Poster boy’s fall from grace

Published in the Journal newspaper – 25/10/12

Another legend stumbles, and he falls as he raced- hard and fast. Lance Armstrong is no longer the unstoppable hero of a sport; he is human and he is a cheat.

Former US Postal Service cyclist Lance Armstrong received a lifetime ban on 24 August this year after an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) found him guilty of doping. His offences include using the performance enhancing drug EPO, corticosteroids, growth hormones, undergoing blood transfusions as well as helping his teammates do the same.

The seven times Tour de France winner chose not to fight the charges pressed against him. He will be disqualified from all competitive results after 1 August 1998 and forfeit any medals, titles, winnings, finishes, points and prizes. The US Anti-Doping Agency’s report describes it as “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen.”

Armstrong’s story is legendary, a mere mortal who survived cancer and went on to win the greatest race in the sport; the Tour de France a total of seven times. A man who built an empire out of his tale and branded it Livestrong, not to find a cure for cancer but to raise awareness of it. Armstrong is a master of marketing.

However this fairytale had a sell-by date. One by one his former US Postal teammates stepped forward and outed him for what he was- with it they sacrificed their own reputations and admitted their own guilt. Among them stood self-confessed dopers Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.

500 drug tests were all clean, as his advocates roar. But this, his primary argument, falls short as the tests were apparently impossibly easy to evade or pass. There was no test for EPO until 2000, blood transfusions continue to remain undetectable and teams frequently knew in advance when testers would be coming. The solution to that was saline drips which would cover up any evidence of the crime.

Armstrong is not to be pitied for falling prey at the hands of other dopers, and caving under pressure. He has been described by USADA as the “ringleader of biggest doping conspiracy in sporting history.” Every day the story thickens, another element added to the ever-growing jigsaw. Recently, the UCI admitted accepting a donation of more than $100,000 from Armstrong in 2002. They deny that it was connected to any cover-up of a positive doping test.

The question is; will the sport of cycling ever be credible again after this poster boy’s fall from grace? Perhaps cycling journalist Paul Kimmage was on to something all along when he referred to Mr. Armstrong as the “cancer” of cycling.

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