Far be it for me to continue on the Armstrong theme, but it’s still relevant to the sport, even though the sport is doing it’s best to keep stony-faced and silent on the issue, so for the moment it’s got to be something that everyone keeps pushing to point out the direct problem with drugs in sport.
Something I’m still seeing a lot of is a willingness to continue to peddle soundbites used in Armstrong’s defence, as though they’re facts. Let’s have a look at them:
USADA’s process is unconstitutional, and they don’t have the right to do this.
A District Court judge disagrees. The long and short of why is reasonably complex, but I’ll simplify it as much as possible. The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) is mandated to stamp out drug use which is performance enhancing or dangerous to health in sport. No sport can be an Olympic Sport without abiding by WADA and the IOC’s rules. WADA delegate their authority to national bodies. The United States Olympic Committee’s testing and management is carried out by the United States Anti-Doping Authority (USADA), and is an organisation mandated by US Congress to undertake independent drug enforcement and testing for Olympic Sports that athletes from the United States compete in.
USADA’s process is a witch-hunt against Lance Armstrong
As their own website demonstrates, USADA has undertaken to punish athletes from all sports under their mandate, without prejudice. You’ll find names there you’ve never heard of, interspersed with the occasional athlete you have. Just because you haven’t heard of every case they take to punishment, doesn’t mean they’re not working fairly and effectively.
USADA plays judge, jury and executioner, and didn’t show Armstrong the evidence, so Armstrong couldn’t get a fair trial
No, the reality is that the process has a few separate steps along the way. The first step is to inform the accused (Armstrong) that he’s been charged with something. Then that person can decide if they want to fight the charges or not. This is the point at which Armstrong tried to stop the whole process, through court action. His mantra was that he wasn’t getting a fair attempt to make a defence. The point this misses is that he hadn’t elected to make a defence. Think about this as a comparison:
If I’m charged with committing a crime, I don’t get to see the evidence first. I (think Armstrong) go in front of a judge (think USADA) who asks me how I plead. If I answer ‘guilty’ or ‘no contest’ (the latter is what Lance did), then the accuser doesn’t need to present evidence showing how I did it - I’ve already accepted that I did, and don’t wish to fight the charge and see the evidence presented. If I answer ‘not guilty’, then we go to a jury (think arbitrators), I get to see the evidence before it’s presented, and then argue against it in front of that jury.
What Lance wanted to do was see the evidence before making a plea. What he also fails to disclose is how that ‘jury’ (I’ll call them arbitrators from here) was made up.
The arbitration panel is made up of three people from a registered and approved pool. USADA get to choose one. Lance Armstrong would have gotten to choose one. Those two arbitrators then would get together and choose the third. It makes it an unbiased process then, and ensures neither side gets to hand-pick the arbitrators to make the process of hearing evidence unfair.
How can USADA charge him without a positive test?
Well, the reality is that USADA were claiming Armstrong had tests showing he was blood doping, in 2009, during his second ‘comeback’. They had evidence to show this, and were going to present it if Armstrong had made that ‘not guilty’ plea.
But Lance had over 500 tests and never tested positive!
Well, for starters, this figure is an outright lie. As dimspace’s excellent graphic shows below (source), Armstrong probably had a total test figure over his entire career that was likely less than half of that figure. As I’ve also demonstrated here, Armstrong had tested positive on at least two occasions prior, but they were covered up.
USADA don’t have the right to take away Armstrong’s titles
The answer to this one is a bit complex, but the reality is that they do, albeit indirectly. Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, ultimately controls the history books for cycling races. But as a signatory to the IOC, and as an Olympic event, they agree to abide by all decisions made WADA, and all delegated national anti-doping authorities, including penalties made affecting results under their management. The UCI can appeal this to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but they are extremely likely to be unsuccessful. In any case, why would they want to keep a person as a winner who’s elected not to contest cheating?
But Bjarne Riis admitted to doping and got to keep his title!
This one is a bit more complex - but the gist of it is that Riis admitted to doping outside the statute of limitations (or more than 8 years later). Consequently he couldn’t be charged and penalised for his actions when he won.
But Armstrong get penalised for things more than eight years ago!
That’s because of two things: The precedent set in a case against Eddy Hellebuyck, and Armstrong’s testimony in his lawsuit against SCA Promotions, in early 2006. Basically what it means is this: If you lie under oath, then the statute of limitations can be set back from the date of that lie - because if you’d told the truth, you would have been penalised there and then from that date.
So instead of Armstrong’s eight years going back from 2012 when he was charged, by Armstrong making that lie under oath in 2006 means that the statute of limitations could pre-date that, to 1998 - which is the year Armstrong loses all his achievements from.
But weren’t they all doping, so it was a level playing field? And that Armstrong was probably still the best cyclist?
It’s not as simple as that. Drugs affect human bodies in different ways. Athletes in endurance sports are very heavily dependant on the bloodstream to carry oxygen around the body. It aids recovery, and so aids the ability to make bigger efforts for longer. Basically, you can respond to drugs differently, with no control over it yourself. It’s why people with immense levels of ‘fight’ and ‘determination’ die to cancer and other diseases, and why people who don’t display those traits can still beat it. Medical Science and Human genetics in that respect are still a bit of a mystery.
What we do know is that those same traits which make for a superb endurance athlete also make for them to be far less likely to respond to those drugs which stimulate red blood cells to carry oxygen. So the less of an athlete you are in that respect, the more you’ll gain from using those drugs.
So ultimately it wasn’t a level playing field at all - people simply had no control over how much of an advantage they could get, and as a result, races weren’t decided by how good a cyclist you were, but simply by how well you could win the lottery of your body responding to the drugs introduced into it. So it’s highly likely races were won by cyclists who ordinarily wouldn’t have had a chance of winning.
Lance’s good work with his charity far outweighs any bad that he did in cycling
Well, that depends on your viewpoint. Lance is very big on the rhetoric of “helping fight this disease”. But the reality is that people don’t fight the disease - medicine does. And his charity haven’t donated anything to cancer research for over two years now.
You could also make the point that his charity is entirely dependant on his name, success and fame for it’s work. Given that we now know his success to be perpetuated upon a lie (and continued upon its persistent success), is it really fair to do good things if they’re based on a lie? Or, as I read recently: If I go and rob a bank, does that crime get outweighed by me giving all that money to charity?
