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Armstrong and cycling finally confront elephant in the room

ANALYSIS

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Lance Armstrong hit with new doping charges

US cycling legend Lance Armstrong could lose his Tour de France titles after being charged with doping by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

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There are those who are celebrating the news. And those who are bitterly angry about it having even got this far. Either way, the announcement that seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong faces doping charges by the US Anti-Doping Agency means that at long last the issue of whether he was a clean rider or not - one that has hovered over the sport way past his Retirement No. 1 in 2005 and Retirement No. 2 in 2011 - should once and for all be resolved.

The Texan has denied the allegations and in a statement called USADA's charges a "vendetta".

That Armstrong is the benchmark of success in the sport's biggest race - the Tour - with his seven wins is one reason alone that the case must be investigated and heard. 

“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one,” Armstrong said.

Drug charges ... Lance Armstrong exits an anti-doping control bus during the Tour de France

Drug charges ... Lance Armstrong exits an anti-doping control bus during the Tour de France Photo: AP

“That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence. Any fair consideration of these allegations has and will continue to vindicate me.”

But, like it or not, this issue has been the elephant in the room for cycling. And as much as the sport may claim that it has made inroads into the fight against doping, until all the evidence from Armstrong and his accusers is laid bare and judged, cycling will never be able to move on.

Why does so much hinge on the innocence or guilt of one person when so many others have engaged in doping? Notwithstanding the case involves far, far more than one person, there is arguably no rider - past or present - who has had such an influence on the sport, transforming it from being the European-centric sport it traditionally was into the globally recognised sport that it is today.

That Armstrong is the benchmark of success in the sport's biggest race - the Tour - with his seven wins is one reason alone that the case must be investigated and heard.

It should not be forgotten that stakeholders of the sport have benefited from such a historic feat for so long - from the Union Cycliste Internationale, race organisers, sponsors, media outlets and retailers. Armstrong's detractors believe that that gain has led many of those parties to be clouded in their judgment of him, while his supporters dismiss his accusers as being disgruntled former teammates and employees, or cynics who just simply refuse to believe his feats.

There are others who don't know what to believe and just want to live in the present and cast Armstrong and his feats into the closet of history and champion today's generation of riders.

But surely everyone - from disbelievers to believers and not-sure-what-to-believers - wants to know if his efforts in winning a record seven Tour win, is true?

The fact is that the accusations have been made, and the charges by USADA have been laid.

It is time for both parties to step up - USADA to prove its case and Armstrong to defend his.

While it will pain many - if not the sport - for the case to be heard and scrutinised, that a resolution awaits is surely something that we can all look forward to.

That USADA has taken the action should not be that much of a surprise, considering it made clear its intent to continue investigating the 1999 to 2005 Tour winner and his alleged activities after the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles suddenly closed the door on an investigation that lasted almost two years into doping allegations made against Armstrong.

In the charges, outlined in a 15-page charging letter obtained by The Washington Post, USADA has alleged that it had collected blood samples from Armstrong in 2009 and 2010 that were "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions”.

The letter, dated June 12, alleges that Armstrong, whose Tour successes came after he survived testicular cancer that he was diagnosed with in late 1996, used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents, and that he distributed and administered drugs to others.

The Washington Post says the letter also accuses, along with Armstrong, five former team associates — Italian physician Michele Ferrari, team manager Johan Bruyneel, trainer Jose Pepi Marti of Switzerland and doctors Pedro Celaya of Luxembourg and Luis Garcia del Moral of Spain - of being part of a “long running doping conspiracy” from 1998 to 2011; and that the letter says: “the witnesses to the conduct described in this letter include more than ten (10) cyclists ."

For Armstrong, who has been immediately suspended from competing in triathlons pending the USADA case's outcome, at stake is his seven Tour titles, sporting reputation and sponsorships; not to mention the damage it would cause to his own image as a cancer survivor and campaigner.

For USADA there is credibility; and for his accusers possibly the last chance to pitch their case.

For the sport, the damage will vary. There will be short-term hurt as the storm clouds of a doping controversy once more build over cycling - and once again as the Tour nears.

Over the next weeks and during the Tour, this will create doubts and uncertainty about the sport as the topic inevitably becomes part of the daily conversation - even though many in the generation who are racing now were not even in the peloton during the Armstrong era.

