Lance Armstrong: Did he or didn’t he? Is he or isn’t he?

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

That saying has been hanging on my wall for over six years years now. Above it, in the same frame, is a picture of Lance Armstrong cycling down the Champs-Élysées – Arc de Triumph in the background – flanked by his Team Discovery team mates.

Is this the smile of a winner or a guy getting away with something…?

This shot was taken on the final stage of the 2005 Tour de France, capturing Lance Armstrong’s seventh consecutive Tour de France victory. It was a 21st gift and it’s hung in every room I’ve lived in since. I’ve always had the suspicion that the saying was copied from one of those highly cliché motivational posters, but that never bothered me; it was Lance Armstrong.

The guy that at 22 years of age was the youngest road racing world champion ever. The guy that in 1996 was the number one ranked cyclist in the world. The guy that in October of 1996 (at 26 years old) was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer that then spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. The guy that was told by doctors he had about a 40% chance of living[1]. The guy that battled and ultimately beat cancer, returned to the sport he’d once conquered and won a record breaking seven Tour de France titles from 1999 – 2005, solidifying himself as the greatest athlete cycling had ever known.[2]

It was Lance Armstrong. I’d seen him dominate the Tour de France, I’d watched all the commercials, I’d bought and read all his books, I had a collection of Livestrong bands, and I even had a maillot jaune replica of his days with the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. I worshiped the guy; he was one of my sporting heroes.

For six years I’ve looked up at that frame with a reverence that borders on the mythological. After recent revelations I’m not sure what to think anymore.
I’m confused because so far all I’ve got to go on are two radically different stories from two competing parties. I know who and what I want to believe but I’m also slowly confined to what may be an inevitable truth.[3]

In June of this year the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) charged Armstrong with drug trafficking and using banned steroids, the red blood cell booster erythropoietin (EPO) and human growth hormone as well as illegal blood transfusions dating back to 1986. Last week USADA’s CEO, Travis T. Tygart said Armstrong would be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and be handed a lifetime ban after refusing to contest charges.

The headlines were everywhere: “Lance Armstrong Stripped of Tour De France Titles.” Unfortunately – at least for Travis Tygart and USADA – the headlines are false…at least for now. The simple fact is that the races in question took place in France and the USADA do not have the right to sanction him. That falls to cycling‘s world governing body – the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) – or the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Until USADA produce sufficient evidence to the UCI, Lance Armstrong is still a seven time Tour de France winner.

As opposed to a seven time Tour de Frenchness Champion…

The evidence? USADA claims to have incriminating blood samples taken in 2009 and 2010 (the last two years of Armstrong’s cycling career) and testimonies from up to 10 former team-mates.

For his part, Lance Armstrong replied with a measure of helplessness and frustration. In his official press release Armstrong talked of the toll it was taking on his family before admitting an unwillingness to participate in “a process that is so one-sided and unfair.” He went further by describing Travis Tygart’s investigation as an “unconstitutional witch hunt.” As a result, he would not contest the USADA charges.

Armstrong has never failed a drug test. He was tested in competitions and out of competitions. He gave blood and urine and was tested at the Olympics, the Tour de France, and dozens if not hundreds of other events. And he never failed a test.

So why not fight the USADA charges? With a reputation and legacy and competitiveness as big as Lance Armstrong, why not fight? For many, Armstrong’s refusal to even contest the USADA charges is tantamount to an admission of guilt. Couple that with the carefully planned media release (which in an overly sanitised sports world is more than a little transparent to us) you have what seems to be a guilty and former champion, right?

I’m sensing a pattern…

Blood and urine usually don’t lie and if all the USADA have are testimonies, then what is the point of drug testing (and the USADA’s existence) in the first place? If the USADA are going to charge someone with doping, strip them of their titles and place a lifetime competitive ban on them based purely on competitor testimonies then why test blood and urine samples…in any sport, at any time? The answer is because a monitoring-system of drug and doping offenses based on the testimonies of fellow competitors is one of the most ludicrous…in fact it’s not even worth mentioning. Lance Armstrong’s media release might have had an element of transparency to it, but the USADA charges seem to be borderline hypocrisy.

