Does the Lance case matter?

July 11, 2012

Two comments seem to pop up regularly when it comes to the Lance case:

  1. “Lance is hounded so much more than his contemporaries.”
  2. “What does it matter, it’s in the past” sometimes combined with “If not Lance, then who are we giving the wins to, Ullrich?”

As for #1, I don’t think that’s really the case. Of course the Novitsky investigation involved heavy artillery, but a lot of that was not about “Lance the rider” doping. Rather it was about fraud, trafficking, suspicions of that nature. Furthermore, his contemporaries can largely be separated into two camps, those who admitted guilt fairly quickly and those who did not. Obviously the first group wasn’t hounded as much, but plenty of riders in the latter group have been hunted down with a vigor not dissimilar to what Lance is experiencing.

Take Ullrich, who has had Spanish, Swiss and German authorities (both sporting and regular) chase him for six years. Valverde was tag-teamed by an army of entities until the puzzle was complete and his suspension globally enforced. Not even the Spanish king could save him. I’m not suggesting they all get together to sing Kumbayah and start a self-help group, but there is definitely no reason for any of them to feel singled out.

As for #2, I don’t think “cleaning up” the results from the past would be a worthwhile benefit. Showing athletes that no matter how sophisticated you are, in the end the cheating will catch up with you and therefore it’s not worth it, that would be a bit more worthwhile. But I think the real benefit would have little to do with Lance, and rather would be to keep certain other individuals (mostly doctors) away from sports in the future. THAT could be the real benefit of sorting out the past.

To me, that would be worth the costs of these investigations. It seems yesterday a first step was made in this regard, with life-long bans for three doctors. Not that these bans will stop these individuals, but at least it will make it much easier to go after the athletes who continue to use their services.

30 Responses to “Does the Lance case matter?”

  1. jdv Says:

    The interesting point I read around the doctors being banned for life this morning, was that they’re only banned from sports that are signatories to the WADA code. The doctors of course will continue as always just underground.

    I think cycling has the right idea and is certainly at the forefront of anti-doping, both in testing and more intelligence lead operations. There is clear disparity between other sports and cycling which is painting the sport in a poor light, when it should be positively congratulated for being at the forefront.

    A massive step forward would be to get all athletes (of an equivalent level) tested and treated equally. It would seem common sense, to take blood and urine samples from ALL competitors at the Olympics (start/middle/end as well as results based). Although this would take time to test, it would at least be a wide net to cast and a show of a single stance across all sports.

  2. Ian Says:

    It has also been very helpful for parents with children who want to get into cycling. Now I know what needs to be done to be successful and the names of some people who can help. Obviously one needs to be careful and project the right image and crucially always offer old team mates a job if they need it. Of course the alternative is partake but don’t lead, then, having enjoyed the trappings of a successful career in pro sports confess all, dump everyone else in it and ride off into the sunset as a hero of the anti doping movement.

  3. Greg Says:

    Regarding #1, I am under the impression that most riders were doping in the 99-05 period. Yes, they may be going after some of the leaders like Ulrich but what about all the other riders who didn’t finish anywhere close to the top? They are getting a free pass relative to Lance. That doesn’t send much of a message or provide a deterrent to a domestique.

    I think it’s better to focus efforts on testing and monitoring current riders.

    • I think this is a common misconception. In the late 90’s, Festina was one of the worst. And many people read Willy Voet’s book to see how bad it was. But you can also read in that book that half the team did not participate in the doping. In other teams, that percentage was even higher.

      Or take the 1999 Tour. In that year, EPO was not detectible. So it was basically a risk-free and very effective doping method. Yet when they went back an anonymously tested the 1999 samples years later for EPO, they found that most samples were clean. So many riders did not use the undetectable wonder drug. (of course, these are also the tests that although anonymized, were linked to codes and l’Equipe cracked the codes to find out some of the samples that showed EPO belonged to Lance, which in turn he says wasn’t the case when he peed.

