PARIS – Take the entire Lance Armstrong story, the cancer survivor’s resurrection from his sick bed to conquer the hardest bike race in the world, and flush it. Goodbye. Good riddance. Never happened.
That, at least, is what his sport will be able to do if the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency can back up its reams of new allegations that the seven-time Tour de France champion wasn’t a larger-than-life, good ol’ American inspiration but merely a co-conspirator in one of the biggest chemically powered frauds in sporting history.
There’s a long way to go before that can happen, if it happens at all. It would be out of character for Armstrong not to contest every charge, sentence and comma in USADA’s 15-page rap sheet, sent to him, his friend and former team manager Johan Bruyneel, three medical doctors and a trainer. USADA alleged they were “part of a doping conspiracy” that used “fear, intimidation and coercion” to keep it secret.
Armstrong liked to recount how he trained harder and better than competitors he trounced from 1999-2005 on French roads, famously saying in a commercial for one his sponsors, “What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass, six hours a day.”
That isn’t what USADA’s letter says. “Numerous riders, team personnel and others will testify based on personal knowledge acquired either through observing Armstrong dope or through Armstrong’s admissions of doping to them that Lance Armstrong used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone” – in other words, the cornucopia of banned pharmaceutical aids cheats need to give them the edge for cycling’s three-week French showcase in July.
With the millions he earned from the sport and the friends in high places he acquired with his unique personal story and his campaigning against cancer, Armstrong has money and clout to fight these allegations that, if proved and prosecuted, would pull apart his whole narrative and everything he has become.
Unlike his former teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, don’t expect Armstrong to make a belated confession. Battling tooth and nail is more his style. He has much more wealth, prestige and admirers than Hamilton and Landis ever did, far too much to lose.
“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,” Armstrong said in a statement he flagged to his 3.5 million followers on Twitter.
Armstrong is a smart guy. By definition, the smart dopers are those who don’t get caught. Instead, they hire dirty doctors to provide them with dosages and timetables of what to take when so their cheating doesn’t show up in tests, and to help them dodge the radar of the expensive anti-doping program that cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has operated since 2008. Why drag up all this again now? Why spend taxpayer dollars to try to nail a rider from cycling’s past?
Short answer: Because determining the truth about Armstrong’s past is vital to the well-being of cycling’s present. Even retired, he remains one of the sport’s most widely recognized names. If he was dirty, his name needs to be expunged from the record books. If he was dirty, the cancer survivors his story inspires should be told he’s a fraud. If he was dirty, kids need to know that cheats do get caught, even many years later.
If Armstrong and associates were dirty, we should be thankful that USADA is trying to do something about it because others haven’t.
Cycling is a beautiful sport. The individual effort, the teamwork, the fabulous backdrops of French châteaux make it so. To be able to appreciate all that to the full again, to believe in today’s seemingly more honest generation, the dirty past needs to be exposed and then deleted. Go away. Vanish. Make way for a cleaner future.