The people testifying against Armstrong are just liars, jealous that he beat them seven times.
Well, this simply isn’t true. Cycling is a team sport. The leaders are dependant upon their team-mates to protect them, to fetch them water, and to help them in many ways. Each rider on Armstrong’s team knew they were riding for him. They weren’t ever going to win those races, and they weren’t going to be the leader of that team either. As a result they weren’t ever competing against him.
Nor do they have a reason simply to make up lies. All of them lose far more than they gain - they have their own legacies tarnished for the most part, and public opinion swings against them for lying about doping in the first place. So that leaves money as a prime motive. In which case, can’t the reverse be true? Couldn’t Armstrong have simply doped (and lied about it) for money, fame and prestige? Could he have covered it up to continue to enjoy those things?
It’s also worth mentioning that, as part owner of Armstrong’s cycling team, he also had a direct influence on the riders that it hired to help him win. Was Lance such a poor judge of character that he would hire riders on his team, and that they would be fiercely loyal to him, even years after they left, only to turn on him now? That seems unlikely.
Why isn’t USADA prosecuting those people who admitted to doping?
Well, there’s one of two explanations for this: The first is that their own admitted use falls outside the statute of limitations (as is the case with Jonathan Vaughters), but the other explanation is more accurate for those whose use falls within that statute: The anonymity of those testifying is paramount to avoid retribution (from several sources) prior to their evidence being heard in the ongoing cases against people still active in the sport of cycling. It’s likely they’ll be dealt with later.
Why are they getting reduced sentences as rumoured?
Although this has been denied from several reports, think of it as time off for good behaviour, or striking a plea bargain. Some time ago USADA invited all implicated cyclists to come forward and give evidence about what they knew about doping. The only cyclist to decline this opportunity was Armstrong. For cooperating with authorities, USADA are entitled to hand down reduced suspensions - and they have a clear history of doing that in the sanctions they’ve handed down in the past.
Why don’t they let them just all dope then if they can’t catch them?
The answer to this one simply lies in public health. Do we turn a blind eye and allow people to do something dangerous to their body, simply in the pursuit of a medal, money or achievement? Seems a little morally reprehensible. The reality is that plenty of sports-people have died as a result of improper drug usage, and given the option, there’s evidence athletes may dope even if it kills them.
In a study conducted from 1982 to 1995, athletes were given a Faustian bargain: They could take a drug which guaranteed them sporting success but would also certainly kill them in five years time. An astonishing amount of athletes answered they would take that. It became known as the Goldman Dilemma. Somewhat curiously, a similar study revealed that members of the general population would almost universally decline the offer. It highlights the differences between risks taken by athletes, and therefore the responsibilities of society to prevent harm occurring.
But Lance was retired, why are they going after him?
Lance was actually an active athlete, in the sport of triathlon which, as an Olympic sport, is subject to the same controls and authorities as cycling is. He was attempting to compete in triathlon’s show-piece event in Kona. He may have been retired from one sport, but he was certainly competing in others, and should therefore be held just as accountable as any other active athlete for their actions.
In summary: It’s worth mentioning here this isn’t just about Lance. Five other people were charged directly alongside Armstrong, including doctors, team management, and two others immediately elected not to contest their charges. Armstrong is not alone, hasn’t been singled out, and wasn’t unfairly dealt with. What happened, instead, was that he knew the volume of evidence against him was going to prove overwhelming, and it was more damaging to him to have it heard than to accept being guilty.
Which makes you wonder, when someone prefers to be announced guilty rather than have the evidence heard, how bad must that evidence have sounded?
As always, I’m available on twitter if you’ve got a comment. Thanks for reading!
So, now that the evidence is beginning to come, not so much as a trickle, but more as a flood against Lance Armstrong, what does it all mean for cycling’s future?
The reality of that will be measured by who else is implicated. If (or more likely, when) Johan Bruyneel is found guilty, Team Radioshack are likely looking for an entirely new staffing team. That’s a relatively simple process by most standards, but doesn’t directly impact upon the sport.
True change comes when someone’s brave enough to show the levels of complicity within the governing body - the UCI - as far as Armstrong’s case involved them. Only specifically when someone names McQuaid et al as being part of Armstrong’s cover-up will there be any form of pressure for change at the top of the sport. The UCI’s lack of popularity with teams, riders and supporters is well known - but despite all of that, there is no catalyst for change. Why?
The answer to that question is simple, but as in the cause of a lot of things, often the best: money. As long as sponsors stay with the UCI, there’s no reason for their governance to change in their eyes. But, sponsors are fickle. They’re only happy so long as their product is presenting with a reputable ideal. Take team sponsors for example - how often have we seen a sponsor bail on a team after a drug scandal or positive tests?
But scandals involving teams don’t affect the UCI’s sponsors. They don’t (directly) affect the UCI’s income - so there’s no reason for them to leave. But an allegation of corruption, of directly running an unfair competition for their own financial benefit? That’s the sort of thing no reputable company wants to be a part of. So it ultimately boils down to the reporting - or public evidence.
We know that several USPS staff members have elected for arbitration now, but the scope of the UCI’s involvement with them may be somewhat more limiting in evidence, given that it was Armstrong who had direct access to the very top of the UCI, and not the team members.
So, if there’s only a very slim chance for criticism of - or evidence against - the UCI, where does that leave cycling? With the same people in charge, and only a few guilty parties penalised? No thanks. Armstrong may be the very public PR prize, but in terms of importance he ranks only third or fourth.
So, which route does the sport go down? Truth and reconciliation? If so, how?
The reality is, whilst riders are afraid to speak out against the terms of their employment and the governing body, truth and reconciliation won’t work. As inrng’s piece here shows, it’s only effective once there is a sincere willingness from all parties to genuinely discuss and learn from the past. Could we say that about all of the riders, teams, and the governing body? I’m not so sure.
Bjarne Riis, for example, was named this week in Tyler Hamilton’s book as having not just doped when he was a rider (as he admitted to in the past), but for facilitating doping as a team owner. Riis, of course, was quick to deny the accusation - just as he did when he was riding. In that respect, he’s the classic example of someone who can’t be trusted, and shouldn’t be near the sport again.
