Lance Armstrong is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable sportsmen the world has ever seen. Not only did he win seven consecutive Tours de France, but he did so after recovering from cancer. He was given a less than 50% chance of survival, but recovered to win over and over again probably the most arduous major sporting event in the world.
His reign from 1999 to 2005 left few neutral. Many saw him as a heroic figure – showing that cancer did not mean the end of a useful life and that sufferers could throw off the disease, and excel in what they did. He set up a foundation which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research and to help cancer sufferers and their families. You can read more about Livestrong here.
As well as doing all of that, he was able to pedal up, over and down the mountains and plains of France faster than anyone else. He could only be Superman!
To many however he was too good to be true. Some said that the anti-cancer drugs he received when he was ill in the 1990’s enhanced his performance (if you call keeping him alive, then he would agree they were performance enhancing). Others took the view that, especially as an American, he could not be clean winning the Tour so often. Superhumans do not exist naturally. Therefore those who regularly perform superhuman feats were chemically assisted.
With every year that went past there was some scandal or other in cycling about drugs, or blood-doping, or EPO, or HGH, or steroids, or caffeine….the list was endless. Lance Armstrong never failed a test, as far as we are aware.
The French newspaper L’Equipe was particularly vocal about Armstrong, and he was not averse to throwing about court writs when he saw his name and achievements being besmirched.
Ironically it has been a US agency which seems to have punctured, if not completely deflated, Armstrong’s legacy. In the same way that criminal prosecutors doggedly pursued the BALCO cases, leading to criminal or sporting convictions for a number of athletic and baseball stars, the US Anti Doping Agency refused to let Armstrong go.
After efforts in a Texas court to bar proceedings against him failed, Armstrong yesterday released a remarkable statement. From a man who was world famous for refusing to give up, whether in a hospital bed or on a bike, came words of surrender.
He declined to enter USADA’s arbitration process because he said he was weary of fighting accusations that have dogged him for years. He consistently has pointed to the hundreds of drug tests that he has passed as proof of his innocence during his extraordinary run of Tour titles from 1999-2005.
He released the following statement, which I think deserves to be reproduced in full.
AUSTIN, Texas – August 23rd, 2012 – There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, “Enough is enough.” For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart’s unconstitutional witch-hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.
I had hoped that a federal court would stop USADA’s charade. Although the court was sympathetic to my concerns and recognized the many improprieties and deficiencies in USADA’s motives, its conduct, and its process, the court ultimately decided that it could not intervene.
If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and – once and for all – put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance. But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair. Regardless of what Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims. The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colors. I made myself available around the clock and around the world. In-competition. Out of competition. Blood. Urine. Whatever they asked for I provided. What is the point of all this testing if, in the end, USADA will not stand by it?
From the beginning, however, this investigation has not been about learning the truth or cleaning up cycling, but about punishing me at all costs. I am a retired cyclist, yet USADA has lodged charges over 17 years old despite its own 8-year limitation. As respected organizations such as UCI and USA Cycling have made clear, USADA lacks jurisdiction even to bring these charges. The international bodies governing cycling have ordered USADA to stop, have given notice that no one should participate in USADA’s improper proceedings, and have made it clear the pronouncements by USADA that it has banned people for life or stripped them of their accomplishments are made without authority. And as many others, including USADA’s own arbitrators, have found, there is nothing even remotely fair about its process. USADA has broken the law, turned its back on its own rules, and stiff-armed those who have tried to persuade USADA to honor its obligations. At every turn, USADA has played the role of a bully, threatening everyone in its way and challenging the good faith of anyone who questions its motives or its methods, all at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. For the last two months, USADA has endlessly repeated the mantra that there should be a single set of rules, applicable to all, but they have arrogantly refused to practice what they preach. On top of all that, USADA has allegedly made deals with other riders that circumvent their own rules as long as they said I cheated. Many of those riders continue to race today.
The bottom line is I played by the rules that were put in place by the UCI, WADA and USADA when I raced. The idea that athletes can be convicted today without positive A and B samples, under the same rules and procedures that apply to athletes with positive tests, perverts the system and creates a process where any begrudged ex-teammate can open a USADA case out of spite or for personal gain or a cheating cyclist can cut a sweetheart deal for themselves. It’s an unfair approach, applied selectively, in opposition to all the rules. It’s just not right.
USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles. 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. We all raced together. For three weeks over the same roads, the same mountains, and against all the weather and elements that we had to confront. There were no shortcuts, there was no special treatment. The same courses, the same rules. The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that. Especially not Travis Tygart.
Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances. I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities. This October, my Foundation will celebrate 15 years of service to cancer survivors and the milestone of raising nearly $500 million. We have a lot of work to do and I’m looking forward to an end to this pointless distraction. I have a responsibility to all those who have stepped forward to devote their time and energy to the cancer cause. I will not stop fighting for that mission. Going forward, I am going to devote myself to raising my five beautiful (and energetic) kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year old on the planet.
His position is clear. He won his titles fair and square on the back of a bike. He beat every competitor throughout the years. Even if USADA tries to take away his seven Tour victories, both he, and everyone else in the world, will know that he really is the champion.
