Let’s get this out of the way early on: Lance Armstrong IS a cheat and he deserved to be punished. He lied, he covered things up, he pushed people out of the sport. There is no denying that at his height when he was on his way to winning his seven Tour de France titles he was one of the most manipulative men in sporting history. His crime was to create a system of doping more sophisticated than anybody else was doing and to do it in quite a brutal way throwing anybody and everybody under the bus who got in his way. His crime was to be the best cheat amongst a whole host of other cheats.
I have read David Walsh’s book (and I tip my hat to a man who can pursue a story with such vigour when everything in the system was working against him), which describes in detail how he was forced out of interviews and was not treated in the favourable manner of other journalists who chose to turn a blind eye to what some people argue were obviously enhanced performances. These performances which seem even more miraculous given that Lance was on the comeback from a spell away from the sport. Not because he needed a rest but because he had cancer.
Now all of this you think may add up to him being the recipient of a deserved life time ban. But why is that? All of this does not mean that Lance was the only one cheating. There were cyclists at the time who were competing with him; he wasn’t exactly blowing the entire field away. Yes, he won an unprecedented seven Tour de France titles but it is not the case that he was not challenged on his way to do doing so.
At his current age of 43 Lance Armstrong is not likely to make a comeback to professional cycling, and I’m not even suggesting that we give him that option, but the recent outcry because he said “If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive, I would probably do it again,” is utterly ridiculous. Lance gives himself context when he makes the statement, by making sure to add the clause “when doping was completely pervasive.” Everybody who knows anything about cycling is aware that he was not the only person doping, either through use of steroids, transfusions or the drug of choice at the time EPO.
The point I’m trying to make is that Lance is not the only one who deserves this treatment. And if WADA and the UCI and USADA are going to hammer Armstrong with a lifetime ban then why is a similar punishment and smear campaign not being run against all those who were in some way complicit with this era of drug cheating? Maybe because many of them are still in some way involved in the sport of professional cycling?
Banning Armstrong for life has in no way stopped the problem – riders from UCI pro team Astana were producing positive results still last year. The problem of doping is still in existence, not only in cycling of course but in a wide range of professional sports.
What has it really done to ban Armstrong for life? Does it set an example to other riders in the pro-peloton? I would argue that not. Armstrong had already retired. What have they realistically banned him from? There have been cases where he has attempted to compete in triathlons and swimming events which he has been forced to withdraw from. This I can understand must be frustrating for Armstrong, but it doesn’t exactly stop him from ever jumping on his bike again.
The one case which I find completely farcical in all this is the George Hincapie Gran Fondo. Hincapie said of the event
“The Fondo is not supposed to have an intended or implied message; at least that’s not what we are shooting for. It’s just a celebration of cycling with friends and fans that also supports what we feel are important causes.”
This was not supposed to be a race in which Armstrong would be competing but rather a “sportive” type event where fans would be given the opportunity to ride with former and current pros. So who has really lost out in all of this?
To me it simply seems unfair to pin all this hatred and blame onto one guy. Chances are he heaped a whole pile of pressure on those around him to dope and to become complicit in the entire dirty affair but one thing is for certain, he didn’t ask the entire peloton to stick a needle in their arse. Surely he couldn’t have forced the UCI to cover up positive test results? Omerta wasn’t and isn’t a one man idea to keep things away from the eyes of the public – the public (fans) that make the sport what it is. It is a top to bottom programme of systematically covering things up and refusing to address the issues which are rife in a sport which has since its inception been plagued by tales of cheating.
The whole EPO era and before, in fact even cycling today in the modern “clean” era stinks of double standards when only one man is singled out for this sort of treatment. The entire sport needs cleaning up from top to bottom. One way I can think of doing that is to impose a life-time ban on anybody caught doping. The risk HAS to be greater than the reward. And let’s just throw it out there that we are still not quite sure of the long term benefits of doping. So for those who have returned after being caught doping, regardless of those never caught, we have to ask how much they are still benefiting.