There’s also the problem of having the UCI be a willing participant. Many riders are fearful of retribution from the UCI these days. Without the UCI being absolutely dedicated to true transparency and education - even at the potential cost of individuals within it - any T&R process is destined for failure, because the only way it works is if you can guarantee nobody will be vilified for speaking out. Cycling, as we’ve seen with Bassons and many others, does not have a good record for being able to commit to that process.
So change must come from within, and one of two ways. Either a process which places intense scrutiny and pressure upon the UCI, by way of external concerns over transparency which directly affects the UCI’s ability to govern effectively and be a credible organisation, or through internal pressure. Teams dedicated to a better way of running their own sport, with a greater say and more financial power could certainly effect large change for the better.
We’ve seen it before: dissatisfaction with the governing body resulting in teams looking for better conditions, and it can work as demonstrated so aptly by England’s Premier League. But it requires iron will to see it through to that conclusion. It may be that a split from the UCI is what professional cycling really needs. But if we start down the path of greater commercialisation, does that lead us back down the dark path again towards doping? After all, if it wasn’t for money and prestige, we probably wouldn’t have ended up here in the first place.
For now, there’s far more questions than there are answers. We can only hope that the forthcoming revelations prove to be just that, and provide clarity for what is undoubtedly a key point in time for the sport of cycling.
Questions? Comments? Contact me on twitter - I’m happy to converse, even if you disagree!
As I wrote a few days ago, we now know that Armstrong had a long history around doping - and that he got some help. Now we’ll look at how this help was built around him to create an empire that thrived upon the myth of Lance - both in terms of the people who profited, and in terms of the importance of Lance.
It’s worth me mentioning here that cycling teams tend to be owned by companies, but take on the name of the sponsor. The company that managed the US Postal team Armstrong enjoyed his success with was named Tailwind Sports. It’s directors were, amongst others:
Now, we could start with any of their directors and be able to follow a long trail. But let’s start with the man second on the list, Bill Stapleton.
Stapleton has been Lance Armstrong’s agent since 1995. He was there before the cancer, and he’s been there ever since. Now, Stapleton has worn a lot of hats, and most of those gain great benefit from the myth of Lance. Stapleton is the chief management officer of Livestrong, and sits on several other companies , including Capitol Sports & Entertainment. But let’s allow CSE to tell the story:
Today, CSE is an integrated marketing and investment company with Lance as a key partner. Bill acts as CMO for the LIVESTRONG brand on behalf of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, serves on the boards of Stubb’s (the club destination for live music in Austin) and FRS, and continues to represent Lance in all aspects of his business.
Note that carefully and distinctly. The Lance Armstrong Foundation is the charity. Livestrong is a brand, and has a very distinctive ‘for profit’ arm. It’s fair to say that all of those are dependant upon Armstrong’s image being that of the clean hero who overcame cancer, and in Stapleton’s role as Armstrong’s agent, it’s his job to promote that. But those aren’t the only hats Stapleton has worn.
Stapleton also served as a vice-president on the United States Olympic Committee, whose mission is:
To support U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes in achieving sustained competitive excellence and to preserve the Olympic Ideals, thereby inspiring all Americans.
Now, it goes without saying that Armstrong’s doping goes entirely against the Olympic ideal of clean sport. But did you also know that Stapleton was instrumental in the removal of Marty Mankamyer and the sanctioning of the USOC’s CEO, Lloyd Ward, for ethics violations? Wouldn’t representing an athlete you know to be doping, and whose activities you have managed and covered up also be some fairly heavy ethics violations, particularly when the most flagrant breaches occurred during the time you were supposed to be upholding the Olympic ideal?
But the most interesting thing about this, of course, is that Bill Stapleton was part of the committee responsible for creating USADA, and it’s regulations. Didn’t hear Armstrong complaining about that then? No, neither did I. In fact, Armstrong agreed to be bound by their regulations and arbitration a further four times after USADA’s creation. One can only assume that Armstrong thought they were a great organisation when they were finding other athletes guilty, including his ex-teammates, simply because the man with his best interests at heart had created the organisation. Perhaps the most ironic thing is that Stapleton had called for congressional involvement in the USOC, which led to the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act - a process which Armstrong was to try and claim meant that USADA was a state actor, and therefore couldn’t charge him under the processes Armstrong had agreed to. Now, either Armstrong has the most seriously inept agent in the world, or the most two-faced, inept sports administrator. Somehow I don’t think Armstrong will be lining up to convict him on either count while the dollars keep coming in.
Thomas Weisel is an investment banker by trade, and an extremely successful one. His company, Montgomery Securities, was the sponsor of Armstrong’s first cycling team, Montgomery-Subaru, for whom he rode before making the US National Team. Many of the directors of Montgomery Securities would form Thomas Weisel Partners, an investment firm. Thomas Weisel would also serve on the board of the USA Cycling Development Foundation (USACDF), along with Armstrong and other members of Tailwind Sports. This was apparently a non-profit organisation. In 2000, Weisel organised a buyout of USA Cycling - and this is where it gets interesting - and a new board was appointed. On this board were appointed Steve Johnson from the USACDF, and a man named Jeff Garvey, who was the first chairman of…Livestrong, and currently serves as it’s vice-chairman. I intentionally won’t link to their website (I feel there’s thousands of more worthy cancer charities out there who do something for actual research), but it’s there, in all it’s glory.
So now not only do we have people on the board of Livestrong also on the board of USA Cycling, but the organisations are becoming entrenched with people responsible for punishing doping cyclists prior to USADA, and at the same time, responsible for protecting and building Armstrong as an asset as part of his brand.
But back to Thomas Weisel. Montgomery Securities would go on to fund a company named Amgen, a pharmaceutical company. They, in turn, would sponsor the Tour of California. But what their business came from was the sale of the one drug that would later be at the center of most doping storms - Amgen were the manufacturer of Epogen, one of the most common brands of EPO. Amgen were also a corporate sponsor of….Livestrong.
There’s a hell of a lot of business links which are dependant on Armstrong’s continued image and success, and I’d encourage everyone reading to thank dimspace, whose outstanding spreadsheet hosted at Velorooms formed the basis for much of this. So much of it I omitted from here for the purpose of brevity, but anyone with an interest in cycling should look carefully at it, because MANY of those people are still involved in professional cycling today, not least of whom are two of the most recognisable voices in cycling, Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett. Sherwen especially has business interests with Armstrong - so if you ever hear him commentate, listen for the occasional mention of Armstrong, and the character with which he’s referred.
