The Ban on Doping, Not Armstrong, Is the Problem with Cycling: Armstrong Is a Scapegoat for Cycling’s Hypocrisy
The International Cycling Union has stripped Lance Armstrong of his 7 Tour de France wins . UCI president Pat McQuaid said: “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling. He deserves to be forgotten.”
The UCI is acting in response to a “Reasoned Decision” by USADA , which claims Armstrong presided over “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.
The decision includes the findings that:
“He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and re-enforced it.”
And the conclusion that, with their disposal of Armstrong:
“So ends one of the most sordid chapters in sporting history.”
Public condemnation has been swift, and harsh:
“Lance Armstrong has made it hard for anyone to trust cycling”
“LANCE Armstrong is a creep. A liar, cheat and a bully. So awful is Armstrong, you are right to question whether all his work for cancer patients is not just calculated camouflage to protect his abuse of drugs, his competitors, teammates and supporters.
He is not just part of the drug regime that saturated cycling when he was at his peak, but he has been that culture’s bodyguard. Its enforcer. And he remains so today, arrogantly dismissing the US Anti-Doping Agency findings by telling the world through Twitter that he was “unaffected” by the release of the 1000-page investigation findings. No one in sport has lived a bigger lie.”
It is hard in the face of the evidence presented to imagine that Armstrong rode clean. Nevertheless, he has become a scapegoat for endemic problems in cycling and sport that go far beyond the purview of any one rider, however successful and charasmatic.
For example, despite USADA’s own evidence (para 24) showing that many of the riders on his teams had already been part of consistent doping programmes (many of the other names relating to those doping infringements are blacked out of the report), Armstrong has been personally blamed, for the choices of those in his team:
“ It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced. Armstrong’s use of drugs was extensive, and the doping program on his team, designed in large part to benefit Armstrong, was massive and pervasive.”
In fact, the only rider known to have turned down doping on team US Postal did not leave for another team, he left cycling altogether. When he asked his teammate about doping he said, “You’ll have to make your own decision”. He took this to mean that all professional cycling would require doping (rather than just the US Postal team):
Furthermore, despite the USADA’s own evidence suggesting that Armstrong doped in response to being unable to keep up with other doped teams, and that US Postal was compared in its doping methods to the practice of other Spanish teams, he has been blamed for the pervasive doping culture in cycling:
“the era in professional cycling which he dominated as the patron of the pelaton was the dirtiest ever”
Finally, he has been accused of warping not only cycling, but sport as a whole:
‘Armstrong is a cheating b*****d and that’s all there is to it,’ said Thompson, the Olympic decathlon gold medallist of 1980 and 1984.
‘It’s a terrible situation for anyone who cares about sport in its purest sense. It’s been warped and damaged by a cheat.’
Olympic gold medallist and USA cycling coach Jamie Staff believes Lance Armstrong has been made a scapegoat over drug-taking in the sport, which was endemic for a generation. But he claims the sport is now cleaner.
Certainly in cycling at least there is clear evidence of a history of doping. Of 21 podium finishers in the Tour de France for the period 1999-2005, 20 have been directly linked to doping. For the longer period 1996-2010, it is 36 out of 45.
But it is not so clear that this culture has now disappeared. Frank Schleck, who came 3rd in the Tour de France GC in 2011 was unable to complete the race 2012 having been accused of doping after a positive diuretics test. In September of this year, AG2R La Mondiale team member Steve Houanard was banned for the use of EPO after he failed an out of competition test. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Nor will the testing catch all the drugs cheats. Armstrong never failed any of over 200 tests, and doubts have been cast on those that USADA has raised in its evidence. The 2001 EPO finding has been called ‘borderline’ by the head of the lab that found it . Though testing has improved, Armstrong was last accused of doping in 2009, yet EPO tests have been in place since 2000. There is no particular reason to think they are more effective now than in 2009, though they have had to modify them to catch new kinds of EPO. There is no test for autologous blood transfusions- though in 2011 they thought they would be able to get one for 2012 olympics.
One would expect that without doping, performance times would significantly reduce. Moller calculates that EPO use confers a 16% advantage. However, average speeds have not consistently dropped. The Vuelta average speed in 2012 was higher than 1999, 2004, and 2009- all when Armstrong was the “patron of the pelaton”. It was also higher then than in 2006, and in 2008 when Contador won the race after his implication in the Operacion Puerto scandal and before his doping conviction for Clenbuterol.
The Tour de France winner’s average speed in 2012 was faster than Lance Armstrong’s 2000 win and than the infamous 2007 Tour which was marred by a string of doping scandals. It has been raised on this blog that hill times in 2012 were slower than before. However, not only is this not evidence of no doping, since many of the benefits are in consistency and recovery rather than pure speed (see for example Mercier’s experiences in training where he could keep up for 2 days, but not for a full week of training ). In addition, a number of the Tour’s fastest climbers, Contador and the Schlecks (one Schleck throughout the race and the other part way through) were missing from 2012. Froome, a major climbing contender was deliberately slowing to wait for Wiggins. Without them, the major GC contenders did not have to push up the hills in the same way that they would have had to in previous years.
Individuals previously doping but now claiming to be riding clean have also not suffered apparent loss in form. Contador, won Vuelta 2012, his first major tour back. Vinokourov, banned in 2007 for blood doping (when he was only caught because he used someone else’s blood), won the Olympic Road Race in 2012, now aged 39.
It is a fact that it is nearly impossible to detect autologous blood doping. The cyclists who get caught use blood contaminated with steroids during training phase or someone else’s blood (Vinokourov).
Doping will never be eradicated from cycling. It may be reduced but the problem will remain. I have repeatedly argued that the solution is to relax the rigid controls on doping. That is the only effective way to reduce cheating.
Armstrong is a scapegoat – not for one generation, but for cycling. One wonders whether he will now turn on cycling itself and the UCI, pointing his finger at the all those who were involved. It is no wonder that now there are calls for an amnesty. I suggested that a while ago when there were the allegations against Armstrong. But now it is too late. Why should Armstrong suffer to be burned at the stake like a Salem witch when everyone else goes free? We shouldn’t be surprised if Armstrong goes ballistic, spilling the beans on a whole system that at best turned a blind eye to the doping it knew was going on.
The only good thing that can come from this whole affair is some honesty and open-mindedness. The only rational approach is to relax the absolute ban on doping in sport.
Permit Doping So We Can Monitor It, Room for Debate, New York Times