Friday, 24 August 2012

Lance Armstrong - the greatest cyclist who never was?

With the shock news that Lance Armstrong will no longer contest doping charges, where does this leave his record?
It should be pointed out that he has admitted nothing, and that he states that the anti-doping agency USADA has no jurisdiction over his titles as they didn't award them.

The main evidence against Mr Armstrong is circumstantial.
  1. Several of his team mates have been caught doping (with blood transfusions and/or EPO and/or steroids, detectable or otherwise)
  2. Many (perhaps even most) of the riders in the earlier part of his period of success (the early 2000s) were doping (with blood transfusions and/or EPO and/or steroids, detectable or otherwise)
So the logic goes like this:
if Lance Armstrong was so successful in a period where "cheating" was commonplace, how could he win so many times without also "cheating"?

The argument is certainly reasonable, but it raises another issue:
if Lance Armstrong "cheated" he should be stripped of his wins and medals, but as "cheating" was commonplace at that time (remember that is one of the main arguments for Lance Armastrong "having" to "cheat"), they would probably end up being given to someone else who also "cheated".

This consequence of any decision to strip Mr Armstrong of his medals and wins may be why the UCI (the main World cycling sport organisation) is not that interested in anything less than very strong evidence - it would, after all, be rather perverse to take a win from one "cheat" and give it to another "cheat" instead!

It is also VERY unlikely that doping became a problem at the same time as Mr Armstrong started winning.
What about multiple Green Jersey winner Erik Zabel? or earlier still the five-times Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain?

Did EPO and blood transfusions only start in the late 1990s?
I suspect not.
Blood transfusions have existed for quite a while, and so has the oportunity for subsequent cheating.

Remember all though East German athletes of the 70s and 80s that apparently took loads of steroids and hormone treatments and all the rest.
Did that really not exist in TdF until Mr Armstrong started winning?

Update 27th August 2012:
More details are emerging about Lance Armstrong's test record.
Apparently, he has failed drug/doping tests quite a few times, but has always be cleared on appeal. has some details, and they also note that Mr Armstrong has had no where near as many tests as he and his lawyers have claimed - double counting is cited as a possible reason for some (a USADA/WADA test is also counted as a UCI test, as they also review the results, but in reality, both "tests" use a single set of samples taken at one time, therefore surely it is one test, not two!)

Update 11th October 2012 :
Lance Armstrong still pretends he was not involved in doping, despite two of the US Postal team doctors having been banned for life from sport for doping, and 11 of his former colleagues testifying that he "done it".

If this was a murder trial, he'd be in the chair by now ...
(seriously) - that kind of evidence would convict anyone else.
Mafia bosses get convicted on less evidence that Armstrong has against him.

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But somehow, Armstrong is only guilty if he is caught redhanded with a smoking gun and standing over the victim and shouting "It was me! ...
So everyone else, pretty much, was doping (aka "cheating") at the same time.

But, then again, if Armstrong admits it, all the sponsors he has taken monety from over the years may well want their money back ...
So better to just keep lying.
And lying.
And lying.

The good news is that the sport appears cleaner now - the evidence is that NO rider in the recent TdF went anywhere near as fast as Armstrong and US Postal used to go. If doping was still widespread in cycling, then much of the "peleton" would be going faster too, just like they used to.
So, chances are, the sport is pretty clean, now :-)

To say one rider is exceptional is possible (Greg Lemond says he was able to beat doping cheats while remaining "clean" himself because he was born better than the rest (bigger lungs etc. etc.), as well as being well trained etc.), but it unlikely that US Postal could find a whole team of "supermen".
But then again, two US Postal doctors have been banned for life for cheating.

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The only real way to find now if Armstrong et al. "could" have won "clean" is by a series of genetic and physiological tests.
If Armstrong really checks out as a "superhuman" with a bigger heart, lungs, etc. etc, then he could have been clean.
But Armstrong doesn't want to play anymore.
Maybe the superman doesn't want to be shown up as not so super.
Just another drugs cheat, then :-(

Lance is now being sued by the various folks he received money from, including the Guardian newspaper in the UK. Lance won a libel case against the paper about 12 years ago, when they suggested his performance was suspicious, and now the Guardian wants the libel compensation mey that Lance's lawyers  won from the paper back.

Looks like Lance is either going to have to nd back a LOT of money to various sources, or stop using the "I refuse to participate in this process" ploy.

Check back for more on this story as it happens.

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