I guarantee you drugs and doping will be the furthest thing from his mouth. He’ll happily sing the praises of Lance the cancer-fighter, as though that ever remotely had a hand in curing the disease. He may even mention the words ‘witch hunt’.
Any questions? Follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/cavalierfc
There’s a lot of misinformation out there following Lance Armstrong’s decision to accept a life ban rather than contest charges of doping. Let’s correct some of it, and show you the man behind all of the myths. As we go along, you’ll see that allegations against Armstrong have been there not just since he began winning the Tour de France, but that he’s been associated with people around doping almost since he began competing in organised sport. Be warned: This is a very long read. I intended it to be as concise as possible, and for that reason I’ve been unable to shorten it.
Lance Armstrong was 18 when he first met Chris Carmichael, in 1990. Carmichael was the new head of the US cycling team, and was an ex-professional with experience on the American 7-11 team, competing in one Tour de France which he failed to finish. Carmichael was named and sued by two other cyclists also training with him at this time, Greg Strock and Erich Keiter, for doping them with cortisone, steroids, and other various products during the 1990 season. Carmichael settled this case out of court, in 2001, but the evidence was damning - there was systemic doping and corruption in the US coaching system during Carmichael’s time there.
The doping undertaken by Carmichael and others on these junior riders posed significant health risks to both of the men, a core concern about the risks of doping in sport. Of course, Lance Armstrong was a team-mate back then. Armstrong would go on to work with Carmichael for the rest of his sporting career.
Yet this week, Carmichael’s response to Lance Armstrong’s acceptance of is ban is simple: He believes that Lance was the best athlete, but at no point does he say that Armstrong never doped - he only made a statement that he’d never seen him do so. The lack of a specific denial there is key and follows a very clear theme - Armstrong would never say that he’d never doped. Instead, he would say one of two themes, that he’d either never tested positive (note here: this isn’t correct, and we’ll go over that later), or that he’d never been caught.
Armstrong went on to race in Europe after that period with Carmichael and the US team. In 1992 he raced with Motorola, and in 1993 he won both the US national title and the World Championship in a race in horrible weather, including roads covered in a torrential downpour, rendering the road surface slippery like ice due to the diesel and oil on them. The inclement conditions resulted in one of the smallest finishing fields in history, and the withdrawal of the majority of race favourites citing the danger the weather presented.
Allegations about Armstrong’s involvement with drugs come from at least this far back. Steve Swart, team-mate of Armstrong’s on Motorola, said that Armstrong was the central figure in encouraging riders to dope. His claims were published in two books, and Armstrong sued after their publication: He dropped one lawsuit in France, and had another dismissed, being slightly more successful when obtaining a judgement in England after a newspaper there printed an excerpt about it. But where the books were published, in France, Armstrong never had a case - it was not proven the books were lying.
Armstrong enjoyed mixed success from that point onward - winning the occasional one day race or stage and podium places on a few others. There was nothing in his ability level which suggested he had the ability to win a Grand Tour - in fact it was the very opposite. In 1995 he managed to finish the Tour at the third time of asking, in 36th place.
Armstrong’s career continued along these lines, with sporadic wins, until he met (and began working with) Italian doctor, Michele Ferrari in 1996. Michele Ferrari is a doctor who has been implicated in evidence from a number of athletes, and banned for life by the Italian Olympic Committee. No Italian athlete is permitted to work with him, and breaches are punishable with bans. More on him a little later.
Armstrong famously got very ill in 1996, contracting cancer. The signs of this showed up very early in the year, but weren’t recognised. This is important: Armstrong, despite having cancer, put in some of his best ever performances. A debilitating disease (at least, Armstrong’s own foundation lists it as such) was having a chronic effect on his body and yet he was performing better than ever before, despite Armstrong’s own admission that he’d noticed abnormalities related to the cancer three years before his diagnosis.
But there’s a subscript to his cancer that hasn’t really been explored: Armstrong by his own claim is the most tested athlete on the planet, and given he enjoyed considerable success in 1996 and beforehand, would certainly have been subject to numerous doping controls. Some cancers - including the type Lance Armstrong had - cause enormously elevated levels of human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG), a naturally occuring hormone in the body, but at low levels in males. Now, there are rules for the amount of hCG permitted in an athlete, because it offers a competitive advantage - not enough to overcome the deficiencies cancers cause, but a good advantage in a healthy human being, because it produces testosterone. An athlete is often considered to have failed a drug test if the urinary T/E (Testosterone:Epitestosterone) ratio is greater than 6. So the UCI would have been testing for it, and Armstrong’s cancer would have resulted in an enormously elevated T/E ratio.
But Armstrong never produced a positive sample. Compare that with Jake Gibb whose life, it could be argued, was saved by USADA’s testing, when it detected those hugely elevated levels in an anti-doping test, and advised him to see a doctor. That ultimately led to the discovery of testicular cancer, and Gibb recovered. Lance Armstrong wasn’t so lucky - so we can assume one of two things. Either the UCI’s anti-doping measures were woefully below standard, and didn’t detect Armstrong’s elevated levels of hCG, allowing his cancer to worsen while competing, or the UCI’s anti-doping discovered Armstrong’s elevated levels and didn’t report them. Either way, it’s a massive condemnation in the UCI’s ability to validate itself as a serious entity in drug testing. At best it’s woefully ineffective, at worst it’s simply corrupt.
Ultimately nobody can fight off cancer without medicine, and Armstrong’s condition worsened, until he finally went to a doctor where the diagnosis was confirmed, and Armstrong began urgent treatment.
As part of that treatment, Armstrong, scared and with nobody with knowledge to consult about his condition, was asked in hospital whether he’d ever used any performance-enhancing drugs(PEDs). His response, as detailed by npr, and in evidence given by Betsy Andreu, was to list off a reel of drugs which he’d taken.