      Or another example, CERA was the undetectable wonder drug in 2008. Yet when the authorities sprung a test on the peloton at the Tour that year, only a handful of riders were found using it.

      • Greg Says:

        Having a negative test for EPO doesn’t mean they weren’t doping. It just means it wasn’t detectable in their system at the time of the test. EPO washes out fairly quickly.

        • While it is no proof they weren’t doping, you also have to take into account that at that time, there was no reason to be micro-dosing or restrict use in any way (other than making sure the blood kept flowing). So those who were using were likely using constantly (this is also why not one but many of the samples of “Armstrong” contained EPO in the later retest (which as we know is, although damning since there is no other reasonable explanation, is no legal proof of anything since there was no A+B sample. So if you assume that best practices (or something close to it) were used by those doping (and why not, after the stuff had been in the peloton for a decade), it stands to reason that many were not doping.

          Also take into account that the majority of samples were negative, and the majority of samples taken were from the top riders. So not even all the guys who won stuff (jerseys, stages) were taking EPO, at least not in doses similar to “Armstrong”‘s samples.

      • Says:

        l’Equipe wants to sell newspapers right? There exists a justice system to decide actual guilt, and it is correctly constrained by checks and balances. Then there are the tabloids … I prefer real justice.

  4. Evan Shaw Says:

    Greg I see your points, yet I think it is more important to get the big guys, as they set the tone for the rest. They have the money, power, political connections and create disproportionate damage to the domestiques, fans, and sport. It is not a vendetta against Lance it is accountability for the high crime of setting up SYSTEMATIC DOPING DEALING PROCURRING AND COERCING OTHERS INTO IT, and the destruction of all those who opposed him. It was Lance who tried to destroy Lemond both directly and through painting him as a jealous sour grapes person. Etc.

  5. Drew Says:

    Excellent commentary. I think it is worthwhile to throw a book, or all of them, at Lance and his team of financial and medical backers to show other athletes that EVEN when you are as sophisticated, wealthy and sociopathic as Lance…you will be caught and your successes will be exterminated from the record books. As a small side note, when a doping athlete as mean-spirited as Lance is caught and his trangressions aired for all to see I have to think that Karma Gods are smiling too. The next year will be very enlightening.

  6. Steve Says:

    Armstrong should be hounded for his lack of humility, bully’ish nature and the terrible respect he holds for a well informed fan base who now acknowledge a widespread doping culture in the peloton throughout the early / mid 90’s. Every successful business or sport starts with the customer or fan and he seems completely oblivious to this.

  7. trounder Says:

    I’m all for vigilance and follow through when it comes to exposing and sanctioning the cheaters and dopers in sport, and yet I continue to wonder why it took a federal conspiracy investigation by the US Attorney’s office to spur USADA into building a case based on witness testimony. The “hard evidence” and allegations have been around for years. If all it took to tip the scales was asking his teammates to go on record (under oath) about doping, then why wasn’t this tactic used by USADA to get at the truth years ago? Short answer: it must have something to do with a lack of criminal repercussions.
    It is not illegal to dope in the US, so aside from losing your job if you decide to tell the truth, there isn’t much risk in lying to protect the status quo. Perhaps it’s time to look at increasing the severity of doping sanctions in the US, ie: making it a crime? It seems that the only thing liars and cheats seem to really fear is Federal “pound-you-in-the-ass” prison!

  8. Evan Shaw Says:

    Gerard have you seen a Wisconson congressman has called for an inquiry into how USADA spends its money. He admits he is on Armstrong’s side. GREAT! Awful.

    • Bill Says:

      Had to love USADA’s response to that congressman though!

      I say, let the process run, let the truth be told, and see where the chips lay at the end!

  9. Evan Shaw Says:

    Gerard please consider a blog on whether a rider loan stay at supposed top or peak form all season with no dips? Is this possible? Is this an indication of doping? In the era of micro doping is this the new normal?

    • Hi Evan, that’s really not my expertise. Maybe the guys from sports science can shine their light on how long you can keep your peak (and whether 90% of peak is something you can hold for a long, long time).

