Lance Armstrong’s exposure as a drugs cheat has shaken the world of sport to its core. Alex Rogers looks at some of the stand out points of the US Anti-Doping Authority’s report on Armstrong, and condemns the once revered cyclist.
Cycling is a sport of multiple opportunities. Fail to win one day? There’s another chance tomorrow. Got a puncture? A team mechanic will quickly be along with a spare. When Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, he was given very little chance of survival. Sacked by his team Cofidis, while on his sick-bed, Armstrong ultimately recovered and gained a second chance to live out his dream as a successful road cyclist. However, his dream was a sham and one which became a nightmare for some of his fellow competitors.
You can’t win the Tour de France seven times without arousing any suspicions. Lance Armstrong took his victories with a level of grit and determination which stood out from both his rivals and the prestigious race’s previous winners. For Lance, the Tour was everything. He set out to dominate the contest, with a strong team built around him, and in doing so produced many of the stand-out moments of the Tour de France’s history. Cycling fans will be hard-pressed to forget ‘the look’, his off-road descent detour in 2003, and impressive displays in the Tour’s time-trials and mountain stages. The American’s hard-work, strength, and determination acted as a huge inspiration for aspiring sportsmen and cancer-suffers alike; supposedly a shining light amidst the European doping rings, uncovered around the turn of the century.
However, the release of the US Anti-Doping Authority’s (USADA) report into Armstrong has shattered this image of Armstrong. It is clear that Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins were achieved through bullying, the taking of banned substances, and the procuring of these for his team-mates, both before and during competition. In fact, the report calls his ‘the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen’. It all makes horrifying reading. Using the testimonies of those he worked against and raced with, evidence of financial transactions, and drugs test results, USADA make it dreadfully clear that Armstrong cheated and forced others to cheat with him, despite his claims to the contrary. Here are some highlights from the report:
The report starts with evidence from other team members back in 1998. Fellow riders and team assistants witnessed Armstrong taking EPO and disposing of syringes while he made his comeback to the Peloton.
Back in 2002, Lance Armstrong summoned fellow team-mate Christian Vande Velde to a meeting with Dr. Michele Ferrari; the doctor responsible for integrating steroids and blood doping into their training. Armstrong had discovered that Vande Velde was not sticking to the plan and threatened to have him sacked if he didn’t stick to the program by the letter. This experience formed a key part in Vande Velde’s decision to start an anti-doping team, currently called Garmin Sharp Barracuda, in an attempt to clean up the sport and ensure that young riders never faced the pressure to take drugs that he did.
After stewing in retirement for four years, Lance Armstrong returned to action in 2009, coming 11th in that year’s Giro D’Italia and 3rd in the Tour de France. While Armstrong asserts he has never failed a drugs test, USADA used the test results from his comeback years to show that Lance had been ‘micro-dosing’ during the Tour de France to counteract any drop in his blood values during the three weeks.
Lance Armstrong, the cyclist and inspiration to many, is a myth behind which lies a sporting monster. USADA has rightly handed Armstrong a lifetime ban from all sporting competition and stripped him of all of his sporting victories since 1998, and his sponsors, Nike, have quickly followed by terminating their sponsorship. However, the key point of the report is not the extent of his cheating but his fostering of a dangerous drugs culture and bullying of young cyclists into it. Given Lance’s previous position as chairman of the Livestrong charity, it is highly hypocritical that while raising money for life-saving cancer treatments, he was on a programme of potentially life-threatening drugs himself. We can only hope that Armstrong’s unravelling heralds the beginning of a new era of clean and fair sport.