Betsy Andreu’s deposition was given and submitted as evidence years later, when SCA promotions was taken to court by Armstrong for non-payment of a bonus. SCA’s defence was that Armstrong had used PEDs, and they obtained Andreu’s evidence to defend that claim. Armstrong, by now estranged from the Andreus , had not spoken to them for years. But when he learned that the Andreus were to be subpoenaed, he made the extraordinary step of contacting Frankie Andreu in an attempt to influence his testimony, and that of his wife, Betsy, who declined to give a statement along Armstrong’s version of events. Frankie was rattled - he said in his evidence that he hadn’t wanted to testify but had been forced to by the subpoena - but he corroborated his wife’s version of events; that Armstrong had confessed to PED use. Armstrong, in a further attempt to intimidate Betsy Andreu when giving evidence, flew to witness her doing exactly that, sitting in the back of the room during her deposition, saying nothing, and then immediately flying back home. In the process that followed he attempted to characterise Betsy as fat, ugly, obsessed and jealous. Hard to characterise any of those as true if you saw her or listened to watch she had to say.
Ultimately, modern medicine saved Armstrong. That fact has been distorted as years have gone by with Armstrong’s claim to be riding to ‘fight’ the disease - when the only time it’s been beaten is with the help of medicine and drugs. The ironic thing here is that steroid usage has been proven to cause cancer, and was suggested by a former WADA spokesman to have possible been complicit in Armstrong contracting the disease.
Ultimately, Armstrong found it difficult to find a team after recovering, and ended up on the US Postal team, which from 1999 onward would have it’s management under the direction of former ONCE rider, Johan Bruyneel. ONCE were a Spanish cycling team heavily implicated in EPO usage in investigations following the 1998 Tour de France.
In 1997, Armstrong’s agent, Bill Stapleton, became an official of the US Olympic Committee. Sports Illustrated would report years down the track that Armstrong, in three tests the 90s, produced samples that indicated doping with testosterone. The anti-doping scientist who allegedly tested these samples was Don Catlin. He was unable to confirm two of the tests - a highly irregular occurrence - and refused to comment on the third. Don Catlin would later be called to oversee Armstrong’s “transparent” testing during his comeback - a process which covered only a single test before it was aborted. Having an atmosphere where two men so closely tied in business relationships with Armstrong wouldn’t be conducive to finding a positive test against him.
With Armstrong’s return to the bike in 1998 came the return to working with Michele Ferrari. Armstrong would later state to Floyd Landis, a team-mate on the USPS team, that Michele Ferrari was paranoid that he’d helped cause the cancer through his providing the drugs Armstrong was using in 1996. Ferrari, the team doctor on Gewiss-Ballan, had been famous for his statement that ‘EPO was no more dangerous than drinking orange juice’, when suspicions began to arise about drug use due to Gewiss’ sudden exceptional performances. Ferrari immediately got Armstrong back into an intensive program of drug use. The net result was Armstrong, cancer-free and drug-boosted, beginning to suddenly make the cycling world sit up and take notice with increased endurance, producing performances in stage races. Make no bones about it: Cancer does not cause this. It doesn’t transform an athlete into a super-athlete. This has never happened before, or since. That’s because it doesn’t happen. Armstrong’s 4th placed finish at the Tour of Spain confirmed the work Ferrari had been doing. The next thing to do was to take it to the next level.
1998’s Festina scandal did produce a diamond from the rough: Riders implicated in Festina’s team-wide doping scandal all said that Christophe Bassons had been the only rider on his team to refuse to take drugs. Bassons, cleared of any wrongdoing, was invited to write newspaper articles the following year when he was to ride, for a new team (FDJ), in the Tour de France. Bassons wrote largely innocuous columns, but one in particular came to the attention of Armstrong. Bassons had written that Armstrong’s return, suddenly to the head of the pack, had ‘shocked’ the peloton.
Armstrong’s response was to question the rider during a subsequent stage, inform Bassons that “it was a mistake to speak out” about doping, asking why he’d done it. Bassons responded by telling Armstrong that he was ‘thinking of the next generation of riders’. Armstrong’s response to Bassons was to tell him “Why don’t you leave then?”. Armstrong confirmed this version of events, and stated to the press that evening “His accusations aren’t good for cycling, for his team, for me, for anybody. If he thinks cycling works like that, he’s wrong and he would be better off going home.”
The problem was, of course, that Bassons had seen his entire team found guilty of it - cycling did work like that, and he was the lone voice at that point to speak up about it. Armstrong’s suggestion that he leave the sport was, therefore, an admission that Bassons was, at least in Armstrong’s eyes, unwelcome. Bassons was ostracised, and forced to leave the race. Armstrong had effectively bullied him out of the sport Bassons was trying to clean up. Bassons attempted to ride on for two more years, but it wasn’t a hospitable place. He now works in anti-doping.
This wasn’t the last time Armstrong would, mid-race, seek to influence another cyclist’s view on doping. But nor was it the only relevant point in that race.
In 1999, Lance Armstrong tested positive for a prohibited substance in a urine test: corticosteroids. Armstrong produced a prescription for a cream, claiming it was being used to treat saddle sores, a common ailment amongst cyclists. The problem with this was that riders are required to produce these prescriptions prior to use, and prior to testing. Armstrong had not done so, and consequently had indeed tested positive. Not only that, but Armstrong, as corroborated by a staff member at the time, obtained and then back-dated that prescription after the positive test had taken place.
That staff member was Emma O’Reilly, a soigneur (basically a jack-of-all-trades within a team, but commonly a masseuse). She also stated that Armstrong had made her dispose of syringes, traffic drugs for him and use make-up to cover up needle marks on his arms. Armstrong, in an attempt to discredit O’Reilly, would stoop as low as he could go: He alleged she was having multiple sexual relationships with riders on the team, called her a liar, and her employment was disposed of, for telling the truth.
Perhaps out of complicity, or perhaps out of guilt for not detecting Lance Armstrong’s cancer, the UCI then decided to take no more action. Armstrong’s positive was seemingly buried into history with his repeated claims that he ‘never tested positive’.
Armstrong, fresh from that success in the 1999 tour, went on to win in 2000 and 2001, where the most serious and damning issue in his whole career took place.
The Tour of Switzerland is one of two races normally ridden as preparation for the Tour de France, the other being the Dauphine Libere, and Armstrong headed to Switzerland as part of his preparation for the defence of his Tour de France.
