What was Lance Armstrong doing on August 1st, 1998?
Many will say in the face of Lance Armstrong’s impending stripping down, “cycling is bigger than one man”. And indeed it is. But, as a riveting Vuelta a Espana presses ahead, some need reminding that cycling is also bigger than one race.
The headlines may read “Armstrong to be stripped of seven Tour titles” and, if the USADA have their way, he will be. But the reality of Lance’s decision to say “enough is enough” is far broader in scope than his seven Maillots Jaune.
Because Lance is to be stripped of all his results from August 1st, 1998.
While this includes his seven Tours, there are dozens of other races during the year – there will be four official UCI road races during the three weeks this year’s Vuelta a Espana is held alone.
Lance has competed in, and won, plenty of them.
While Wikipedia is treated with disdain as a source of information, a quick look at the page dedicated to Lance’s career achievements shows just how many race histories will need to be re-written.
Lance won a number of Critériums du Dauphiné, a Tour de Suisse, a Tour of Georgia, a Grand Prix des Nations, a Grand Prix Eddy Merckx as well as dozens of stage wins in these and other races.
Then there are all the races he placed prominently in, such as a fourth in the 1998 Vuelta a Espana, a second in the 1999 Amstel Gold Race and, perhaps most famous of all his non-victories, a bronze in the Sydney 2000 Olympic road race.
These barely scratch the surface of all the wins and placings Lance will be stripped of if August 1, 1998, is to become his cheating birthday.
The last result Lance will be able to claim as having won fair and square will be the Cascade Cycling Classic, held in Oregon, in mid-July, 1998.
Apparently around two weeks after that victory, Lance began doping. Which begs the question, why that date?
What happened on August 1, 1998, which means Lance suddenly became guilty as of then onwards?
The USADA stated they had evidence Lance was cheating as far back as 1996. So why not push to strip Lance of everything he achieved from then?
Throughout 1996 and the first half of 1998, Lance won plenty of races – both individual stages and overall. If USADA are so certain he was doping throughout them, why aren’t they stripping him of these victories as well?
One argument could be that they are giving Lance a bit of a break because he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996 and spent 1997 battling the disease. But that’s not going to wash with anyone – if they were going to go easy on him because of cancer, USADA would have left him alone from the get-go.
Perhaps a more credible motivation behind the 1998 stripping date is that USADA are much like the rest of the world’s press – they are treating the Tour de France as the race that matters most.
You see, Lance withdrew from the 1996 edition of the Tour and didn’t compete at all in 1998.
Lance won his first stage of the Tour in 1993, before USADA allege he began his systematic cheating. So they can’t strip that from him, nor his 36th placing and stage win in the 1995 Tour.
Following a 1997 season spent with drugs of a different nature coursing through his blood stream, Lance returned in 1998 to take victories in what are regarded as minor races, before placing fourth in that year’s Vuelta a Espana.
This fourth place will be the first of Lance’s results to be stripped, taking place in September 1998. So, to be fair, USADA aren’t placing the Tour on a pedestal, so much as the three Grand Tours (the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana and Giro d’Italia).
Why else would they let Lance off on a good 18 months of unfairly attained titles, especially if they have evidence he was cheating as far back as 1996?
The head of USADA, Travis Tygart, told Velonation on Friday that all the facts regarding Lance’s case would come out, “at the right time”. While he was speaking specifically about the testimony of cyclists who have pointed the finger at Lance and, in doing so, incriminated themselves, one would hope that all the facts include just how and why Lance became guilty on this particular day.
If Lance was guilty from 1996, then there are a number of clean cyclists who deserve to have their fairly attained titles instated.
However, if USADA simply decided it was only worth going after Lance for his most notable successes, then the words of US District Judge Sam Sparks – the man who, this week, decided Lance would have to answer to the USADA’s case after Lance sued to have their jurisdiction nullified – will ring particularly true.
“USADA’s conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives [such as politics or publicity]”
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