- cycling - doping - Lance Armstrong - Tour de France
Armstrong drops doping fight, loses Tour titles
Lance Armstrong said on Thursday that he will no longer contest doping charges against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, in a move that has raised speculation about his illustrious cycling career and may have cast a pall over the sport.
After years of battling doping allegations, Lance Armstrong announced on Thursday that he would give up contesting charges levelled against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Armstrong’s concession has come as the final twist in a more than decade-long saga, and may rattle faith not only in his iconic status as an athlete, but in the integrity of cycling as a sport.
Armstrong, who has won a record seven Tour de France titles, has long faced down USADA accusations that he used performance enhancing drugs to boost his competitive edge. After years of drug testing and speculation, Armstrong finally threw his hands up in a statement published on Thursday, but maintained his innocence, labelling the charges “one-sided and unfair”.
“There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough’”, Armstrong said. “For me, that time is now”.
One day after Armstrong’s decision, the USADA announced that it had formally stripped him of his titles and permanently banned the 40 year-old from the sport. The Tour de France organisation said Friday that it would wait to see what the UCI and USADA do before making a decision on Armstrong.
World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey had earlier voiced support for the USADA’s intentions, saying he felt that Armstrong’s unwillingness to see the case through to arbitration was a clear signal of his guilt.
“I can only take it as it stands – that it leads only to the conclusion that he is a drug cheat”, Fahey told Reuters on Friday.
News that Armstrong – a cancer survivor, cycling legend and celebrity figure – could be forced to surrender his awards has, to say the least, caused a stir.
‘Symbol of hope’
While it is far from the first time a doping scandal has rocked the cycling world, it is one of the most high profile cases the sport has seen.
Armstrong began his professional career as a young man after finishing 14th in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. A rising star in the world of cycling, the Texas native went on to win the world championships the following year, before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. Given around a 50 percent chance of survival, Armstrong underwent aggressive chemotherapy treatments, and was declared cancer free in 1997.
His remarkable recovery, compounded with his first Tour de France victory two years later, shot him to fame. Sponsors began pouring in, and his cancer foundation’s trademark yellow 'Livestrong' bracelets could soon be seen everywhere. He even had a brief cameo appearance in the 2004 comedy film “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”.
“For a lot of people he really was a symbol of hope, especially beyond the sport of cycling, because of the huge achievements he had as a survivor of testicular cancer”, Paul Robson, editor of the online weekly magazine CyclingNews HD, told FRANCE 24.
“He was an enormous character and therefore became a way into cycling. He was good for the sport because he brought money and publicity to it”, Robson added.
Suspicions that Armstrong’s extraordinary feats on the road were aided by performance enhancing drugs publicly emerged in the midst of his Tour de France winning streak. The International Cycling Union (UCI), the world’s governing cycling body, launched an independent investigation into the allegations, but cleared him on May 31, 2006. The accusations, however, didn’t stop there.
The case against Armstrong
Although the USADA officially charged Armstrong with doping in June of this year, it has been building a case against the retired cyclist for some time. According to the anti-doping agency, Armstrong did more than just use performance enhancing drugs, he also acted as a sort of facilitator for systematic doping within his teams. The USADA’s version of events has been corroborated by at least one of Armstrong’s former team mates, Floyd Landis, who himself was found guilty of doping and ultimately stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title.
In addition to Landis’ damning testimony, the anti-doping agency has said that at least 10 other of Armstrong’s former team mates and peers have agreed to testify in court that he used performance enhancing drugs while racing from 1999 to 2005. Yet aside from the USADA’s past claims to have blood samples dating back to 2009 and 2010 that are consistent with doping, the anti-doping agency has offered little concrete evidence against the now-retired cyclist.
In response to the USADA’s accusations, Armstrong has often highlighted the latter point, an argument he reiterated in his statement on Thursday.
“Regardless of what [USADA CEO] Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims”, Armstrong said.
Despite Armstrong’s insistence that he is the victim of a “witch hunt”, there are some who may feel the same as Fahey and perceive his decision to not pursue case as a tacit admission of guilt.
“It’s unusual that as a man who has made a career as a fighter, he has chosen not to fight, and some people will see that as an admission, while others will believe the reasons he has given”, Robson said.
With the case against Armstrong far from resolved, it remains to be seen whether the accusations against one of cycling’s most famous riders will hurt the sport in the long run.
“Although Lance Armstrong goes beyond the sport, it may just be a case of just one more rider being found out. I don’t think that has to impact the sport, but then again, that all depends on how it is handled”, Robson said.
“If they try to bury it, people outside the sport, and maybe inside as well, will feel as though nothing’s changed. If they do address [the issue], it could draw a line in the sand and pave the way for a brighter future”, he added.