Armstrong, fresh with a warning from Michele Ferrari not to use EPO, as a test had been formulated and ratified, tested positive for exactly that in Switzerland in 2001. This has been corroborated by multiple people, including ex-Armstrong team-mates, and the lab director (Martial Saugy) who, although initially stating through the media that this hadn’t occurred, later corrected his stance, and told the only anti-doping agency to ask him, that it was a positive. Saugy has also stated that he was told by a prominent person at the UCI that it wasn’t going any further. The directive to make it disappear was delivered by none other than the head of the UCI at the time, Hein Verbrugghen.
This is worth emphasising: A number of people testified that Lance Armstrong testified positive for EPO, and that Armstrong’s influence with the governing body of the sport made that positive test simply disappear. That’s another nail in the coffin of Lance’s “never tested positive” diatribe. Two positive tests, two years apart. But that wasn’t to be the end.
What came out of that was the most damning evidence of corruption possible. Armstrong made two payments to the UCI, totalling $125,000. The UCI has said these were to purchase anti-doping equipment. They have never produced the receipts to corroborate this. Regardless of where that money went, it is unprecedented that an active athlete would voluntarily pay a sum of money to a governing body. If it’s happened before, or since, I’d be amazed.
In 2002, Armstrong was exposed as working with Michele Ferrari. This caused considerable consternation due to Ferrari’s history and comments about drugs in sport. Floyd Landis, a team-mate of Lance Armstrong’s, would later disclose that Michele Ferrari would withdraw blood from him, to be transfused back into his blood stream at the Tour de France - as serious a doping breach as has ever taken place.
Fast-forward to 2003, and an Italian cyclist named Fillipo Simeoni becomes enemy number one for Lance Armstrong. Simeoni had admitted in evidence that he’d (Simeoni) begun doping in 1993 and Armstrong’s doctor, Michele Ferrari, had prescribed and showed him how to use products like EPO and HGH in 1996 and 1997. Simeoni subsequently served a suspension in 2001/2002. Armstrong’s response in 2003 was to call Simeoni a liar in a newspaper interview - as though Simeoni would, for no reason, gain himself a suspension and make it up. Simeoni’s response was to then sue Armstrong for defamation, announcing any winnings would be donated to charity. Things reached a head in the 2004 Tour de France.
On the 18th stage, Simeoni put in an attack, and joined a breakaway of 6 other riders. That breakaway posed no threat to the leaders of the tour, and normally would have been let go, to be chased down later in the stage, or to win it. But Armstrong had other ideas. Vengeance was the plan, and it was exacted. Armstrong himself attacked, and immediately closed the gap to the breakaway. The riders, in the knowledge the peloton would not let Armstrong get away, knew they would be caught. The other six in the break implored Armstrong to return to the group, but Armstrong would not leave unless Simeoni did also. Simeoni sacrificed his own race, rejoined the group and Armstrong did the same. When Simeoni dropped back, he was abused, and Armstrong made a famous gesture of zipping his lips. The implication was clear: shut your mouth, or you will never get any success. Armstrong subsequently was indicted by Italian authorities and was lucky to escape charges of witness intimidation. Simeoni, due to Lance’s actions, was ostracised, spat at, abused, and finished his career as a journeyman of sorts, mostly untouched by cycling teams at the highest level. He was persona non grata, for speaking out against the man who’d helped him dope, and who just happened to be Armstrong’s doctor.
2005 brought more things to light. Armstrong’s former personal assistant, Mike Anderson saw a box of androstenone - a steroid - when cleaning Armstrong’s apartment. Anderson’s deposition in a lawsuit against Armstrong detailed systemic bullying and harassment against both Anderson and his wife, both in the period of Anderson’s employment and afterward. Armstrong settled the case out of court.
The most explosive issue though, was the discovery of Armstrong’s 1999 Tour de France samples. A test for EPO wasn’t available back in 1999, and so samples couldn’t be tested for it at the time. As was practice though, samples were stored in the event they could be retested later. After an EPO test became available, Armstrong’s samples were amongst a batch to be retested. Six of Armstrong’s samples tested positive for EPO, a result one of the world’s leading anti-doping scientists verified as being almost impossible to have occurred any other way than through drug usage. Chalk that up as another nail in the “never tested positive” coffin. Unfortunately, Armstrong wasn’t prosecuted (again!) on these EPO positives - the retests were for research purposes, not anti-doping ones, and so the UCI declined to pursue the matter further.
Armstrong retired, confident in the knowledge his cheating hadn’t been punished.
Except that, in 2008, he announced a comeback. This is important today for two reasons:
1) Without this comeback, he wouldn’t have finally been caught and banned.
2) It provided the evidence that finally caught Lance Armstrong.
As mentioned earlier, Lance announced, to much fanfare, that he was going to be tested by Don Catlin, once and for all, to prove his innocence, and publish the results on his website.
Armstrong stopped the arrangement after a single test, presumably fearful of it actually turning up a positive result. He did continue to post his bio-passport figures though, including changing some of them after their publication in an attempt to make them less suspicious.
Armstrong was permitted to ride despite not having fulfilled a mandatory period of testing for the new bio-passport prior to competing - yes, that’s the UCI being complicit in shifting the goalposts again.
Regardless, science and the sport had moved on somewhat, and Lance’s blood values ultimately assisted in bringing him down - his values in the Tour of Italy in May were largely what should be expected of an athlete competing in endurance sport. But in the Tour de France, they were the opposite, and displayed evidence that he had been receiving blood transfusions during the race. This was to form part of USADA’s case against Armstrong - and he knew it.
In 2010, more bad news: Armstrong’s former team-mates began to admit their own doping histories, and when asked, admitted that Armstrong had both used doping products and facilitated the supply of them to his team, along with doctors and management. Armstrong’s response was to smear the character of the individuals - a tactic which I’ve shown was a standard response for every allegation dating back to the mid 90s.
Finally, in 2012, an anti-doping agency would finally collate all the evidence to bring charges against Lance Armstrong. Armstrong would identify the extent of his guilt, and accept the charges without contest. But he’d intentionally obfuscate, lie, and make false allegations about the entire proceeding to prevent the evidence from becoming public, and to smear those presenting them. He’d enlist the help of organisations who helped cover up positive test results, who he sent money to, and who fought themselves to try and keep it quiet.
