August 24, 2012–By Jen Benepe
Seven time Tour de France winner, and cancer survivor is giving up the fight.
This time it’s not against 190 riders in a Tour de France, or 2,500 competitors in an Ironman competition, nor even the cancer that has ravaged his body.
The fight Armstrong is giving up is against an agency called the United States Anti-Doping Agency that works outside of the U.S. court system, operates on its own rules, and rarely loses any of its arbitration proceedings.
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, “Enough is enough.” For me, that time is now,” said Armstrong in a statement.
In a statement to the press, the USADA said that Armstrong’s desire to give up the fight was an “admission of guilt.”
But Armstrong was adamant about how hard, and how long he has been fighting charges against him that he sees as unfair: “I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999.”
And the USADA was not with Armstrong on any of his 12-hour training rides in the pouring, freezing rain, his incessant reconnaissance rides over the mountain passes in the Tour before the race began, or his massive weight loss after enduring life-threatening cancer and its even more debilitating cancer treatments that stripped him of enough weight to make him a worldwide threat in cycling.
“Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart’s unconstitutional witch hunt,” continued Armstrong in his statement issued today. “The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.”
In fact, none of the investigators realize that the way Armstrong won the Tour seven times was not by being the strongest and fastest rider, but by playing the Tour like a chess game–he was the smartest.
Why don’t they know that? To put it simply, they’re Americans who think every game is played with brute force and don’t understand that cunning, planning, and being fit have made the Europeans far superior cyclists.
Armstrong stands to lose all of his cycling titles gained during that time period, even though by the USADA’s own rules, they can only go back 8 years. In effect, they are looking to toss all of his titles from 1998 to 2007, an 11-year period.
The UCI however, is the only organization that can strip Armstrong of his international titles, foremost among them the Tour de France wins.
Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive said Armstrong would lose the titles as soon as Friday and be hit with a lifetime ban.
But the International Cycling Union has supported Armstrong so far, siding with him against the USADA because no physical evidence exists that Armstrong cheated, and thus by their rules, he cannot be banned.
Tygart countered that the UCI was “bound to recognize our decision and impose it” as a signer of the World Anti-Doping Code, according to a report by the Washington Post.
“They have no choice but to strip the titles under the code,” he said. That assertion is not a guarantee however, without a full
arbitration hearing–and a decision that can be recognized by the UCI. The question is, can the UCI go along with the USADA–who never completed the hearing, and have no physical evidence?
So far they haven’t, and the disconnect between USADA and the UCI were a subject of Judge Sparks decision in not siding on behalf of Armstrong in his due process claim. Now even the USA Cycling organization is siding with Armstrong, a fight that Sparks said he cannot decide on in his court.
Armstrong has always claimed that he was one of the “most tested,” athletes in the sport, and in any sport worldwide, with over 500 tests over the time that he competed during the time in question, from 1998 to 2007.
And the Yellow Jersey winner never failed one of those tests, with the exception of a finding of cortisone cream use in 1999 for treating saddle sores, charges which Armstrong was cleared of.
Which leads us to the question: what was the USADA pursuing in their complaint against him? Problem is, not even Armstrong knew, which went against the agency’s own rules.
Ten people were lined up to testify against Armstrong in the proceedings, among them allegedly was BMC Team racer George Hincapie who at least at some point in his career was a good friend of Armstrong’s.
Presumably, the USADA prosecutors had real evidence against Hincapie, thereby drawing him into the process. The complaint from USADA said that their witnesses would present testimony that Armstrong took EPO and other performance enhancing drugs, but also foisted those drugs on them.
Hincapie declared at the beginning of this year’s Tour that this would be his last Tour de France, and that he was retiring from professional racing–a preparation perhaps for the information that would come out in the proceedings.
Now, Armstrong has robbed the USADA of their trial which would have displayed the drug allegations against the 10 witnesses, and would have included their verbal testimony against the champion, but would not have provided an ounce of physical evidence against him.
Without that testimony coming out in a public forum, it is doubtful if UCI can use it to make a decision on its ruling of Lance Armstrong’s culpability. In other words, they would have to make a decision based on documents prepared by USADA, but not based on live witness reports.
But so much has been said about the motive of the USADA. Why now would they be hunting down Armstrong?
The USADA’s own rules were being bent, said their counsel, because Armstrong would commit “omerta,” the Sicilian act of silencing the witnesses.
In any world court, that kind of secret, behind-the-scenes decision making that does not even obey its own rules, smacks of the Chinese court system, where once you are tried, you are guilty before the trial even begins.
And only two people have won in USADA arbitration court, and they were Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
While Tygart said the agency can strip the Tour titles, Armstrong said not so, and his decision not to enter into the fray is not an admission of guilt but a refusal to enter an arbitration process he believes is unfair.
“USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles,” he said. “I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours.”
“A champion is a champion,” said previous Tour de France competitor and later commentator John Eustice when we asked on the Bike Show where I was co-producer and reporter from 1993 to 1999, if he thought Armstrong had cheated. Eustice now runs large regional races under the Sparta Cyclingname in the Northeast.
More recently Eustice told CBS Philly that the sport is trying to move forward and away from past accusations of performance-enhancing drug use.
On August 21, Armstrong lost a battle in court to block the USADA from proceeding with the arbitration which he said was operating outside its own rules. Though Judge Sparks declined to hear the case, he made clear in his statement that he suspected the USADA of seeking political advantage that went beyond the simple pursuit of the truth in whether Armstrong cheated or not.
The Court wrote in their decision that “USADA’s conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.”
Judge Sparks also expressed concerns about USADA’s charges, including the vagueness of its charging letters, its attempt to charge Mr. Armstrong for alleged infractions dating back to before 1996, and USADA’s apparent promises of lesser sanctions to other cyclists in exchange for testimony against Mr. Armstrong, according to Tim Herman, Armstrong’s lawyer.
The Court also said in their statement they suspected USADA may be motivated by “politics and a desire for media attention” in bringing the charges, but ultimately concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over the case, observing that it “should be resolved internally, by the parties most affected,” including the UCI.
According to Herman, UCI has said that it has exclusive authority to decide whether charges should be brought in this case, and has directed USADA not to proceed further. And in a late turnaround, adding complexity to the issue, USA Cycling, the U.S. cycling organization, joined sides with Armstrong in defending him against USADA action.
The entire process leads many cyclists to question who is doping and who is not. If you ask any person whether they think Armstrong has doped, one half say yes, the other half say no. That question will never be answered now.
But it’s hard to believe that every person who wins dopes. If you must assume that Armstrong doped, then you must also assume that Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome–two magnificent riders who triumphed in this year’s Tour–were doping.
What about Cadel Evans last year? Does he get dispensation from cheating charges because he was brought up by an Aboriginal tribe in Australia during his youth?
Or the amazing 23-tour stage wins by Mark Cavendish, should we also assume he was cheating?
There is only one thing to be sure of. If you play by the rules, the rulers should also play by the rules. Maybe it’s time to move the trials to the court system, and away from an arbitrary body that can make decisions outside its own rulebook.