As for how great the long term damage will be, that depends on the final verdict.

Oh ... and that everyone agrees on that verdict too.

Twitter: @rupertguinness

36 comments so far

  • Regardless of which side of the argument you currently sit on this decision is good for cycling. Hopefully it will end (for the majority at least) the endless debate and let the fans get on with enjoying the sport.
    As for those out there who say all professionals in the sport are dirty I dare your favourite sport to bring in the level of testing and WADA accreditation and see how you rate. NRL, AFL and Cricket all can’t meet the minimum standards to achieve accreditation.

    Commenter
    James
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    June 14, 2012, 10:49AM
    • Yawn. this is the same old story - lets keep trying to find dirt from over 10 years ago. Why dont we retest samples from the Sydney Olympics or even earlier? USADA should look at their track and field athletes off to London.

      Agree with James that other sports are lax with their testing compare to cycling. in footy people take cortisone injections just to get on the field each weekend. A cyclist would be booted for 2 years if they took cortisone for an injury.

      Commenter
      ed
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      June 14, 2012, 11:18AM
    • I dont see how it can end the debate. He didn't test positive so they will go on other factors to prove that he did how is that conclusive.

      Commenter
      Jimbo
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 3:08PM
  • Spot on Rupert. The French press were alleging that Armstrong was into doping for years. I do recall reading in a copy of Scientific America in 1996 that Armstrong was rigorously tested in a science lab and found to have naturally high red blood cell count and that, they concluded, accounted for his extraordinary ability which was evident even then. So I believe Armstrong until proven otherwise.
    It is just a pity that the charges are laid just before the running of the TDF at which a rider who worked tirelessly to help Armstrong to his 7 victories, George Hincape, will retire. I am hoping that he wil be cheered onto the Champs Elysee ahead of the peleton with Evans in yellow again. That would be a fitting end to his career.
    It is ironic that, if Armstrong is found guilty and stripped of his 7 victories, 3 of those GC wins will go to Jan Ullrich, now disgraced for his involvement in doping. That will be an embarrassment I am sure the ASO will want to avoid.

    Commenter
    The Magus
    Location
    Coffs Harbour
    Date and time
    June 14, 2012, 11:28AM
    • his victories are unlikely to be re-awarded. the UCI are looking at blanking out the finishing positions of doped riders.

      "found to have naturally high red blood cell count" - indeed, which (like all his competitors) coincidentally fell just below the 50% haemocrit level that the UCI eventually imposed as a 'health safeguard', due to the spike in riders with mysteriously excessive levels and blood like molasses suffering heart attacks.

      join the dots.

      Commenter
      commuter cyclist
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      June 14, 2012, 11:50AM
    • As a lawyer, I am not familiar with trial by joining dots. I am far more familiar with evidence and it is now up to the USADA show us all what they have got.
      Andy Schleck only afew weeks ago was awarded the GC jersey after Contador was stripped of it.

      Commenter
      The Magus
      Location
      Coffs Harbour
      Date and time
      June 14, 2012, 12:26PM
    • either way it appears Armstrong is going down. by all reports, all sorts of evidence has been collected against him - circumstantial, scientific, witness.

      Commenter
      commuter cyclist
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      June 14, 2012, 2:04PM
  • any cycling fan knows that any rider within screaming distance of winning a major pro cycling race in that era was doped. the public has been conditioned to treat doping as a heinous crime, in which the doper is cheating their hard working competitors. but they were all doping back then.

    what can you do? major football codes are rife with cheating, mostly by dodging salary caps. golf is probably quite clean, but it's boring and arguably not really a sport.

    the good news is, there are strong indications that thanks to anti-doping methods catching up to pro-doping methods, pro cycling is much cleaner now.

    Commenter
    commuter cyclist
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    June 14, 2012, 11:34AM
    • Are you accusing Greg Lemonde of doping in your blanket smear of every winner from that period?

      Commenter
      AWLor0
      Date and time
      June 14, 2012, 12:28PM
    • no. Lemond did not win during that era. he tells some amusing stories of watching 80 kg sprinters pass him in the mountains become more common as that era unfolded. he saw the writing on the wall and retired.

      Commenter
      commuter cyclist
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      June 14, 2012, 1:58PM

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