So Lance has chucked out the baby with the bathwater. His refusal to contest the USADA case against him led extremely quickly to his post 1998 record being struck out and a lifetime ban from sport being imposed. Sad to say that his reluctance to defend himself will allow his adherents to parrot many of the myths that Lance has created over the years. The number one myth is, of course, that he never tested positive. Not true. In 1999 he tested positive for a corticosteroid for which he produced a (backdated?) TUE certificate. It’s also worth pointing out that for his first two wins there was actually no test for EPO. And that’s without even giving credence to many over the other rumours of suppressed results and bribes. So I’m personally convinced that Armstrong was a doper. However, that doesn’t make me feel particularly comfortable about the way the anti-doping authorities have pursued the case. A look at the list of runners up over the years of Armstrong’s “wins” doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence either. Ullrich, Basso, Klöden, Zülle, Beloki are not names bleached in Persil.
It’s undeniable that the use of blood boosting drugs in the peloton was endemic from the mid 90’s onwards and the performance gains to be had were so great that clean athletes were effectively operating at a huge disadvantage. The problem is that rather than encouraging athletes to “come out” and talk about their experiences the way the sport, authorities, the media and the fans have rounded on ex dopers hardly provides an environment that is conducive to open and frank admission of guilt.This recent interview with Jonathan Vaughters is perhaps the best expression I’ve read of this problem. It’s a long article but well worth sticking with. Armstrong, then, can be seen as just another victim of that era.
So many cycling fans would love to draw a line in the sand and look ahead with a clean sport – anyone who has followed cycling over the last 15 years knows that the style of racing over the last 3 years or so has changed radically and we’re looking at a very different sport. I think, therefore, that some kind of “truth and reconciliation” commission might be the best way forward. Rather than having the relentless, some might say vindictive, pursuit of certain individuals why not accept that all results between 1995-2005 are suspect and instead encourage people to talk about their experiences, what they took, how they cheated the testers, who supplied and administered the drugs and so on without fear of bans and vilification? It’s far from ideal as this approach hardly gives justice to those like Kimmage and Bassons who spoke out and other riders whose careers were blighted by an unwillingness to join the charade, but it might wipe away some of the myths and legends of the period and allow the sport to move on.
So, for Lance, the game is up. I have no doubt that his defence team, having viewed the case against him, regarded it as unwinnable and that’s why he hasn’t contested it. It’s significant that all his efforts so far have been in trying to get the case thrown out, not on its merit but because it was malicious, a waste of tax-payer’s money etc. By not contesting he’s hoping that the evidence that USADA say they have will never come out leaving him able to carry on myth building. For the sake of transparency and to shut the debate down once and for all I think it’s imperative that the USADA publish the evidence, something that they say they will do. It’ll be pretty ugly for cycling when that happens but happen it must.