Is Lance Armstrong a Cheat?

21 May 2010

This is a question of faith and those who believe won’t let anything change their mind, while those who can’t believe in the Miracle of Lance won’t be satisfied until the poor man does something impossible and proves a negative.

I’m divided: I think the believers deluded and the sceptics dangerously monomaniacal but I also have much more sympathy for the latter than the former and not just because I think Lance Armstrong a creep. Nevertheless…

He cannot ever demonstrate that he has never doped – but that doesn’t mean one has to believe everything Armstrong says. 

As readers who are cycling fans and who possess long memories may recall, I am an Armstrong sceptic. We are asked to believe that because Landis lied when he said he didn’t take performance-enhancing drugs he must now also be lying when he says he did and that everything he says about his then team-mates must be coloured by his previous fabrications. That neither follows nor makes sense.

But according to Armstrong and his coterie Floyd Landis is, like everyone else who has made allegations against Jesus-on-a-bike, "bitter". Granted, it is hard for Armstrong to disprove these allegations but it is nonetheless interesting that when they are made he chooses to concentrate upon discrediting the character or reliability of the person making the suggestion rather than confront the substance of the allegation itself.

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And if the allegations are to be believed – and in cycling smoke tends to be produced by fire – doping was widespread in the US Postal team but, if we are to believe Armstrong, he knew nothing of any of this far less aided and abetted in other riders’ doping or doped himself. If Landis and, previously, Frankie Andreu doped while with the Posties (and perhaps Tyler Hamilton too) then we are asked to believe that thier master – for cycling is a feudal enterprise – knew nothing about it? Please.

These men were working for Lance Armstrong, sharing a bus, an hotel and doctors with him and it is scarcely conceivable that they could be, if they were, doping without his knowledge. And if the rest of the team was doping then it wouldn’t be super-strange if the team leader wasn’t too. All this, obviously, is conjecture and I don’t mean to allege that Armstrong took anything illegal.

Nevertheles such suspicions would be easier to avoid if Armtsrong didn’t have a relationship with the Italian doctor Michele Ferrari. True nothing has been proved and I do not suggest anything to the contrary, but again it is a little odd that a physician who supplied illegal drugs to so many other riders didn’t offer or give or sell them to his highest-profile client – a client who stuck with him through the doctor’s own disgrace. And of course Armstrong did fail a drugs test in 1999 – aka The Year of the Heartwarming Miracle – only for that, perhaps, no presumably or at least quite properly, to be rescinded.

Even so, my argument has less to do with Armstrong than with his more myopic fans for whom he is the greatest cyclist ever. Full stop. To say that this is balderdash is not to say that Armstrong is not a great cyclist, merely to protest at his elevation above so many others and to object to a view of cycling that thinks there is only one truly important race a year. There is more to cycling than the Tour de France but it is a great shame that there is not more to Lance Armstrong than the Tour de France.

Oh, and just to be clear, I have no problem with Armstrong being an American – hell he has a good Borders name – since if that were some kind of disqualification then I’d never have been the big Greg Lemond fan I once was. But Lance Armstrong is like a tennis player who wins Wimbledon seven times but only once even attempted to win the French Open at Roland Garros and, unsurprisingly, never did win that bauble. You wouldn’t call such a chap the greatest tennis player ever would you?

And I’m not upset by cylists taking drugs either. Given what we demand of them I’d be amazed they don’t. That’s the nature of the sport.The problem is with those who lie and, sure, there’s little concrete evidence that Lance Armstrong is one of those liers but there’s an increasing quantity of circumstantial evidence….

But of course Lance is about more than cycling now and low-information fans are always appalled at the cynicism shown by, well, the likes of me. So be it. Armstrong is a great cyclist regardless of his training techniques and injection history. A great story, for sure, but that doesn’t mean one has to purchase shares in every element of it…

And to answer the headline question: no, I don;t think taking drugs amounts to cheating.Cycling is different to most sports and the aim of drug-taking is different too.

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Your view is good.

  • jerry combs

    Lance Armstrong has been accused of doping for years but charges have not been proven. Being a cancer survivor and the founder and chairman of Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer and research, who would have thought that he’d get involved in such issue. Armstrong is in the peloton at the Tour Down Under as doping allegations against him make the news again. Doping accusations have dogged Armstrong for years, but no clear proof has been found. However, an article appearing in Sports Illustrated may rock the cycling world with proof that Armstrong’s success was depending on performance enhancing drugs.

  • Al

    I’m confused by your assertion that you don’t mind doping, it’s the “lying” you object to. That makes no sense. Doping is illegal in cycling: ergo, any cyclist who chooses to dope MUST lie about it, otherwise he’d be chucked out of the sport. The lying is an inevitable consequence of the doping.

  • Ronnie

    For me, Armstrong’s relationship with Ferrari told me all I needed to know.

    However, another interesting factor in the Armstrong story is the extent to which his cancer and its treatment changed his physiology. I suspect that his medication enabled him to improve his athletic performance, once he had overcome the disease.

    In this context we could also look at the progress Jalabert made after his long term treatment after his crash at Armentiere.

  • Beefeater

    So, you snatched a moment from visiting family to share with your readers your view that Armstrong is probably a liar and not the greatest cyclist ever, though a great one, even if he took drugs.
    That was thoughtful of you, and kind of them to spare you.

  • tommyt

    Good post Alex.

    The beatification of Lance by the english speaking media has been sickening however I suspect that most folk within cycling ad the media who have been slavishly loyal to his stated line are not going to bust a gut to get to the truth.

    I do take your point about doping being more legitimate in cycling than perhaps any other sport.

    “Ben, why did you take drugs ?” ” so i could run a short distance fractionally faster”

    “Eddy why did you take drugs ?” ” so when i was cycling 150 miles a day for eight months a year over several mountain ranges I was able to stay alive”

  • speranza

    I’m interested in your contention that in cycling, doping doesn’t constitute cheating. This is a sport where technique is minimal, tactics are a factor but probably an overrated one, and physical attributes (like VO2 max and recovery) are paramount. It seems to me that drugs can more directly affect cycling performance than, say, football or baseball performance.

  • Alex Massie

    Porkbelly – Agreed. We all know that Coppi and Anquetil and so many others took stuff and we also all agree that this does not diminish them in any serious fashion. It is the prissiness about drugs that I find absurd and I rather think you find it ridiculous too.

    As I say, my problem is less with Armstrong himself – though I think him a liar – than with his deluded fans for whom drug-taking is the end of the world.

  • porkbelly

    The allegations against Armstrong are old hat. Anyone who still believes his denials does so out of blind faith and ignorance. The real story here is that Landis has named many figures who are still involved in the sport, not to mention Dr. Ferrari’s successor Alan Lim. The plain fact is cycling and doping have always gone hand-in-hand, and your heroes of yesteryear were just as guilty as Lance. A Stirling Moss’s mechanic said, “Ow fast will it go? Ow much money ave yer got?”.

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