  10. I say the Armstrong issue is in the past, lets move forward.
    If a child does a mistake, we don’t punish him/her years later for it.

    • Bill Says:

      Who says it’s part of the past? Armstrong is still invovled in cycling even though he’s not riding (Livestrong Continental team). And he’s now racing Ironman’s with intent on the world championships (before he was suspended)

    • Bill Says:

      …doesn’t make me feel very good to know he’s involved in shaping the future stars of the sport. (sorry for the double post but i put this in the wrong place originally. Hope it goes to the right place now)

    • Evan Shaw Says:

      No actually Armstrong is not a child.

  11. tom hewitt Says:

    Andy Thompson of the Richmond Times-Dispatch says this:

    Doped or Not, Armstrong Still the Best

    Cyclists sometimes will describe that time in a race when their legs and lungs are exploding but they must press on if they intend to stay in contention as “going into the pain cave.”

    Interestingly, that’s the same way my wife describes the three weeks every July when the Tour de France comes on TV. I won’t let her watch anything else. Her pain cave features Europeans in spandex hurling themselves at mountains for hours on end. I’ve stopped telling her the evening broadcast I make her watch usually is my second viewing of the day.

    I don’t really know why, I’ve just always loved the Tour de France. I think as a kid I was amazed at the punishment the riders inflicted on themselves. Maybe I wanted to believe I was capable of the same in pursuit of sporting victory. I remember watching Miguel Indurain battle Greg LeMond in the early 1990s, and I remember the torch passing to Lance Armstrong in 1999.

    Of course, as a Tour fan, I knew all about its tainted history. I knew guys doped to give themselves a competitive edge. That’s always been true — literally. Search Wikipedia for “list of doping cases in cycling” and you’ll find dopers banned from competition in the 19th century.

    When I was young, I didn’t think about it much. But as Armstrong ascended to cycling’s greatest throne, bringing with him fans who saw him as much more than a cyclist, a dirty sport entered, arguably, its dirtiest period. The list of champions who either tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), admitted it, or were suspected of it and had titles stripped is pages long.

    Almost all the greats and near greats doped. It’s that simple.

    And if you follow sports news, you probably know PED allegations continue to dog Armstrong. Last month, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency officially charged him with doping based on blood samples from 2009 and 2010, and testimony from other cyclists.

    For years, like many, I wanted to believe Armstrong was clean. I wanted the mythology to be real. I wanted it for my own sense of fairness in sport. I wanted it for cancer survivors who took inspiration from Armstrong.

    But as the allegations mounted, as dirty cyclists, trainers, team doctors and coaches piled up around him, I realized I couldn’t continue to be this naive. I, and many others, were trying to maintain that, riding clean, Armstrong became the greatest champion of all time while everyone around him, including team members, doped.

    I sulked for a while, wrung my hands about lost purity in sports, swore off cycling. But it didn’t take long for me to come to another realization, one many Armstrong critics would do well to examine: This changes nothing.

    For many years now, PEDs have been the cost of doing business in cycling. You simply couldn’t win without them. Everyone knew this. If that didn’t make the sport clean, it did make it fair.

    In my mind, Armstrong’s legacy is no different now than when he won his last yellow jersey in 2005. He’s still the greatest champion in the history of the Tour. For seven consecutive years, he rose to the top of a level playing field — more than any other rider ever.

    I’m not saying doping is cool or even OK. I’m not saying kids and weekend warriors should find similar ways to get an edge. In fact, I applaud efforts to clean up all sports. I am saying we shouldn’t crucify Armstrong for playing by the unwritten rules of the sport he was good at.

    “Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope,” Jacques Anquetil, the first five-time Tour champion, said in 1965.

    Almost 50 years later, those words bear remembering. If you respect cyclists, such as Armstrong and today’s pros, for their willingness to go into that pain cave and come out on the other side, doping revelations shouldn’t change how you feel.

