Friday, August 24, 2012

Armstrong, Doping, and Cycling

The USADA has finally caught the witch it has been hunting, and it is stripping Lance Armstrong of all his results going back to 1998, including his seven Tour de France titles based on eyewitness testimony and zero physical evidence. Meanwhile, some of the eyewitnesses, who have admitted to doping themselves, have not had charges filed against them. Were they given immunity so they could go after "the big cheese"? Why was Armstrong the lone target? Because he actually won races?

I long been confident that Lance Armstrong doped (as did virtually every other member of the professional peloton in those days, creating the "level playing field" the USADA says it wants to achieve through anti-doping regulations). But the lack of due process in USADA procedures bothers me, and frankly I do not understand why the federal courts claim to lack jurisdiction to review those procedures, which have substantial material consequences for those affected by USADA decisions.

Doping has always been a part of professional cycling (which is not to excuse or justify it). In the early days of the Tour de France, participants were told that they would have to supply their own dope, e.g., cocaine. In 1949, Il Campionissimo Fausto Coppi admitted that he used amphetamines throughout his career, which included two Tour de France wins and five victories in the Giro d'Italia. In 1967, five-time  Tour de France winner Jacque Anquetil said, after refusing to take a doping test, "everybody takes dope." If that statement was not true at the time Anquetil said it, it certainly became true by the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Armstrong turned pro. Nearly all of Armstrong's top competitors in the Tour de France throughout his reign actually tested positive for one banned substance or another. Indeed, it's difficult to imagine to whom Armstrong's stripped championships might be awarded. Perhaps no one won the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005.

The USADA's decision will be viewed by many, especially those who dislike Armstrong personally (which apparently is an easy thing to do), as a belated victory for truth and fair-play over doping and cheating. Others will continue to protest his innocence, as Armstrong himself has. I'm in a different camp of those who believe that Armstrong doped, but that official investigations and consequent punishments should have ceased upon his retirement from  professional cycling. At this point, the purpose seems more personal and punitive than productive. The vendetta of those with blood-lust for Armstrong's scalp will feel vindicated. To many of us, however, their victory seems pretty hollow, or just plain sad.

Perhaps after a period of quiet repose (or maybe when Armstrong finally admits he doped, satisfying some quasi-religious requirement that sin be confessed), he will be reinstated as the champion he truly was, winning seven consecutive Tours de France while he and all his competitors took performance enhancing drugs, just like Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi, and others before them, whose titles never were stripped.

A few years ago, Bjarne Riis, owner of the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank professional cycling team, admitted to having doped the year he won the Tour de France in 1996. The group that runs the Tour immediately revoked his championship, required him to return his yellow jersey, and banned him from participating as team manager in that year's race. Within two years, Riis had been reinstated as 1996 champion. If you go to the official Tour website, and search the year 1996, you will find him listed as the winner of the general classification. I suspect the same thing will happen to Lance Armstrong. What is more, I suspect that as time passes he will once again be celebrated as one of America's greatest ever athletes, despite the doping, as well as one of the greatest warriors in the ongoing fight against cancer.


  1. i need someone to splain to me how USADA 'strips' Lance of his victories--have they taken over for the UCI or what? and where does the TdF organization stand here? to me, this is like the Catholic Church telling Barry Bonds his home runs have been nullified...

  2. Reading the lawyer's letter to USADA it looks like far from over:

  3. I'm sure you're right, Jonas, that it's not over, but the lawyer's letter may turn out to have more bark than bite. It's not clear to me, for example, on what basis USADA representatives who claim that Armstrong has been stripped of his victories could be held legally liable, at least before some superior court reinstates them. Perhaps he'll wind up in a boxing-like limbo where won organization (UCI) recognizes him as champion, but another (USADA) does not. In any case, I stand by my argument that, like Fausto Coppi, he will ultimately be viewed more as a champion than a drug cheat.


  4. Hopefully someone will start a 'I Support Lance' campaign! This really was a witch hunt and Lance remains one of the greatest athletes of all time!

  5. Who can do what and what sporting or national body should be in charge of sanctioning is messy.

    I hope we soon can move on


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