The Lance saga: finality without closure
For as long as I’ve been cycling, people have asked: “Did Lance ever dope?” With each passing year I spent in the sport, the answer became a more resounding, “yes, I’m sure he did.”
However, I always qualified it with, “if no one in the peloton doped, the results would have been the same, but with slightly lowered average speeds.” So to me, what Armstrong had accomplished with his seven Tour victories was not merely a product of properly administered EPO, but also an incredible feat, especially by someone who only recently had one foot in the grave.
Following his wins were accusations, investigations, allegations, lawsuits and plain bad press. So when the U.S. federal authorities dropped their investigation, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and thought that perhaps we can move on with the sport and look toward a brighter, cleaner future.
That was not the case, as Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, decided to pursue Armstrong claiming to have testimony from 10 witnesses as well as other evidence linking him to a doping and drug trafficking conspiracy going back to 1998.
With the process exhausted, and an arbitration hearing scheduled, Armstrong pulled the plug and decided not to contest the USADA charges before the panel. This allows USADA to sanction Armstrong however they see fit. At this point, the statement is that Armstrong is banned from cycling for life and all of his titles going back to 1998 will be stripped.*
But let’s pause for a second and reflect on exactly what happened here. Armstrong stopped the USADA process without testimony from a single witness, without filing a single document before the arbitration panel, without submitting himself to discovery: questionnaires, depositions, testimony. We won’t be seeing the likes of Hincapie, Zabriskie, Vande Velde, Vaughters, Landis, Hamilton go on the stand and testify as to what they saw Lance see or do.
After all, if one after another these cyclists — some of whom are still well respected in the sport — testify about how they witnessed Armstrong take blood transfusions, use HGH or shoot up with EPO, the myth of Armstrong would dissipate into thin air. Even those die-hard fans would be hard pressed to continue their belief he may have done it clean.
The myth lives on. Nothing is clear. No testimony is given. No damning facts have come to life (at least no additional facts). Procedurally, perhaps USADA won. However, in the court of public opinion, Armstrong came out on top. These days, that’s all he needs to continue working with his foundation and inspire people to fight cancer.
Those against Lance have not a shred of additional evidence to their disposal. Those who believe in him can hang on to their myth of seven clean wins.
*There’s controversy as to whether USADA has the authority to strip Lance Armstrong of his Tour wins without UCI involvement and a hearing before the CAS.