USADA’s Armstrong Decision

There can be no doubt now that Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs for the majority of his career.

The early accusations of drug use were written off, Armstrong was still seen as a hero by many (including myself), but the evidence from the USADA investigation of Armstrong and four staff members of the US Postal and Discovery teams does seem overwhelming. 26 individuals gave testimony, nine of whom were team-mates of Armstrong for part or all of his career. The degree to which uncoordinated testimonies intersect time and time again, converging in on specific details – days, phrases, techniques – can not be the result of mere chance.

This is the bulk of the USADA case against Armstrong. The report mentions early on that even without supporting scientific evidence, the strength of testimonies would be sufficient to declare a non-analytical positive for using prohibited substances. A list below details some of the evidence. Though far from complete, it indicates the level of detail that was independently corroborated by individuals testifying independent of each other.

  • At the 1998 World Championships road race, Lance’s wife Kristin Armstrong wrapped cortisone tablets in foil for riders on the United States team to take during the race. Numerous riders recounted how they joked about Kristin “rolling blunts.”
  • Lance Armstrong received blood transfusions and other drugs on numerous occasions where more than two teammates witnessed the process. In one instance, several riders detailed how a team doctor snuck saline solution past a drug tester into a hotel room and gave Armstrong a transfusion of the liquid in order to lower his hematocrit prior to his drug test.
  • Italian doctor Michele Ferrari wrote training plans for clients that included specific instructions on when to take doses of various performance enhancing substances. A dot on a day indicated the rider was to inject 500iu EPO intravenously while a circle indicated an injection of 1,000iu EPO. Even riders who never rode on the teams investigated gave affidavits including this information.
  • Lance Armstrong continued to work with Michele Ferrari after 2004 despite public assertions he discontinued work with the doctor due to doping controversy.

Should testimony not be sufficient to convince the UCI and bystanders that Armstrong doped, USADA brings further evidence to bear that corroborates the stories told by those testifying, though the additional evidence only serves as a supporting role. Samples taken during the 1999 Tour de France tested positive for EPO, though the lab doing the re-testing failed to perform a B-test so the results were not sufficient to act on. Armstrong’s blood values from 2009-2010 showed evidence of blood transfusions; an expert in blood testing put the odds of Armstrong’s fluctuations of reticulocyte and plasma volume happening naturally given the training and racing he was undergoing at less than one in a million. Financial records link Armstrong with Ferrari from 1998-2005 and during his comeback in 2009-2010, shedding doubt on the claim that their suspicious partnership ended in 2004. The intersection of physical, financial, and eyewitness evidence makes the case much more than the sum of its parts.

After all is said and done there are some horrendous thoughts:

  • The extent of the doping and cheating in cycling was massive.
  • The fact so much evidence was ignored for so long.
  • The fact the Cycling authorities had so little interest in pursuing better detection of athletes and that it took an independent authority to collect the overwhelming evidence.
  • The fact many people think a culture of doping is not a problem so long as those in question do some ‘good charitable works’
  • So few in the pro cycling world (with some honourable exceptions) are willing to welcome this investigation and the opportunity to clean up cycling.
  • Many of those involved in oversight of doping programme (e.g. Johan Bruyneel) are still operating at the top level of procycling
  • Doctors who should be trusted, encouraged and participated in potentially dangerous doping activities.
  • Those few professional riders who spoke out against doping, were isolated and forced out of the peleton.
  • If Lance Armstrong had accepted opportunity to come clean and testify like all other 11 US postal riders (and best friend George Hincapie) Armstrong really could have left all this behind him and moved on.

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