In journalism school we’re taught that there are always two sides to every story and that each side should be given equal time. Unfortunately, that means having no way of knowing where, or what the truth really is.

Only one man knows the truth.

And that’s where I find myself. I’ve read, listened and know both sides, yet I’m still no closer to knowing the truth. I want to believe in the man and the words that hang on my wall. If it turns out Lance Armstrong didn’t achieve his titles and accolades fairly I may have to reconsider them. For now, that frame remains proudly featured on my wall.

Thanks Lance

— Brendan.

[1] In his first book Armstrong reveals that the doctors’ used the 40% margin as a white lie, to keep his spirits up. His actual chance of survival was apparently much worse. Another interesting fact is that the standard chemotherapeutic regimen for the treatment of the type of cancer Lance had is a cocktail of the drugs bleomycinetoposide, and cisplatin (or Platinol) (BEP). Armstrong, however, chose an alternative, etoposideifosfamide, and cisplatin (VIP), to avoid the lung toxicity associated with the drug bleomycin; meaning – even though he’d just been diagnosed with a rapidly spreading cancer – was still concerned about getting back on a bike and his racing future.
[2] I know this is a highly subjective topic, but let’s face it, in any discussion that involves ‘the greatest athlete of all time’ the same names come up, and Lance Armstrong has always been one of them.
[3] At this point I’m sticking with belief. As a result this piece may have a slight bias.

2 thoughts on “Lance Armstrong: Did he or didn’t he? Is he or isn’t he?

  1. You put up a photo of a woman who passed all 160 of her drug tests while doping yet you think drugs tests are the end-all, be-all of determining guilt? Dozens of cyclists have been caught or confessed to doping despite never failing a test. Read just the excerpts of Tyler Hamilton’s book and you’ll see why this is.

    Why test? What do you think would happen if they didn’t? Doping would explode across the spectrum.

    What is constantly ignored in this case is that USADA charged Armstrong—and five others—with numerous infractions in the conspiracy: possession, trafficking, administering, and encouraging others to use included. None of those things can be detected with a drug test. That is why you need those who participated and witnessed said events to be part of the case.

  2. I believe it’s important to view Armstrong’s actions in a wider context. Not only was Armstrong charged, but also several staff members of his cycling team, including a team doctor. These individuals, who all worked with Armstrong, have been charged as a result of the recent USADA investigation. These individuals have also had their careers destroyed due to life long bans that prohibit them from working, and all of them (except one) are also choosing to not contest the charges/bans (or at least, such was the case in the days immediately following the announcement of charges from the USADA; if things have evolved, my apologies, I haven’t heard about it). I think it takes a big leap of faith to assume all of the following: i) conclusions from an extensive investigation are false, hence, Armstrong has been incorrectly charged and thus he is innocent ii) despite his innocence and the grave injustice of the charges, he has a strange reluctance to fight the charges (or pay someone to fight them on his behalf), iii) several medical and training staff members have also been incorrectly charged, iv) these innocent individuals also possess a perplexing reluctance to fight the charges, despite their careers being unjustly destroyed. How many unsubstantiated assumptions can one make before being deemed slightly credulous? 

    When thinking about this matter, people should note the following: a person who has dedicated his/her life to reaching the top of his/her profession, whether he/she be an athlete or a trainer, virtually never gives up protecting his/her reputation, integrity and career if he/she has a chance of clearing his/her name. The odds of one individual randomly giving up are incredibly small given the personality structure required to reach such heights, and the odds of several “innocent” individuals simultaneously just giving up and accepting false charges in the wake of a single investigation are infinitesimal. These are not individuals who act in a whimsical manner, indeed, they are almost certainly incredibly driven and resilient. Therefore, it begs the question, why would so many innocent individuals sacrifice all they have worked for and simply give up?

    I’m not saying that readers (or authors for that matter) need to draw ‘definitive’ conclusions, indeed, I would discourage it, but it is only fair to conclude that the weight of ‘all of the evidence’ suggests that Armstrong (and his team) are guilty, and if we feel the need to make a judgement, the most reasonable one is to conclude that he is “probably guilty”. 

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