On October 10, 2012, USADA CEO Travis Tygart released a statement regarding their investigation into the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team’s “doping conspiracy”. Attached to this statement is a 202-page document detailing the reasoning behind the decision to ban Lance Armstrong from cycling for life. Also attached are the affidavits provided by the cyclists and others who testified.
Yesterday, Lance Armstrong released a statement regarding his decision to step down as chairman of Livestrong, a position he has held for the past 5 years. Armstrong is also the founder of Livestrong. Later that morning, multiple sponsors, including Nike , RadioShack, and Trek, announced that they will be breaking ties with Armstrong. He is estimated to lose $15-18 million per year in endorsements. Oakley, a company that makes high-end sports eyewear, will wait for a final decision from the International Cycling Union (UCI) before making any moves.
If you’re looking for any more facts, you can stop reading here. I took the trouble to read the entire 202-page report that the USADA released, including the affidavits of the riders who testified, because I wanted to make sure that my opinion was an informed one. I didn’t find any facts. I found hearsay and speculation. Here’s my take:
- Lance doped. Every rider in the Tour de France peloton did, and I think they still are doping.
- USADA went on a witch hunt and scared all the other cyclists into testifying, and basically bought their testimony with ridiculously minimal sanctions (I can go into more detail, but you might be bored).
- The entire 202-page report has NO PROOF that Lance doped. It’s all the old accusations from years past republished. No positive tests, no evidence. One trend reported on his plasma volume changes that means absolutely nothing because his results don’t consistently follow the trends described by experts.
- The rider affidavits from several riders give a lot of detail. Interestingly, these are the same riders that were busted, lied for years proclaiming their innocence, accepted > $500K in fan donations to pay for their defense, perjured themselves multiple times in the process, and suddenly decided to confess to “promote clean sport” now that their careers are finished because they never won their appeals.
- The rider affidavits from riders that were never caught are fairly vague. George Hincapie, who was Lance’s right-hand man on the 7 tours he won, admits to various types of doping and says “it was known to me that Lance was doing this too”. He never confirms times, places, or scenarios described by the confirmed liars.
- I find it laughable that the riders who are still actively racing that gave testimony claim that they have been clean since 2006, even though their performance hasn’t dropped off at all. How convenient.
So the entire case is based on hearsay from confessed dopers who had something to gain, which is why the grand jury did not recommend filing charges during the federal investigation. USADA is hypocritical in every way, and I have no respect for them. Lance could never have defended himself because their bogus arbitration process doesn’t allow him to see the evidence against him or subpeona witnesses that testified against him in order to cross-examine them. He never had a chance to win, and he was smart not to try.
Having said all that (still awake?), refer to my original comment. I do, finally, believe that Lance doped while winning his 7 tours. I believe that what my Italian cycling guides all told me for years is also true: every cyclist in the pro peloton dopes. Lance just did it really well and never got busted.
Was it a level playing field? Probably. Given all the tests he took (every day he wore the yellow jersey, and random days as well), his hematocrit was probably at the high end of normal at the most. Had it been above the cut-off, it would have been considered a positive test. With that, I consider him to be a 7-time tour winner. He beat all those other guys over and over again, and a few extra RBCs alone can’t do that, or someone else would have won. I think that his obsessive training, preparation, strategy, and competitive nature made a difference. And we know from the physiologic testing done on him over the years that his heart is larger than normal and he doesn’t produce lactate with extreme exertion like other athletes do. Doping doesn’t provide that.
I always thought that the day I believed that Lance doped, I would be devastated or disappointed. Surprisingly, I don’t feel any differently about him. Maybe it’s because I knew it all along. I can’t despise him because he’s still the guy who should have died from metastatic cancer but didn’t and then got on his bike and kicked ass. He’s still the guy who gave hope to cancer patients, raised almost $500 million to support their medical care and research, and campaigned for more federal funding for cancer programs. And he’s still the guy who inspired me on those dark days that are a hazy memory but not forgotten.
I’m sure the majority of sports fans will disagree with me, and members of the cancer community will feel as I do. I can’t defend Lance, and I won’t try to. I also can’t change how I feel about him…and I’m happy about that.
Melanie Friedlander is a cancer survivor and surgeon as well as a cycling fan.