Yellow wristbands are too important you see. Lance was never doing it for cancer. His actions prove - Lance was always doing it for himself, and by extension, he became worth a lot to other people.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations. You’re probably in one of three mindsets:
- Stunned at the extent of what has gone on and amazed. This isn’t uncommon amongst people who discover the truth. My only request to you is that you don’t allow lies and misinformation to distort the wonderful work of the people in anti-doping. They aren’t conducting witch-hunts. They’re after clean sport, and to protect the lives of athletes. They’re trying to stop cyclists dying in their sleep from EPO thickening their bloodstream.
- Completely disagreeing with everything I’ve shown you here, and labelling me a hater. If so, you’re looking for something you’ll never find. Enjoy your yellow wristbands, post on Lance’s facebook about how he’s an idol and role model. People who saw his behaviour will disagree, and they’ve a little more experience than you.
- Thinking ‘I knew this already’. Yes, but for every one of you, there’s a thousand people who don’t know it. Send them here. Show them the truth, so that we can stop this behaviour happening again.
Me? Even while writing this I was still stunned by how much there was, and I’ve known about much of it for years. I never thought I’d fill almost 4,000 words detailing bullying, harassment, and efforts to keep drug-taking in sport quiet. I pray nobody has to again. Even now, I know I missed a lot of it. I may have to do some edits to give even more detail and context.
Am I a hater? You bet. I’m a hater of drug-taking athletes the world over. Most of all, I detest behaviour that ostracises, punishes, and abuses people simply because they dared to tell the truth, to rid themselves of guilt, and seeks to ruin their lives. I hate corrupt organisations that run sports, and I hate the people who foster that corruption.
Any questions? Follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/cavalierfc
In Part One of this article I covered the UCI’s mismanagement of the sport, and what the financial implications of that were. The sport’s spectacular failure to directly engage sponsors also has something else which contributes to it, and in this respect it also fails spectacularly in getting it’s own supporters onside.
Assuming the USADA case against Lance Armstrong is successful, it will mean that nine of the last fourteen tours to have been awarded will have had the victor stripped of his title, directly because of doping offences. That’s also ignoring riders convicted of doping who have kept other titles won, despite serving doping suspensions in their career.
It’s obviously a problem within the sport, and it directly contributes to corporate scepticism (who wants to have their product associated with a drugged sport?), as well as public scepticism.
The UCI needs to remove itself as both the organisation who runs the sport, makes it’s rules, markets the sport, and also punishes those for cheating within it. It’s a clear and enormous conflict of interest. When the sport has someone extremely marketable - who can increase revenues enormously for the sport simply with his presence - in a position where an investigation into their possible doping is required, the UCI is directly stuck between which of the two positions it takes. Does it risk corporate sponsors abandoning the sport? Does it punish the athlete and risk the sport’s growth? Clearly, given the accusations about covered-up tests, that dilemma has been encountered. And the UCI has been found wanting.
The sport needs an organisation which is prepared to separate itself from the management and promotion of the sport, and simply test athletes, and if required, instigate disciplinary procedures against them. This is clearly the mandate of WADA, and as a result they’re the perfect organisation to turn this responsibility to.
Cycling also obviously has a substantial image problem. It continually turns up positive drug tests at the one single event which has more viewing numbers than any other race in the calendar - it’s continually shooting itself in the foot.
Transparency is also an enormous issue. Not in terms of governance - in terms of simply making information available to the public. It’s improving at a snail’s pace, but this is not something that is sport - or UCI - driven. It’s individual riders. I’d normally be loath to say those within the sport keep the fans in contempt, but I struggle to come up with a more suitable term. Particularly when it comes to anti-doping. Think seriously about this - when was the last time you saw a male road cyclist express happiness about drug testing? Now, compare it with the amount of times you’ve seen them complain about it. Even riders found guilty of doping have complained about it, as Alberto Contador did this week on twitter. People whose reputations have been trashed, complaining about them being tested for the one thing they did that caused it? A little hypocritical.
But it’s not just that - the professional ranks have very few riders who speak out about it. When a positive test comes up, the sport closes ranks. It stays quiet, in the hope it goes away. This is entirely the wrong approach. The sport needs to condemn, in the strongest possible way, those who would even consider it. Not abuse those who suspect it may be happening, based on decades of it actually occurring.
But it’s clear those who are stakeholders in the sport don’t view the public as a stakeholder. It’s frustrating, even when an organisation as inept as FIFA manage to at least acknowledge the public in that respect. Even one of the sport’s most engaging people, Jonathan Vaughters, acknowledged this week that his riders were only expected to tell the truth - when asked - to the organisations which engage them with questions. His own response when asked on twitter was this:
my philosophy is simple and previously stated: tell truth to those who can make move things forward.
I’d like to think fans of the sport should be a part of that process, and it’s disappointing to see attitudes that confirm the view that the sport is a closed shop.
My position on what should happen is simple:
- The UCI needs a broom through it, and responsibilities taken away. Responsibility for drug testing needs to go to an external, independent body. Get this body to report weekly, on measures it’s undertaking, new testing procedures, backdated testing.
- Remove the statute of limitations. It’s an irrelevance. If a test shows up 10 years down the track that someone was cheating under the rules of the day, but wasn’t detectable then due to science, why should they get to keep their achievements due to an arbitrary time period?
- Mandate the use of power-meters. Teams must post data from each rider’s power meter within 2 hours of a stage on a dedicated website, publicly accessible. Small enough time-frame to prevent manipulation.
I realise that people would say “but it may give away competition secrets” - but the reality is, it’s one thing to be able to look at what your competitor did on one day, it’s another thing to be able to do anything about it. But in the interests of entertainment, and the sport - why would it be an issue anyway? So you notice that the guy ahead of you on GC used a lot of power one day, and had an elevated heart rate, indicating he might not recover well, and you use it to your advantage the next day by attacking him - why is this a problem?
Surely it’s just adding to the entertainment and excitement of the sport?
- Blood values and testing to be posted by relevant testing body on the same website as above (when available), aligned with performance data. I realise this may happen after the event due to time limitations.
