Do we accept Armstrong as a drug cheat now?
This July 7, 2005 file photo shows Lance Armstrong of the US during the sixth stage of the 92nd Tour de France cycling race between Troyes and Nancy. AFP PHOTO / Files / JOEL SAGET
Even on the brink of losing his seven Tour de France titles, other accolades and receiving a lifetime ban from competing, coaching or having any official role with cycling, any Olympic sport or other sport that follows the World Anti-Doping Code, the debate over Lance Armstrong’s innocence rages.
Armstrong announced on Thursday he would drop his fight against the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), who has investigated doping allegations against the Texan, despite the possibility to prove his innocence in USADA’s arbitration process.
Armstrong claimed in a statement: “There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough’. For me, that time is now.” (Read the full statement here)
Although he claims the USADA investigation was “an unconstitutional witch hunt” and that the process was “one-sided and unfair”, it’s surprising that having so aggressively proclaimed his innocence and fought against the numerous doping allegations, he has backed down to lose his Tour de France titles and, most likely, his legacy.
Do we take his walking away from the battle as an admission of guilt? That question will continue to divide opinion worldwide, in an increasingly polarising debate.
But there is undoubtedly mounting evidence that seems to have finally cut down Armstrong – multiple eyewitness accounts from teammates and more chronicling Armstrong’s use of blood booster EPO, testosterone and other drugs and their inevitable testimonies.
Already there were public admissions from former teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, both also implicated in doping scandals, not to mention Armstrong’s association with the increasingly under-fire Johan Bruyneel, mastermind of Armstrong’s Tour victories, and the controversial Dr. Michele Ferrari, also implicated with doping charges.
“The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colours,” Armstrong said.
“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?”
But the evidence seems to exist, certainly enough for USADA to mount a case that has come to this.
Like with so many other doping cases, in the absence of concrete evidence, it’s the athlete’s words against the authorities. And although in other more recent cycling cases the evidence of systematic doping in the sport condemns the cyclist, it seems in Armstrong’s case we just don’t want to believe doping could have tainted such an inspirational story.
“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,” Armstrong said.
“The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that.”
The history books will be rewritten and his Tour de France title awarded to the cleanest of the bunch. Already some in the Australian media are reporting that Australia’s Cadel Evans could be seen as the ‘moral’ winner of the 2005 Tour de France, considering the seven riders who finished ahead of him have all been implicated in doping scandals.
But what’s the point. It’s clear that cycling in the 1990s and early 2000s was rife with doping; where it was systematically administered in an environment where testing couldn’t keep up with the advances in drugs.
Why bother rewriting when the list of riders tainted by doping – Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Floyd Landis, Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso, Alex Rasmussen, Alexander Vinokourov, David Millar and so forth and so forth – continues to grow.
But consider this when re-examining Armstrong’s legacy. He competed at a time when doping was rife. He wasn’t the only one. Whether he had any advantage within the “doping race”, we’ll never really know…
Armstrong is still a cancer survivor who not only fought off what appeared to be a terminal illness but also returned to professionally cycling. Possible doping would not have lifted him off his deathbed to the top of professional cycling alone.
Whether he admits it or not, Armstrong’s surrender tarnishes his legacy – as cancer survivor and cyclist. We can only hope the good work his cancer charity, Livestrong, has done isn’t too badly impacted.
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.
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