Armstrong’s days of influence coming to an end
The news that rocked not only the cycling world, but the sporting one, was Lance Armstrong’s press release stating he was stop fighting USADA and accept their punishment. In this case the punishment was all of his seven Tour de France titles were stripped, as well as, being banned for life.
Calling the investigation a “witch hunt” Armstrong said, “I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours.” Truer words couldn’t have been spoken.
Lined up to testify were an anonymous ten riders who had knowledge of how Armstrong won those races. I’m sure they knew who really won the Tour from 1999 to 2005 and it wasn’t Armstrong.
I had said for months that this was Armstrong’s escape route - claim that USADA is a kangaroo court, he’s a martyr and he sleeps well believing he won the Tour de France seven times. The general public will still line up to see him and he can continue doing whatever he wants to do, except of course cycling and Ironman triathlons. I even suspect one of his Armstrong-friendly writers will pen a book stating how he was screwed by USADA and there was no way he could get a fair hearing.
So with Armstrong now part of the disgraced winners club, who’s the true winner of the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005? Jan Ullrich, Alex Zülle, Joseba Beloki, Andreas Klöden, Ivan Basso? All of these riders have the stink of doping on them - and you can go back even deeper on the general classification list - Vinokourov anyone?
The days following Armstrong’s statement I was a guest on several sport radio shows and did print interviews. Each time I was asked the same question - did Lance Armstrong dope? I try not to beat around the bush if I don’t have to and when asked I gave my opinion: Lance Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France titles.
There are numerous articles written at this point declaring how he accomplished a doping program with testimony from ex-teammates - retired and those still active.
I was at the USA Pro Challenge when the statement dropped - specifically checking into my hotel. Walking in behind me was Frankie Andreu. Frankie and his wife Betsy testified that they heard Armstrong say in 1996 in his hospital bed he took performance enhancing drugs. Since then their lives were turned upside down.
I asked Frankie if he’s heard the news and he had. But there was no huge excitement on his face. For one, there’s still a ways to go before Armstrong gets stripped of any titles. The UCI has had a murky relationship with the now disgraced Tour de France winner, which includes payments to the governing body for $125,000. The funds were used to buy a Sysmex blood-testing machine. Yes - the irony is delicious.
At this point the UCI is going to look at USADA’s evidence, which it says in enormous, and make a ruling. Typically this is a slam dunk. Maybe not so much this time.
Did the UCI interfere with any other doping case brought before them? No, they didn’t. However, Armstrong is the Golden Goose. He took professional cycling to another level in the United States and the rest of the world with his message of battling cancer. He was good for business. Let’s remember - professional cycling is a business. The UCI saying they had no idea about all the evidence against the disgraced cyclist makes them look either incompetent or naïve to the situation. There must also be some concern in the halls of the UCI headquarters that there’s solid evidence Armstrong did in fact payoff the UCI to make a positive drug test at the 2001 Tour de Suisse disappear.
The downside to Armstrong rolling over like a dead armadillo is that the USADA evidence will not enter into the public forum. Or will it?
Speculating, I suspect that evidence will be leaked and we’ll start to see parts of it as time goes on, proving that Tygart had the goods to back up the lifetime ban.
What’s muddying the waters is the Armstrong P.R. machine promoting the LiveStrong message. We need to separate the sportsman from the cancer survivor.
Again, I was asked this question numerous times when I was interviewed, “Was Armstrong a fraud?” I retold the story of how my dad dies of cancer. It was a long, painful death, but he still held out hope telling my mom, “If Lance beat this, so can I.” Whatever glimmer of hope that gave Dad then who am I to take that away from him?
I’m not going to regurgitate reports for or against the LiveStrong Foundation. My dad’s cancer was terminal, he was getting great care in England, and there was nothing any foundation could have done.
However, Lance Armstrong the athlete is a fraud. I don’t buy some journalist’s excuse saying he was leveling the playing field. I saw another Armstrong-friendly cycling journalist write that he would have won the Tours regardless if everyone had been clean. These are all excuses for a man who not only cheated, but systematically ruined other people’s lives to better his own. He used intimidation and threats to run people out of the sport. This went far beyond what other riders who doped did. From testimony gathered it was Armstrong who organized systematic doping within the team.
For those who question why bother spending the funds to strip someone of an award from seven years ago I say because otherwise the cycle of doping would never stop. Armstrong was still involved in the sport - wielding influence. Johan Bruyneel was still directing teams. And then there are the doctors and “trainers” still floating around in the flotsam and jetsam of professional cycling. Without this painful eradication of Armstrong from the record books organized doping was destined to continue.
I’m sure we will continue to have positive doping results in cycling as well as other sports, but this is a landmark move that shaped modern cycling. For the moment it is painful, but we need to think about the future and realize that this is the best thing that could happen to the sport.