- Significantly increase OOC testing. If the numbers we’ve seen with regards to Armstrong are even close to accurate, getting tested roughly once a month OOC is so infrequent as to make it completely unworthwhile, and entirely dependant on chance. The frequency must be far greater.
The goal is organisational transparency, anti-doping transparency, and rider transparency. Don’t like it as a rider? Find another career. We’re talking a few years worth of inconvenience for something the common man would never get to experience but love to be able to.
One other thing:
- Anyone caught doping, facilitating doping or with unexplainable blood markers automatically receives a lifetime ban. This is reducible to two years for a first offence providing the following condition is met: A rider must be able to prove from where he received the doping product(s), when he received them, and how he received them. He needs to show testing organisations how they were taken as well. That enables the sport to go after the problem at it’s very source, and forces people to put their own livelihood before protecting others. Nobody will destroy their own career/earnings ahead of reporting a doctor or team manager.
I realise these are broad strokes I’m painting with and that, as always, the devil is in the detail. But the sport needs to open itself up to fans, and prove the public that people are simply on the limit of human endurance, not give rise to suspicions of doping.
Thanks for reading!
A change is coming.
The USADA case against Lance Armstrong could possibly be a watershed moment for the sport of cycling. Not necessarily for the opportunity to (finally) clear up a dubious period in the sport’s results - but for something even more serious. Something remotely acknowledged - but not necessarily focused on during the case - is the impact this will have upon cycling’s governing body, which could have enormous ramifications for the sport.
News broke in May 2010 that Lance Armstrong had made a large donation to the UCI in 2002. The money was used to purchase a Sysmex machine, a piece of equipment for analysing blood samples. Ignoring the irony of that machine possibly being partially responsible for Lance Armstrong’s downfall, a guilty verdict on Lance Armstrong will cause that donation to be revisited.
It’s one thing to get a donation from an active athlete to the governing body (although it’s rather unprecedented). It’s another thing entirely to have received a donation which, in hindsight, has come from an athlete engaged in the greatest sports doping conspiracy of all time. I suggest that no other governing body in another sport would have accepted such an offer from an active athlete, particularly one seemingly in the prime of their career.
If Armstrong is guilty (although the evidence in the public domain suggests it is far more likely to be when), then the issue of Armstrong’s donation must be revisited. More accurately, those who accepted the donation must walk from the governing body. It is entirely inappropriate that anyone with hopes of transparent governance would accept such a donation from a cheat. We can only hope that such pressure is brought to bear.
If it does, the sport can finally move on from the archaic leadership model it’s had for a long time. Pat McQuaid must be part of that departure. He’s spectacularly failed to bring the sport further than when he inherited it’s leadership. The sport needs a new model of leadership, something like this:
- An independent organisation to manage road races, and the teams competing within them.
- The UCI needs to act as a governing body and nothing else. It should be the organisation responsible for promoting cycling around the world, governing technical rules of the sport, and providing education on bike-riding.
- The chairperson of the board should rotate between one of each of the categories laid out below on a bi-annual basis.
- No person should serve on the board for a total of greater than six years at any time.
- The board of the organisation should consist of 13 seats:
- 4 seats for members nominated by teams competing in the elite men’s category of road racing
- 2 seats for members nominated by teams not represented in the elite men’s category, but from teams competing in the elite women’s category
- 1 seat each to experts responsible for the following categories: marketing, sponsorship, development (this should include development in underprivileged areas, as well as paralympic)
- 1 seat for a nominated member by a cyclist’s union.
- 1 seat from a recognised anti-doping authority (more on that later)
- 2 seats for affiliated cycling sports (MTB, Track, CX)
The UCI should have nothing to do with the marketing, the sponsorship or the management of any segment of the running of races/leagues or competitions at the elite level. Nor should it be involved in any anti-doping activity. Anti-doping should come under the mandate only of WADA, and a new, independent body should be responsible for both investigation and prosecution, answering only to WADA, with the UCI as a signatory.
A simple glimpse at the UCI reveals how spectacularly it has failed: Sponsors are largely small multinationals, and largely involved in bike-related manufacture. Nowhere is there a corporate giant on the scale as those as FIFA, for example. Bike riding is constantly underestimated in terms of public participation, and the viewing figures for the Tour de France make it the world’s most watched annual sporting event. This equates to a spectacular failure of the UCI to market it, and encapsulates why they need to have the responsibility for that side of the sport removed.
Tomorrow I’ll look at how the process of anti-doping in cycling needs to be revolutionised, and also stripped away from the UCI.
Deep breath. Sound interesting. Don’t sound like a singles ad. Don’t let your wife read that part. Am I over 140 characters yet?
For anyone remotely interested, anything I post here will ultimately fit into one of the three categories at the top. It’s opinionated, and whilst I normally try and research everything as much as possible, it’s occasionally incorrect.
I’m 34, work as an AV tech, and mostly run cable (are you excited yet ladies?). Next year, that all changes. Next year, I’m going to start back down the slope of study that I haven’t done for half of my life now. I always said “I don’t know” whenever my parents asked me what I want to do with my life. A few months ago, I had a moment of clarity. My wife was pleased (at last). Our children (6 and 1) said “Can I have (insert expensive toy here) for Christmas?”. Priorities are different I guess, and they’re good evidence.
I loved sport, ever since I was a kid. I’d play it, was occasionally very good it, and I’d watch it. Even to the extent I once decided to take a day off school when I was around to watch the final day of a match of test cricket. Of course, they rang my parents, and I got a rather sore pair of buttocks that night (For the record, New Zealand drew against Australia in Perth, it was brilliant).
Over time obviously I grew to become more than just a fan. When I was 16 I watched Ayrton Senna die from my bedroom, on the opposite side of the world, and very late at night. It remains one of the saddest days of my life, and I never met him, or saw anything of it. Sport had well and truly grabbed me. My icons came, stayed and made their own impacts (in no particular order, Liverpool FC, Michael Schumacher, Jan Ullrich).
But I don’t just like any sport. It has to be clean. I have no interest in watching dopers, cheats or frauds win. I believe in the human endeavour - even though my support of individuals has occasionally made that support collide with that ethos.
So next year, I’ll start studying towards a Sports Science degree, with the goal ultimately of working in anti-doping, and formulating methods to keep sport clean.
I have a dream. Might as well try and make it happen.