree with your concerns over the potential effects on children who are trying to make it into the “big time.” However, I also believe in the idea of presumed innocence and due process. I believe there should be VERY stiff penalties for doping, stiffer than those currently in place. If I were King of the cycling universe, I would consider multi-year bans for first-time offenses and lifetime bans for second offenses. I would also keep everyone’s urine for five (maybe ten years) and retroactively test it with the most current methodologies. Hopefully, that would deter people who think they are one step ahead of the current testing regimens.

      Hopefully, a simple, straightforward, and unforgiving process would be a great deterrence on doping. It would also (hopefully) be fast and absent the current amount of drama that the various investigations are characterized by.

  6. My opinion seems to be an unpopular one, so please be easy on me. This is one of those topics for cyclists, sort of like politics and religion, that I’ve found people get a little testy about. 🙂

    I think he unquestionably doped, and I’m pretty sure there was enough evidence to prove it. He probably knew the evidence, those who would testify against him (rumored: Hincapie, Horner), and knew the likely result. His decision to back out means that we’ll never learn the truth, or at least the courtroom version.

    I think that Lance’s position of denial, and fight, fight, fight is disappointing. A lot of people have conceded that doping was prevalent , and he could do more to help the sport and the community by being honest, or at least vigilant in helping clean it up. I’ve been asked by dozens of non-cycling people whether I would ever consider doping. The answer is no, and it’s a travesty that people think that in the first place. Maybe sometime, long from now, Lance will finally come clean. At least I hope so.

    As for taking away the victories, I think it’s silly. Like you, I also think that everyone doped in that era. Removing the victories is like taking away one of Mark McGwire’s home run crowns and giving it to Sammy Sosa. I also understand that it’s ultimately up to the Tour, and they may not take them away.

    /rant

    • If he doped, then Armstrong’s position is shameful. Then again, if he didn’t…

      As has been said elsewhere, Armstrong is either one the most amazing and inspirational stories in the history of sports or he has committed one of the biggest frauds in the history of sports. There’s very little middle ground on this one, I’m afraid.

      • That is the million dollar question. Did he or didn’t he? I am convinced that he did, and that seems to be the consensus of people I know, but there are many who vehemently deny. I wish he would have fought so we would have at least heard enough evidence to form an opinion.

  7. Steve, I never thought I’d feel this way when it finally happened, but I am happy for cycling today. It seems most of us on this comment thread believe he did, and has been suggested, the evidence (whatever type it may be) was there to prove it. To me, there’s no other plausible reason for him to throw in the towel. I think everyone would agree that quitting is not Lance’s style.

    A couple of small points, if I may:

    1. I think Marion Jones was busted in the same way Lance was, i.e. there was no positive test. The difference being, maybe, that she actually came out and admitted it after a time. There seems to be a precedent for this ‘non-analytical positive’.

    2. The liftetime ban he received is for trafficking, not using, as far as I can determine. Whether this is ‘fair’ or not, I have no opinion, but that’s what it is for, I think.

    3. The details might actually come out because Bruyneel, Lance’s long-time manager, appears to have chosen arbitration, unlike Lance. This will happen in the fall. One of his doctors will also go this route, it seems (3 others have already been given lifetime bans, by the way). We may still get the evidence we are all dying to see.

    One last point about the evidence. There is no guarantee that Lance will be deemed to be guilty in the eyes of his admirers (or even the general public) if a positive test was found. You only have to look at, well, nearly every athlete who has failed one! They all deny it initially. 2006 is not so many years ago and we all remember Floyd Landis. He refuted the evidence for years, even taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from people to fight his case. He is now, in disgrace, agreeing to pay it back. I’m not convinced the story would be any different with Lance. Want proof? One or two days after the USADA’s decision to ban him, donations to Livestrong jumped 25 TIMES…no not %, TIMES! Many people simply believe which stories they feel most comfortable with, or have invested the most time in.

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