USADA thinks differently.
Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive, said Armstrong would be stripped of his Tour titles and receive a lifetime ban today.
USADA treated the decision not to contest the charges as an admission of guilt. “It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and athletes,” Tygart said. “It’s a heartbreaking example of win at all costs overtaking the fair and safe option. There’s no success in cheating to win.”
Tygart said USADA can strip the Tour titles, though Armstrong disagrees. USADA maintains that Armstrong has used banned substances as far back as 1996, including the blood-booster EPO and steroids as well as blood transfusions — all to boost his performance.
Tygart said UCI was “bound to recognize our decision and impose it” as a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code. “They have no choice but to strip the titles under the code,” he said.
World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey says Armstrong’s decision to drop his fight against drug charges was an admission the allegations “had substance in them.” Fahey told The Associated Press he was certain USADA acted properly. “I am confident and WADA is confident that the USADA acted within the WADA code, and that a court in Texas also decided not to interfere. They now have the right to apply a penalty that will be recognized by all WADA code countries around the world.”
Fahey said “He had a right to contest the charges. He chose not to. The simple fact is that his refusal to examine the evidence means the charges had substance in them. Under the rules, penalties can now be imposed.”
USADA announced in June it had evidence Armstrong used banned substances and methods and encouraged their use by teammates. The agency also said it had blood tests from 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent” with blood doping.
Included in the evidence were emails written by Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after a positive drug test. Landis’ emails to a USA Cycling official detailed allegations of a complex doping program on the team.
USADA also said it had 10 former Armstrong teammates ready to testify against him. The agency has refused to say who they are or specifically what they would say.
There will be a jurisdictional fight over the fate of the Tour titles, with the UCI, Cycling’s governing body, seeking more information before committing itself.
As it said in a statement today:-
UCI notes Lance Armstrong’s decision not to proceed to arbitration in the case that USADA has brought against him. The UCI recognises that USADA is reported as saying that it will strip Mr. Armstrong of all results from 1998 onwards in addition to imposing a lifetime ban from participating in any sport which recognises the World Anti-Doping Code.
Article 8.3 of the WADC states that where no hearing occurs the Anti-Doping Organisation with results management responsibility shall submit to the parties concerned (Mr Armstrong, WADA and UCI) a reasoned decision explaining the action taken.
As USADA has claimed jurisdiction in the case the UCI expects that it will issue a reasoned decision in accordance with Article 8.3 of the Code. Until such time as USADA delivers this decision the UCI has no further comment to make.
All the publicity though is to the effect that the Tour wins of Armstrong have gone.
What happens now?
When or if the UCI accepts the decision, they will then have to decide who actually won the affected races. Does it promote the runner-up, or leave the title vacant, with an asterisk in the record books?
A sign of how it might deal with it comes from its handling of Jan Ullrich. The German was a perennial second behind Armstrong. However he has twice fallen foul of dope tests, and his last ban covered all his results from 2005 to his retirement in 2007.
In February this year the UCI issued the following statement:-
Press Release: CAS decision in Jan Ullrich case – UCI statement
The International Cycling Union (UCI) acknowledges the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to impose a suspension of 2 years on the rider Jan Ullrich starting retroactively on August 2011, following the UCI’s appeal. All results achieved by the athlete on or after 1 May 2005 until his retirement, on February 26, 2007, are annulled.
The UCI will now examine in detail the reasoning of the CAS award. In the meantime the UCI will not issue any further comments on the matter.
UCI Press Services
Over six months have passed and the result of the 2005 Tour, where Ullrich finished third behind Armstrong, shows him as having been disqualified, but as yet no one has been promoted to his third position.
The UCI has problems whichever way it goes. If it decides to promote the runner up in place of Armstrong, this would result in the seven Tours being won by Ullrich, who would add three victories to his totals, and by Zulle, Beloki, Kloden and Basso. However each and every one of them has been involved, or alleged to have been involved in doping, even if not actually banned for it.
The actions of USADA mean that, if it chooses to show the sport is clean after Armstrong’s demise, promoting the runners-up gives the opposite message.
However the five men mentioned might say that they were cheated out of increased prize money, and they want to receive what they are due. Do they sue Armstrong, or do they look to the cycling authorities to make up their losses?
The cycling authorities are innocent victims in this. Innocent, unless of course you accept the allegation by Sunday Times journalist David Walsh that the doping programme involving Armstrong was so widespread and industrialised that it can only have succeeded if officials were prepared to turn a wilful blind eye to the whole mess.
Let’s accept the innocence of the cycling authorities in all of this. Should they have to find the extra prize money to reward riders cheated out of what was due to them, leaving the authorities to recover this from Armstrong?
The UCI is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t.
How would the people promoted to Tour de France champion feel? Would a line in the record books equate in any way to the joy of winning on the Champs Elysees?
The governing body faces the choice of trying to change “history”, or else leaving intact what has been described as the most blatant, organised and large scale example of cheating in sporting history.
One has to pity any sporting governing body forced to consider such a thorny question…
Posted by Paul McConville