    • Drew Says:

      Tom, you are clearly a fan, but your evaluation of Lance being the greatest, his wins “fair” amoungst dopers is not correct. Who says all dopers cheat equally? Lance doped all of it just like the HOG. Lance was on MicroEPO, HGH, bovine plasma and autologous blood (expensive). Oh, and his entire team was on that too and he bought off the UCI when he was found guilty. Fair, nope. Lance is the most malevolent, systematic doper of all time and he needs to be made an example of. That is shaping the future in positive way.

      • tom hewitt Says:

        I didn’t say it, Andy Thompson, a writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch did.

        • Drew Says:

          Sorry Tom, my apologies…I will try to respond to Mr. Thompson, sorry about that. Drew

  12. Says:

    I don’t believe anybody here “really knows”, only forms an option based on circumstantial evidence, and cements it by chatting with like minders. I see many “accusations” clearly confused with facts in these discussions.
    If the US Attorney’s office dropped the case, I think it’s time to move on. That doesn’t mean I am 100% percent certain the accusations are not true, just that reasonable doubt exists, and no amount of bad-mouthing and innuendo can change that.

    • That’s a bit like saying that after the first VP resigned, they should have let Nixon off. Different agencies have different responsibilities, just like now Lance is entitled to seek reprieve any which way he can. Nice of USADA to wait for the courts to decide on Lance’s action before proceeding.

    • Rob Wiliamson Says:

      What you have to remember is the District Attorney who ordered the grand jury dropped has never publicly explained why. In addition, all of the lawyers who worked on the grand jury case and investigation were not informed of the decision to shut down the grand jury until about 1 hour before. Therefore clearly the line prosecutors who were actually doing the work on the case were not consulted.

      This leads to the speculation the DA ordered the case halted for political reasons, or valid administrative reasons (cost) or he knew USADA was waiting in the wings. Keep in mind sport in general agreed to resolve doping issues using USADA procedures and not the courts and this USADA process was sanctioned by an Act of Congress.

      USADA has a contract with the American Association of Arbitration whereby they have established a set of arbitration rules that apply solely to sports doping cases. It is these rules LA is challenging in Federal Court as not conforming to fundamental legal principles as guaranteed by the Constitution in addition to arguments of jursidiction his lawyers are making. It should make for an interesting case before the Federal courts.

      • Drew Says:

        Rob I agree. As for Mr. Hicks, if you were Lance and were ‘supposedly’ the most tested, cleanest, TdF champion ever then why not allow all of your stored samples to be tested with current techniques? If you were not on dope, and only ‘one your bike 6 hours a day’ then have your samples retested. Prove the innumerable other trolls wrong. Show the sporting world that you are not a liar, not a drug dealer or a bully. With the current accusations it appears that this is now required. The reverse logic argument about not having to prove anything, or not trusting testing authorities is just obfuscation and a perpetuation of your impending guilty verdict. The noose is tightening.

        • If I were an athlete, I would be in favor of retesting samples after X years if those samples are held under strict guidelines. but I would never agree to having samples retested that haven’t been kept for that purpose and with zero guarantee as to what has happened to them in the meantime.

  13. Rob Wiliamson Says:

    Gerard, I disagree with you that pursuing Lance or any other cyclist should not in addition to all of the other valid reasons, not be to “clean up the record” of those who won races by cheating. That is the most fundamental reason why cheats, cheat – to win races. Therefore the ultimate sanction must be to remove their names from the record book.

    • Hi Rob, it’s not that I don’t agree with removing whoever is found cheating, it’s just that – as much as it pains me – I have no faith in the next in line in most cases. That is not to say I think everybody cheated, I don’t. There have been people in the top-10 who raced clean, I have no doubt about that. But who exactly, that would be an endless debate.

      I understand we can simply decide to simply follow the rules and then we end up with some new winners, but just as was the case with replacing Landis with Pereiro, why bother? As sad as it is for the riders who were racing clean at the time, I think it’s a lost decade.

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