7 time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong has called time on his running battle with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) over allegations that he systematically cheated his way to Cycling stardom following a lengthy yet fruitless investigation by Federal authorities. Armstrong’s decision not to contest USADA’s charges is either a display of him becoming weary of the numerous allegations of doping that have haunted him throughout his career or it is a final surrender of a man who knows he has been caught.
Although Armstrong’s public statement supports the former explanation, many feel that his dogged past has finally caught up with him. Writing on his personal website, Armstrong claimed that “There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now”. After claiming he has become part of a “witch hunt” he revealed that he believed that USADA’s one-sided process would never allow him to have a fair battle over the drugs charges.
Armstrong is revered among cycling folklore and his personal story has no doubt inspired. After being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 at the age of 25, he was told by doctors that he only had a 40% chance of surviving and even if he did, he would never be able to meet the promising potential he had displayed with the Motorola Cycling team after signing with them in 1992. His cancer was in remission two years later and amazingly Armstrong was able to mount the saddle and ride competitively for the US Postal team in the Tour de France just 3 years after being diagnosed.
Armstrong’s battles with German rider and 1997 Tour De France winner Jan Ullrich are epically narrated by cycling enthusiast’s world over and the rivalry propelled road racing into a golden era. Ullrich was later ousted as a drugs cheat but no concrete evidence of Armstrong being involved in the practice surfaced. His 7 consecutive Tour victories ensured that Armstrong would be remembered as cycling’s number one athlete as he dominated the sport until his retirement in 2005. However, rumours of cheating remained persistent and after his first victory in 1999, he had a positive reading of the banned substance corticosteroid. Although this was put down to medication used by Armstrong during his cancer battle, the seeds of suspicion had been well and truly planted and subsequently overshadowed him throughout his racing career.
In 2004, two journalists published Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong, a book exploring possible doping allegations against Armstrong. It claimed that Armstrong’s team masseur and personal confidante Emma O’Reilly had told the authors that she had disposed of empty syringes on Armstrong’s instructions and had been told to apply makeup on his arms to cover needle marks. It also carried an interview with Armstrong’s former teammate and friend Steve Swart who claimed that they had taken EPO, a stamina boosting stimulant, when they rode together for Motorola in 1995. These claims were later reported by the New York Times increasing their credibility. Armstrong was also accused of paying a $25,000 bribe to the Union Cycliste Internationale, the sport’s governing body, to cover up a positive reading of a banned substance in 2002. Although he admitted paying this sum to the UCI, he has always maintained it was a donation and had no relation to his competitive racing career.
What made USADA’s investigation persistent and weighty was the fact that the evidence of substance abuse was given to them by federal authorities as opposed to word of mouth or outlandish claims by journalists. His decision to give up his fight and concentrate on his 5 children and his role as Head of the Lance Armstrong Foundation means that the USADA have stripped him of all accolades from 1998 onwards including his 7 Tour De France titles and his 2009 comeback third place. Although it is disputed that USADA may not have the authority to strip a rider from their titles, they have the power to declare an athlete ineligible, which will negate Armstrong’s participation in competitive road cycling for the past 17 years.
Much of Armstrong’s career has been based around emotive appeal. As a cancer survivor, World champion and head of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, he has built up a fan base which has stood by him through numerous allegations. Armstrong, once a poster boy for ‘clean’ riders, has had his reputation thrown in the mud and credibility ruined. Now though, it seems that the only way he can challenge USADA’s ruling is to prove them wrong using cold, hard facts. Whether that can happen is looking increasingly unlikely.