Lance Armstrong decided not to fight the charges the USADA brought against him and was found guilty of doping and banned from the sport for life. His Tour de France wins may be stripped from him as well as his other wins from that era. You can click on the image above to read an article over at Velonews on the subject. By not fighting the charges he avoided having all the testimony against him end up in the news and managed to save his image to some degree. He knows what the folks who were going to testify would say and his lawyers would have advised him what his chances were at coming out of that process without being found guilty. One thing you gotta agree on about LA is that he surrounds himself with experts and uses their advice to make smart choices.
As for the issue of his doping past it’s not a surprise to anyone who watched the pro racing of that era. Almost every other contemporary with a shot at the podium at the Tour has been found guilty of doping. In the current peleton Contador has been stripped of his last Tour win and a Shleck has been charged with doping. To believe LA was one of the only top pros not doping despite all of this and a retinue of witnesses ready to testify for the USADA is ridiculous. On the other hand it does change the landscape within which we judge LA’s actions. Everybody was doing it. It’s still going on today.
Kudos to the USADA for having the courage to go after Lance. With the UCI, the US Government and the US public behind LA that was a brave choice. Building a case by collecting evidence through witness statements and uncovering documents is far harder than getting a doping positive, but as we’ve seen the professional cycling peleton can take a load of doping products and pass all sorts of laboratory controls without getting caught. The guys that do get caught didn’t start doping that morning just before the race. They were doping for a while and finally didn’t follow the right protocols of dosage and timings or got surprised by a test they weren’t expecting. So when LA gives his “I was the most tested athlete in the peleton.” speech I just roll my eyes and my inside voice says “With the best doping doctors in the world on your staff.” USADA charged that LA’s team had managed to get a TdeF doping positive suppressed back in 1999. I hope we hear what happened in that case. It might shed more light on how LA kept things rolling for so long without getting caught. It might also explain why the UCI was so unhappy with USADA’s pursuit of LA; they may well be implicated in the cover up.
It’s funny when you read folks criticizing the USADA for taking up the LA case as if they are doing it to an innocent man for some evil reason. On one hand you have a pro athlete in a sport rife with doping who can help himself and his team generate millions of dollars of profit as well as build himself up as a huge celebrity on the other you have some guys at the USADA paid modest salaries who are responsible for enforcing the WADA code. They will never be famous, they won’t make millions and they’ll make a lot of enemies in the process of pursuing LA. Not to mention they have to face two panels of independent arbitrators with their evidence including the at the well respected CAS if the athlete challenges the charges. Note that LA didn’t want to face these arbitrators and have them hear the evidence which is why he gave up the fight.
Will this change anything? One benefit of Lance getting banned is that the doping fairy tale of LA’s career won’t be there to let young racers fool themselves into thinking they’ll get away with doping if they are smart about it. On the other hand people are greedy and they want fame and fortune. In a challenging sport like cycling there will always be the temptation to cheat by doping. We continue to charge and convict murderers even though we know it won’t stop folks killing other folks. Doping won’t stop in cycling, but the more energy we spend fighting it the less successful doping will occur.