Teammates will be Armstrong’s nemesis
Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his Tour De France titles (AAP)
Lance Armstrong has never failed a drug test, but when Tyler Hamilton claimed on America’s 60 Minutes a year ago that the Tour legend was a systematic drug cheat I sensed there could be some truth to his accusation.
So did the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which has followed up on its promise to use the recent findings of the now closed federal investigation into Armstrong and his team US Postal and lay charges.
Understandably, many have treated Hamilton’s testimony with contempt. The man was a blood doping cheat himself and, as some also observed, had shifty eyes.
But convicted cheaters – isolated and maligned – also have good reason to tell the truth.
Hamilton’s story had too much casual detail to be a total concoction, surely. Flights to Valencia with Armstrong for removal of blood to be used during the Tour, parcels of EPO sent on the order of Armstrong and the use of code words like Edgar Allan Poe for EPO (they deserved to get caught using a rhyming code!).
There was something else said by Hamilton though that stuck with me: “Obviously in cycling there’s more than just training, and resting and eating correctly. There’s one more element … the doping part.”
The legend of Lance Armstrong begins with the story of a World Road Cycling Champion and excellent one-day classics rider who is diagnosed with cancer and given a 40% chance of survival.
He survives and returns to professional racing. But on his return he notices his body has become lighter and his riding style more suited to endurance events.
“But it was funny, I wasn’t as good in the one-day races anymore. Something else fuelled me now – the Tour de France”, he states in his auto biography while also describing the looks of disbelief on the faces of seasoned climbers as the ex-classics man whizzes past them on the Alpine climb of the 1999 Tour.
His wife’s exclamation “Haul ass!” heralded the arrival of the reconfigured American.
There is no question the cancer treatment and his determination transformed him into a Tour rider. Hamilton, however, said a doctor by the name of Michele Ferrari, who worked closely with Armstrong for a number of years, was the insidious ingredient in Armstrong’s amazing transformation.
Hamilton claimed Ferrari was a systematic prescriber of EPO and other illegal substances as part of US Postal training regimens. Ferrari is one of three former team doctors charged along with Armstrong and manager Johan Bruyneel by the USADA.
The claims of proven dopers like Hamilton and Floyd Landis are one thing, but for Armstrong the damning testimony of his long time friend and teammate during all seven Tour victories, George Hincapie, will probably turn the tide of popular opinion against him.
Whether the USADA can convince the independent review panel of Armstrong’s guilt is another matter. Apart from having samples from 2009 and 2010 that are “fully consistent” with blood doping there does not seem to be any hard evidence, i.e. positive samples.
The charges will most likely rely on the consistent testimonies of its ten witnesses; all former Armstrong teammates and associates.
It’s clear now that doping has been rife in cycling. The discovery of a guilty rider causes less angst than it did a decade ago. Many of Armstrong’s contemporaries including Ivan Basso and Alexandre Vinokourov served their suspensions and returned to the peloton, causing barely a ripple.
But for Armstrong there’s no way back. If he’s proven to be guilty he can’t just disappear into the ether like his greatest Tour rival Jan Ullrich did when he was found guilty of using EPO after he had retired.
He’s the greatest Tour rider ever, a miraculous cancer survivor, a global role model and an inspiration to sportspeople and the seriously ill.
Worse too for a man who has said: “However, I have always said that I have zero tolerance for anyone convicted of using or facilitating the use of performance-enhancing drugs.”
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