About the only story on ESPN radio yesterday was the decision by Lance Armstrong late Thursday night to give up his fight against the US Anti-Doping Agency and the charges that he engaged in multiple anti-doping rule violations, participated in a sophisticated doping scheme and conspiracy, as well as trafficking, administration, and/or attempted administration of a prohibited substance or method - which included, at various times, the use of testosterone, cortisone, HgH, EPO (and other next generation hemacrit boosters), and blood transfusions.
Armstrong's statement did not proclaim his innocence so much as it tried to discredit the investigation, which he called an "unconstitutional witch hunt." It was clear, however, that once he lost the appeal to have the investigation thrown out, he had no choice but to accept the sanctions USADA was ready to impose.
If he had challenged their verdict in arbitration, the USADA would have marched out 10 former teammates (several of whom, like George Hincapie, likely would be hostile witnesses for the USADA) who were involved directly or indirectly in doping with Armstrong and his teams, other witnesses (including former team mechanics, etc.), evidence that the UCI helped to conceal a positive test for EPO at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland (and here), evidence of doping during his 2009 and 2010 comeback attempts, and a pile of additional evidence that has never been made public.
But let's be clear: This is not a witch hunt dreamed up by the USADA.
Let's remember how this started - following a series of allegations by disgraced rider Floyd Landis, a former Armstrong teammate (he made allegations so detailed and unique that the UCI's own biological passport division is using the information to strengthen its doping detection), the United States Food and Drug Administration launched a fraud investigation of US Postal team officials and doctors.
After a two-year investigation, United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. stated his office "is closing an investigation into allegations of federal criminal conduct by members and associates of a professional bicycle racing team owned in part by Lance Armstrong." NPR alleged at the time that sources in the FBI, FDA, and US Postal Service were ‘shocked, surprised, and angered’ and that federal authorities only had 30 minutes notice before the United States Attorney's Office released a press release to the media on Friday afternoon.
According the NPR, sources indicated that charges were close to being brought against a number of individuals, which included fraud, witness tampering, mail fraud, and drug distribution. One source, NPR says, said there were ‘no weaknesses in the case’.[Emphasis added.]
Following the inexplicable decision by Birotte to drop the case, USADA announced that it is "looking forward to obtaining the information" that was gathered through the grand jury investigation.
CEO of USADA, Travis Tygart indicated that today's decision by the US Attorney may help his agency pursue Armstrong on doping violations.
"Unlike the U.S. Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws," read the statement from Tygart. "Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation."
That information includes the statements of several of Armstrong's former teammates and staff members, including Tyler Hamilton, who later appeared on the television news show "60 Minutes" with details about the doping at US Postal including an eye witness account of Armstrong using EPO.
There are dozens and dozens of other links to relevant stories around this case, and Cycling News is a good place to find most of them. Sports Illustrated also did their investigation in 2011 and published the results.
For all the reasons outlined above - and the fact that beating the doping tests is far too easy, to the point that 500 or more passed tests simply means the testing (as always) lags behind the most sophisticated doping strategies (in fact, it is probable that Bruyneel and Armstrong consulted with top doping lab techs to learn how to beat the tests) - I am convinced Lance Armstrong was doping throughout his career.
More importantly, I am also convinced that every other rider who finished in the top 5 in any of those seven tours was also doping. So we are going to take away Armstrong's titles to give them to other riders who doped? This is the true farce in all of the noise around this decision.
[As an aside, this is where Armstrong's defense becomes silly. We are supposed to believe that he was, seven years in a row, the best rider on the planet - that he was the only clean rider but he could beat a peloton of riders who were all doping? Not likely.]
From USA Today, here is a list of the riders who stand to now become Tour Winners, including Jan Ulrich, who is currently serving a two-year suspension for doping.
1999 - Alex ZulleIf this is how things end up, Jan Ulrich will join a very elite group of riders of four Tour wins - and he is banned for doping, to which he has admitted.
Bio: Zulle admitted to using the performance enhancer Erythropoietin (EPO) while competing with Team Festina.
2000 - Jan Ullrich
Bio: Ullrich had all of his results after May 2005 voided and was suspended for two years for doping in February.
2001 - Ullrich
2002 - Joseba Beloki
Bio: Beloki was held out of the 2006 Tour when Spanish police suspected him of doping. He was later cleared. But still associated so the list continues.
2003 - Ullrich (comment: He almost won a lot of these, didn't he?)
2004 - Andreas Klöden
Bio: The German National Anti Doping Agency is mulling the possibility of investigating Kloden, who was accused of an illegal blood transfusion during the 2006 Tour.
2005 - Ivan Basso
Bio: Basso admitted to blood doping in 2007 and served a two-year suspension.
Either Armstrong should retain his titles, or ALL results from the 1990s-2009 should be voided.
People like Lance Armstrong have been forced into an untenable position by the doping rules. We want to see riders complete insanely tough 3 week races (the three Grand Tours) with incredibly high average speeds, but we want to see them do it without any chemical assistance. It's simply not possible.
I've advocated for legalized PEDs in sports for years, and this exactly why. Athletes are expected to win, and to do so by being bigger, faster, stronger, or with greater endurance than previous athletes, but they are also expected to not use drugs that can help them do so more effectively, or to recover more quickly.
With financial pressures, performance pressures, and who knows how many other sources of pressure, the athletes find ways (or are told they need to participate in programs) to boost their performance and win races - all the while being forced to proclaim that they win based solely on talent and training. It has to suck to be in that position.
The reality is much different. With all things being equal, the top riders are (or have been doping) and that levels the field - although some riders may dope better or more effectively than others (which is true of training and nutrition as well - they are all technologies) - so Armstrong was, without question, the best rider of his generation, doping or not. As the list of 2nd place finishers shows, Armstrong was competing in a peloton where every one of his rivals was also doping.
The best athlete and most effectively doped rider won - and he should get to keep his titles.
And finally, we need to end the double standard. We should either allow riders to use PEDs without sanction, or we should be willing accept that stages will last 20 minutes longer, average speeds on climbs will be lower, sprinters will be just a bit slower, and the race will not be as exciting.
The same thing is true in other sports - maybe if NFL players had a legitimate testing program that sought to catch those using drugs rather than simply being for show (seriously, the NFL policy is so easy to beat that every player who wants to do so can use testosterone injections to speed healing between games) the players would be 20-50 lbs lighter, a few steps slower, and there would be far fewer concussions.
We need to get real about these issues, for our athletes and for their sports.