On Lance Armstrong and Doping

Most fans of professional cycling are aware of the continuing and growing pursuit of Lance Armstrong by the USADA, the American anti-doping agency. Bill Strickland, a journalist who followed Lance for years and became close to him during that time, wrote an article at Bicycling.com in which he implies that someone in the know (Lance? someone else?) has all but admitted that doping happened during his career.

I’ve been chewing over my own thoughts on the matter, hoping to collect them in a blog article. Commenter “BLeitch”, however, left a comment on the above-mentioned article that pretty much summarizes my opinion (except the first paragraph, as I am a particular fan of Lance, and always will be.)

Here’s a reprint of that comment:

I am not a particular fan or defender of Lance. I would rather see an old tape of Liege-Bastogne-Liege with Rolf Sorenson battling Miguel and Claudio. But the situation is not nearly as wrenching or difficult as described in the article or commented upon above. Some simple facts:

  1. Lance did something no one else has ever done in history. He won 7 tours.

  2. Podium finishers have been doping since at least the sixties…probably earlier. All of his competitors on the podium were admitted or convicted dopers.

  3. No competitor has called him a “cheater” in a competition. The concept of “cheating” requires “non-cheating” competing riders who might have won had you not “cheated.” A doper is not a cheater when everyone in the top twenty in GC has doped. The second and third place guys do not think of themselves as losing cheaters—just as less successful than the guy who won.

  4. Either he did something truly and completely unthinkable—won seven tours while all the competition was doping and he wasn’t—or he did something almost as amazing, but more comprehensible—won seven tours in a row preparing in basically the same way everyone else prepares pharmaceutically, but with more focus and diligence in every other area. There is no conceivable argument that what he did in winning seven tours is not amazing, even if one assumes the doping. Nobody else in history could do it or has done it. Hundreds of guys, at least, have doped trying to do it.

  5. The reason he won seven tours in a row is not that he may have been taking performance enhancing drugs—you could give the same drugs to most of the peloton without the same result ( and it is proven that many people did receive the same drugs and didn’t get the same result)—the reason he got the results is that he was extraordinary and his team and preparation were extraordinary.

  6. As extraordinary as Lance was, it is important to keep his success in context. He wasn’t a great Classics winner or a winner of the Giro or the Vuelta. He is very impressive in the Tour, but there is a long list of guys from the past who were more impressive on an all-around basis, when you take into account the other grand tours and the Classics. As an all-around bicycle racer he is not in the same galaxy as Eddie.

  7. Not any of those more impressive guys have begun to do as much as Lance has done outside of cycling. Whatever you think of his cycling accomplishments, his accomplishments in funding cancer research and awareness are truly extraordinary and his likely doping (as opposed to cheating) doesn’t take away from that in any way. (If a guy funded as much cancer research and awareness based on counting cards in Vegas, would that detract from his greatness on matters relating to cancer?)

  8. A true cycling fan will love Lance for what he has done and what he is still doing. What he has done and is doing is not subject to any further investigation or debate.

  9. Celebrate and honor what Lance has done. You can dwell on the other stuff if you want to, or you can get the same feeling by reading the tabloid press about any celebrity (much of which is also true but does not detract from the amazing things done by some of its subjects).

  10. Whether or not Lance ever once took performance enhancing drugs in his life has pretty much no bearing on any of the foregoing.

4 thoughts on “On Lance Armstrong and Doping”

  1. Okay, so we discussed this on twitter and are moving it here. Off we go…

    I have my own personal views on Lance and what happened. Fine. But right now, looking at that fellow’s points:

    1. Right; and we have no idea of the clandestine operations between the players involved in those tours.

    2. Yes, the vast majority of the riders have been cheating.

    3. Man, this is such a poor argument. First of all, Omerta keeps people from talking. Secondly, the whole of the peloton is not doped. Just talk with any former pro. I’ve spoken with more than one, heck, you can even read around and find this out. As they say, the peloton has two speeds: the dopers-cheaters-gc-contenders and the others.

    4. Many people doped, sure, but the allegations are that he had close ties to the UCI and therefore was even able to overturn two positives. There’s an advantage. Also, no team performed like US Postal, not just lance. And the word is that the reason wasn’t just prep, but that the whole team was “of the faster speed”. This is a huuge advantage for Lance, as we saw how time and again his team shredded the peloton to bits up the important climbs.

    5. This wasn’t an IROC of doping. Sadly we’ll never know where he would finish is all things were equal. You cannot argue otherwise, because we’re dealing with the unknown unknown here.

    6. That’s a rabbit hole of a discussion in itself. But sure, lets agree on this one.

    7. Well, there are people who have had deep looks at LAF and not liked what they saw. I say this because the info is out there. Do what you want with it. Regardless, you cannot have one without the other, and I would prefer to support someone/something that does not have the other. Indeed this is why many have called for Livestrong (formerly the Lance Armstrong Foundation) and Lance to distance themselves from one another.

    8. This statement is what is called an “informal fallacy”.

    9. You cannot have one without the other. Fire creates warmth but it also burns. With Lance, you get doping and cancer fundraising. Both of those are now mired in whispers. We will likely never know the full truth.

    10. After 1-9, there’s really not much to say here.

    Lance, and those who doped, cheated, full stop. I’ve sat and spoken with former pro riders who were stage winners and the like who left because they didn’t want to dope. Lance and the dopers cheated these people out of the chance to race clean on the biggest stage. I have friends who could have been more but weren’t because they couldn’t afford “a good doctor” or simply didn’t want to.

    For me, I used to believe. Signed poster, even pretty close to the team at one point (http://autobus.cyclingnews.com/tech/?id=2003/features/murciatt). But the truth is that there are too many unknown unknowns out there for me to support him and the sport. This link gathers some of my frustration with the sport quite well (http://t.co/RbPbPr4i).

    I have no doubt that he is a phenomenal athlete, but supporting him is now impossible for me. It sends the wrong message to my family, friends and the like. I no longer wear my Livestrong shirt to the gym and the jersey is packed away too.

  2. Mike,

    For myself, I always believed Lance doped. When pretty much every single grand tour top-three finisher in our generation has admitted to, or been convicted of doping, how can one have ever imagined that any human could win seven Tours—today—without doping?

    It is sad that that’s the situation today. And for that reason, I would never encourage my children to enter professional sports.

    But on the other hand, if an individual sets out to win the Tour, he must, in addition to doping, be an extraordinary athlete, must be extraordinarily disciplined in his training, must be an extraordinarily good tactician, and must have an extraordinarily good team. And for all that to come together seven times in a row is something most people will never see in their lifetimes.

    For me, I feel lucky to have lived those years. July was the month I looked forward to the most. The drama of seeing Lance cross the field behind a crashed Beloki, or recover from being downed by a fan’s musset, or smash the field on the Huacatam, or pass Jan Ulrich in the opening prologue, and battle Pantani on the Ventous, were truly special.

  3. Wow, that is way better than that comment you referred to/copied and pasted!! Kudos Matt, you summed up a feeling I didn’t know I had. That last paragraph rings true to me.

    I do wish he would have been the start of a change though.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

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