Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong - My thoughts

From Wikipedia on the Tour de France:

The New York Times said the “Tour de France is arguably the most physiologically demanding of athletic events.” The effort was compared to “running a marathon several days a week for nearly three weeks”, while the total elevation of the climbs was compared to “climbing three Everests.”

My love for cycling as a sport began in 2003. Enamored by the beauty of the French countryside & the intrigue surrounding the success of Lance Armstrong, I started watching the Tour de France back then. At first it was about understanding and getting to love the sport. But pretty soon I realized that doping is a major part of professional Cycling – especially as the sport tests the limit of human endurance.

Having read some of the earlier rumors, I wasn't naive to believe that Lance Armstrong didn't take performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), but I thought that if he took it, everyone else took it too.

The reason then why I watched the sport was Lance Armstrong – To see whether he can win the tour again. and again. and again. Doping was not the reason why Lance Armstrong won those seven tours. Everyone doped – He won it because of the tactics and the strategies he employed, the way he got the entire team to work for him and how he achieved his goal every single year (A bit like Schumacher and Ferrari), his individual work ethic and his single minded determination to succeed. Those were the differentiators. At least, that is what I believed then.

Soon after Lance Armstrong retired in 2005, I found the 2006 edition very difficult to watch. Without a compelling enough story to hook me back into the sport, I haven’t seen the tour since.

Since then I have been following the sport offline – especially as the Lance Armstrong saga rolled on. Despite mounting pressure Lance continued to live in denial and when the weight of evidence that USADA gathered became too much, he cracked. He decided not to contest the USADA charges, (while still proclaiming innocence) meaning USADA stripped him of his seven titles.

This is what the USADA had to say:

“Achievements of USPS/Discovery Channel pro cycling team accomplished through the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”

The volume of evidence is too much to ignore and cycling's worst kept secret is out - That Lance Armstrong cheated. 

Having read Tyler Hamilton’s Secret Race and the USADA investigation I believe that Lance is a cheat but the USADA report (probably to justify its spend) and the subsequent media trial (led by ex-dopers) has gloriously magnified the extent of Lance's crimes. 

First objection: the words “Most sophisticated and professional”

Having read the critical parts of the USADA report, while it is certain that Lance Armstrong doped, it amazes me as to how they could conclude that his doping programme was the most “sophisticated” or even the most “professional” one. I didn’t see any comparison of Lance Armstrong’s programme with Team Telekom’s Jan Ullrich (Also a drug cheat who finished 2nd behind Lance in most tours) or say Team CSC’s Ivan Basso (Yes, another drug cheat who finished second in 2005, Lance Armstrong’s last tour win) or for that matter any random racer in any random team!

You either doped or you didn't. Sadly everyone (A generalization you have to make if you have read Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret race) in that era doped including Lance Armstrong.

I don’t see any proof in the reports to say that Lance Armstrong doped “more” than say Jan Ullrich. Infact there was only 7 mentions of Jan Ullrich in the USADA report and none of them have anything to do with doping. How then is Lance Armstrong’s doping the most sophisticated or most professional?

Second objection: the most one sided report ever

Is Lance Armstong as he claims, a victim of this witch-hunt as a part of a one sided investigation carried out by USADA? I am not sure about the witch hunt - If Lance Armstrong didn't admit to doping someone had to go after him to get to the truth. But what the USADA has come out with is cetainly a one-sided truth. The section on the 1999 tour (about 20 pages long) begins with

“Seven (7) eyewitnesses from the 1999 U.S. Postal Service cycling team have provided testimony to USADA regarding doping on the team in 1999.”

Yet when you read the near 20 page section you feel it has been picked almost entirely from Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race. Each and every alleged crime that Lance Armstrong is guilty of has been described in the book.

For me it is very clear that USADA have considered what Hamilton is saying as the gospel truth and have made absolutely no effort in conducting a fair investigation. The entire report is based from two or three witnesses at the most.

Also there has been no effort to uncover doping in cycling in general. As I have said before I would like to know how Lance’s programme compared to Ullrich’s programme.

Third objection: Media trying to paint Lance as the greatest evil. That Hamilton, Landis et al are mere victims in the game played by Lance.

Another thing that pained me is the attempt by the USADA report and the media coverage to paint "scumbags" likes of Hamilton, Landis and David Millar as "heroes" who are telling their story to clean up the sport.

To quote Hamilton, he took everything – EPO, Blood transfusion, testosterone and all other illegal substances. Yet he lost - Even in 2003 when he was leading a different team. And then Hamilton got busted not once but twice. Where was his moral high ground when he was doping for all those years he raced and also those years he lived in denial?

Drug cheats like Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton have seen an opportunity to make money “by coming clean” on the whole doping affair. That’s all they are – opportunistic cheats. It pains me to see Lance Armstrong’s name cancelled out in the pages below while at the same time you see names like Tyler Hamilton (4th in 2003) and Floyd Landis (9th in 2005) still there.

While everyone cheated, Lance Armstrong won. I will stick to what I originally believed about the reasons for Armstrong's success. 

Lance Armstrong took performance enhancing drugs. Nothing less. Nothing more. 

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