I bet Armstrong wished he was on the moon right now.
What if Usain Bolt tested positive for drugs? How big would the fall-out be for athletics and if so, would we ever hear about it if he did? Well that just happened in cycling, the sport finally finished off with the explosive revelations that anyone with a brain knew anyway that Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles were all done by cheating and the guy, a total fraud. His US Postal teammates have all owned up on mass to earn lesser off-season punishments from their cycling federation – the UCI – and so to try and cleanse cycling once and for all, Armstrong, using the mask of charity to commit his terrible deeds, it seems. His lawyers think he can survive this and he will keep his halo because of his charity work. Nike, so far, also sticking with him, as they did Tiger Woods, similar dark rumors about him using steroids still out there.
The fact Armstrong NEVER tested positive for drugs in his long career make this story even more alarming. Were the sports Cycling Federation that collected those blood draws simply putting the test tube in a secure place when he did fail a test to cover it up, like that famous cricket ball that Alan Lamb pointed out that had a lot of suspicious scratches on it when England played Pakistan in that infamous test series. Have the umpires in other test series over the years suppressed similar accusations against English bowlers over the years? Is it best to hide stuff that embarrasses everyone involved so to keep the money coming in? Does any cyclist test negative?
The English Premier League is a good example of being unrealistically clean. It has caught just two players for the use of drugs in the last ten years, an extraordinary low strike rate for a professional sport packed with stars from all over the world that may see some of their countries having a more ‘lax’ drug testing regime. It’s unlikely that only two players have used steroids in English Premier League football history, Karlo Toure the most recent. Do the biggest stars in sport get secret protection to keep the integrity of their sport until they retire?
Once Armstrong had established himself as a multiple Tour winner he critically bought huge US sponsors into world cycling. There seems little chance the sport was going to jeopardize that growth. But it was Armstrong’s brave testicular cancer fight that really helped to make his name to those sponsors. Sitting on the saddle all day seemed to be the main reason he got cancer. But what if it was from illegal drug use? This seemed to be the suggestion from the woman who first broke the Armstrong cheat story, Betsy Audrue, the wife of one of his teammates. Or did he simply use cancer remission drugs as masking agents so to be able take the cocktail of drugs he needed to win the tour? He wasn’t a great rider before his cancer by all-accounts.
Cycling to me has always been rather unique because I don’t think you can complete those long stages and fearsome mountain climbs before sunset without a chemical assist. Could any of you cycle 200 miles in a day without a rest? Now do that for three weeks. It just seems impossible and so the competitors are effectively forced to take drugs to be in the mix; the report detailing how team members were pressured by Armstrong to cheat.
Blood thinning products like EPO seem like an essential to take to avoid having to drop out of the race when you fall too far back; the 30 minute rule where you are disqualified when you are so far back the cruncher. You would suspect if one team member is on the juice, they all are, if just to keep up. History seems to confirm cycling has always been riddled with drug use, why the cycling federation is deciding not to redistribute Armstrong Tour de France titles as most of the other guys on the podium for those seven Armstrong Tour wins also failed drug tests at some point. If they did give the yellow jerseys to the first clean athlete from the 21 who made the top three it would be to a chap who finished fourth in 2004.
So is Bradley Wiggins safe here? His ex-Sky team member Michel Barry of Canada signed a sworn affidavit on that report that he doped during his time with the US Postal team. The United States Anti-Doping Agency dossier of witnesses that bought down Armstrong also hint at two other Sky team people under suspicion, ex-Sky rider Michael Rodgers and one of the team doctors, Geert Leinders, who left the team when the dossier came out just three days ago. Rogers was the only cyclist who never tested positive from the notorious training regime in Tenerife of Dr Michelle Ferrari, an Italian who has confessed that he assisted the doping regime of Armstrong and many other top guys. Leinders was the team doctor at the Dutch team Rabobank in the early 2000s. It’s believed he is the ‘redacted name’ in the report who sold another team EPO over a three year period. A sports insider has also that a fourth TEAM Sky employee has also been ‘living a lie’ in regards to his doping past.
Wiggins aside what makes me most suspicious about cycling is this rider union thing where, when a racer falls off or suffers a mechanical problem, the peloton slows down to let them catch up. That may seem like a sense of fair play on the surface for a grueling sport but is it really about forging that alliance where the racers stick together come what may, including failed or suspected drug abuse. One year the riders went on strike on the road in the Tour de France because they were fed up of having their team car and hotel rooms raided by the cops looking for those drugs. To me is comes across as a feeling of shared guilt in the sport that you can’t be in with a chance of winning any of the jerseys without cheating.
So how bad can it get for Armstrong? Well he did lie under oath and sprinter Marion Jones went to jail for that. Marion’s case was complicated because she was also doing some cheque fraud on the side but Armstrong’s cheating is so huge the sport will have to be steam cleaned of its sickness. What this coming court case might also do is tie in other sports in America and beyond, one or two federations getting nervous as the cancer spreads, if you can excuse the pun…