After dropping his lawsuit against doping charges brought on by the US Anti-Doping Agency, the agency (USADA) announced on August 23, 2012 to strip Lance Armstrong of 7 Tour de France titles and ban the cyclist for life.
Photograph by: Doug Pensinger, GETPICS
MONTREAL — Is Lance Armstrong a liar?
All the evidence seems to point in that direction.
Did Armstrong use performance-enhancing drugs?
He basically pleaded no contest to allegations by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, although Armstrong and his supporters continue to point out that he never failed a drug test.
Did Armstrong win the Tour de France seven times?
The only correct answer to that question is yes. There will be attempts to strip Armstrong of those titles, but race director Christian Prud­homme got it right when he said that if Armstrong is stripped of the titles, there should be no winner listed for those seven years.
Armstrong won those titles fair and square. That might seem like an absurd statement, but consider that all the evidence used to condemn Armstrong paints a picture of a sport immersed in a drug culture. While there is an element of concern for an athlete’s health, the main reason sports governing bodies insist on drug testing is to ensure a level playing field. As perverted as it may seem, there is a level playing field when everyone is cheating.
Canadian Michael Barry, who was Armstrong’s teammate with the United States Postal Service team, was one of the cyclists whose testimony is part of the 200-page USADA report that details what is described as a sophisticated doping operation. Barry falls back on the Ben Johnson defence for his decision to engage in doping, saying everyone else was doing it and he had to get on board to reach the next level. The reality is that Barry was a “domestique” — one of the supporting riders on the team — before he started doping and was still a domestique after he started doping.
What is interesting about the Armstrong case is the vigour in which the USADA pursued this case, even after Armstrong had effectively retired from the sport. And the animosity toward Armstrong is reflected in the lifetime ban imposed on him.
The U.S. riders who agreed to testify against Armstrong received six-month suspensions that were timed so they won’t miss any of the 2013 Grand Tours.
Drug offences usually result in two-year suspensions. Alberto Contador, who was stripped of his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia wins, won the Spanish Vuelta in 2012 after his penalty was imposed retroactively. Alexander Vinokourov sat out only one year after a positive blood-doping test at the 2007 Tour de France. He won the road race at this year’s world championships.
One other off-note coming out of the USADA report is the suggestion cycling has left the drug era behind. Contador’s recent problems would suggest that’s not the case and, in fact, dozens of athletes have been suspended over the past three years, including three Canadians. As Barry noted in a CBC interview Thursday, the doctors associated with the U.S. Postal Service team proved smarter than the testers, which is one reason why Armstrong never tested positive. It’s sad that time, money and effort must be directed toward catching the cheats, but there will always be athletes and coaches looking to break the rules.
Armstrong will continue to be a lightning rod for controversy. He may be the world’s best-known cancer survivor and has used his notoriety to be a formidable advocate for cancer research. His Livestrong Foundation has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the cause, but that shouldn’t earn him a pass for any misdeeds.
Nor should it subject him to harsher treatment than other athletes who have used drugs. And it should not detract from the fact he was the fastest cheater on two wheels.
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