Saturday, 13 October 2012

Armstrong and USADA

As I started cycling in August 2009, I had no idea of professional cyclings doping culture, I didn't understand the concept of one nominated rider to win a race with every other rider supporting them, I didn't understand the demands on the body of being a pro-cyclist.  I was brand new to this sport.

Over the last three years I've read a huge number of books, watched videos, read blogs and articles which have indicated the scale of doping in the sports culture past and present. 

The most recent of which by Tyler Hamilton called "The Secret Race" is potentially the most explosive as it details at first hand that the lengths that Lance Armstrong went to evade discovery during his racing career.   I'd highly recommend you read it.

Arguably the highest profile racer of his time, the recent USADA report (which you can read here) combined with Tyler Hamiltons book present a case against him which leaves you pretty certain that the constant denials of "I've never failed a test" aren't quite the same as "I've never doped." A bit like when Bill Clinton said "I have never had sexual relations with that woman."  I've read the whole 200 page report this weekend and it's pretty damning.

When you read of the blood transfusions from Dr. Michele Ferrari, the motorcycle drugs courier "motoman" and the direct into vein (micro-dosing) of EPO injections to evade dope tests, you'll quickly get the picture alongside the testosterone patches, human growth hormone and cortiscoids.  The report also details the $1.029M paid by Armstrong to discredited Ferrari between 1996 amd 2006 for his services.

If you looked to all the big stars of the time - Pantani, Ullrich et al, they have all subsequently been found to have been complicit in the doping culture and at a structural level, the whole sport was involved team managers to senior figureheads at the UCI (the world governining body).  

The victories of the entire pro-racing scene during this period of investigation is suspect and is subsequently being peeled back layer by layer as more riders step forth.  The famous 'omerta'or code of silence keeping the dirty washing from being aired in public for so long.

Pro-cycling today is trying to move on and appears to be making progress in cleaning itself up.  A new breed of clean riders, more advanced testing and tight contracts from sponsors have given it no choice.  The Armstrong affair of current paints a damning picture of how cycling used to be, rather than how it now is (although it would be unfair to say it's totally clean as riders are still failing tests - Alberto Contador being the last major scalp).

The major issue with Armstrong is the breach of trust between him and his supporters - everything that he has stood is now under a microscope.  The contents of his numerous books, the awards and the accolades, the Tour de France victories and the people that have raised money for his foundation believing him to be be clean. I appreciate the tremendous work that Armstrong has done and still does for cancer survivors, the issue I think still remains open about his credibility in his sporting achievements.

The truth ultimately always comes out in such situations, the USADA report has seen to that, how the Armstrong brand will be damaged will ultimately be down to the media and the support of the public.  It's also interesting to read the affidavits of the former teammates of Armstrong on the USADA website (see here).  It can only lead you to conclude that the bubble will ultimately burst.  For me, even if he did admit it, I think he could turn opinion round in time and be one of the biggest stars to inspire the next generation of cyclists to race clean.

Two additional books I'd recommend you to read if you want to understand more about the doping culture in pro-cycling are: -

Racing Through the Dark - David Millar.  Link to Amazon here.
Breaking the Chain - Willy Voets.  Link to Amazon here.


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  2. I started cycling in the Armstrong era (90's) and was amazed and inspired by his achievements.
    This weeks news is incredibly sad and disappointing. I agree that Armstrong could turn things around if he held up his hands and committed his energies to stopping this from happening again, or at least it might go someway towards salvaging a reputation in tatters. Unfortunately, given the descriptions of the type of person he is, I doubt he'll ever apologise!