Lance grabbed by the balls, but where’s the evidence?
The noose is tightening around a cycling legend. The US anti-doping agency, USADA, alleges it has collected blood samples from Lance Armstrong in 2009 and 2010 which were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”
You can almost hear Armstrong spitting on the floor with disgust in his official reply, which in part reads:
“These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation. These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity.”
A couple of quick phone calls this morning to senior Australian cycling figures revealed at least two major names who still believe Lance is clean, even if, for obvious reasons, they thought it best to keep their opinions to themselves today.
But what should the rest of us think?
Lance is an inspirational, talismanic figure who is almost impossible not to like. Mind you, you could say that about plenty of cult leaders and look how that sort of thing usually ends up.
In all seriousness, Armstrong is a hero to many. His rise from cancer sufferer to seven-time Tour de France winner, which so many of us read about in his book It’s not about the Bike, is a story so incredible it reads like fiction.
His ongoing life work with the LIVESTRONG foundation just adds to the legend. The foundation has raised half a billion dollars towards the fight against cancer, and Lance himself will tell you he firmly believes he will be around to see the day that cancer is eradicated from the face of the earth.
The guy is actually half mad. Indeed, I wrote an entire article once to that effect, in which I argued we need edgy lunatics like Lance in the world to get things done. I based my thesis on the briefest encounter I had with the guy in New York, in which he drilled holes with me with those laser beams he calls eyes and told me he still considered Sheryl Crow’s music awesome, despite the fact they had just broken up.
There really is something about this man. He has drive and charisma by the buckletload – with a ruthless streak a mile wide. No doubt that ruthless streak has helped keep his doping accusers on the outer for so long. But as mentioned, the circle is now closing.
So. There are two ways to look at the latest allegations.
One, as Lance says on his website: “I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one. That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence.”
And two, doping rife in this sport, so why should he be any different? Almost every one of Armstrong’s vanquished Tour de France foes has been discredited through doping, including the German Jan Ullrich, the Italian Marco Pantani (who later died of cocaine poisoning) and of course, Armstrong’s compatriot and arch-nemesis Floyd Landis, who most suspect is behind this latest campaign to discredit him.
Even those who automatically default to the “Lance is innocent” side of the ledger, and I consider myself among them, have to ask themselves this: was this bloke really so damned good that he could outride a litany of drug cheats while riding clean?
In late 2009, cycling’s governing body, the UCI , introduced a thing called a “Biological Passport”, its latest attempt to be as transparent as possible in the war against performance-enhancing drugs.
Average speeds in the Tour de France have slowed since then. That tells you something. Indeed, Cadel’s win last year was one of the slowest modern Tours ever. And Cadel is no slouch.
All of which adds up to a set of conclusions which Armstrong fans may find unpalatable, and which cycling itself may take a generation to recover from.
This much, however, must be reiterated. Just as Jerry Maguire’s client Rod Tidwell famously said “show me the Money”, Lance is still well within his rights to say “Show me the Evidence”, which at this stage still appears to be largely hearsay and innuendo.
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