It’s almost impossible to write about Armstrong

Tyler Hamilton Lance Armstrong Floyd Landis

This might appear contradictory but I struggle to write about Lance Armstrong each time a new controversy blows up… yet here’s some words on the subject. Today’s allegations by Tyler Hamilton are the latest instalment of an ongoing saga. It’s not that the subject matter lacks ideas, angles to explore or it’s irrelevant to the sport. Quite the opposite, Lance Armstrong’s name reaches well beyond the sport of cycling and it covers everything from sport to business to law and more.

No, it’s the way everything goes around in circles. Someone accuses Armstrong of doping. We get the “most tested athlete” response from the man. Then cycling fans rally. Many loyal ones point out that no court and no sporting body has ever convicted him. On the other side fans dredge up a variety of circumstantial evidence. We go nowhere.

The passage of time
Few will wake up this morning and go “you know what, I wasn’t sure, but Hamilton’s swung it for me“. Reflection takes time. The editor of Bicycling, Bill Strickland, recently changed his mind but not after a lot of questions. Similarly time is needed for the US investigation to reach its conclusions and probably a lot more time is needed so fans can quieten down.

In the meantime today is seeing more angry moments where many fans turn on each other. I find the subject of Armstrong very noisy and divisive and can’t think of another subject in the sport that polarises so many people. As a result, it’s hard to explore the issues here because there are so few accepted facts. You could almost get philosophical and debate what constitutes the truth.

But like I say, it’s a big topic involving major names, the US government, the biggest races and more. Yet at the same time it’s such an elusive and divisive topic.

51 thoughts on “It’s almost impossible to write about Armstrong”

  1. But it’s not elusive. The truth is obvious, how it takes an editor of a cycling magazine years to realise is beyond me but I guess it’s more about staying onside than actual beliefs in this case.

    A lot of LA fans were TH fans too and bought all the crap he came out with. It’s hardly a confession from Hamilton, it’s the equivalant of Pantani’s ghost admitting he did coke.

    However, in dealing with such a headstrong character the confession will never come. All the old tests can be sent for re-testing, come back positive and still his fans will claim a conspiracy against him. It’s not enough for me as an opinionated but not cynical individual to know the truth myself…….I need the idiots to understand…..and im not talking about the Texan hicks who take their six-shooters from the holsters at the slightest criticism but are then completely unaware cycling is a team sport, let alone pick out Frnace on a globe……I’m talking about commentators and journalists who have bought into the myth for years, probably under pressue from those higher up but it’s time they all grew a pair and carried out their roles to inform those less in the know.

    There is no winning this now, he will always be a rich and powerful man but really we are looking at the greatest sporting fraud of all time, some people just need to wipe the cancer dust form their eyes.

  2. Until something is decisive, this is strictly devisive as you say.

    Yet the most damning thing for me, is the picture accompanying your article. There are so many fellow team riders, ex colleagues, sognieurs, DSs, other teams in the peleton who have been outed themselves for taking a variety of substances and malpractice – to turn it on its head, why didn’t Lance speak out about some of these people? As far as I’m concerned (not withstanding the probability of all he did himself), he was truly the uber-master of omerta, protecting and hiding the ills that taint the sport – even now, 12 years after that 1999 win. Even today, his tweet to Ekimov and the reply back, stinks of that insider dishonesty and hidden knowledge.

    Like the world economy, I hope the opportunity to ‘lance the boil’ (no pun intended) comes sooner rather than later. I feel a real sense of disquiet when exciting young riders like Thomas, Cavendish or Phinney are making videos of the grandfather of the peleton, whilst the Simeoni incident, for example, lasts long in the memory.

  3. The reality is they were all at it. Lance’s major rivals, Ulrich, Basso, Pantani etc etc were all done for doping or believed to have done it. I guess now that he’s looking at jail time with the federal investigation and some serious fines he can never admit to it.

  4. Neil’s point was the reluctant moment of truth for me. When it became clear that every rival of Lance was conclusively linked to doping, it became clear to me that either Lance was beating a field if determined cheaters clean (what would be the most incredible athletic feat of all time) or he was cheating too. Occam’s Razor applies.

  5. When I hear the “I’ve been tested more than anyone and so it proves I’m clean” response. It always makes me smile. I’ve drive past hundreds of speed camera’s in dozens of countries and so far in nearly 20 years of driving I’ve never been booked for speeding. Yet I know if I said I never speed it would be a lie.

  6. I was as big a fan as any. (probably a bigger fan of LeMond, though). I even read Daniel Coyle’s terrific book, Lance Armstrong’s War, while hanging out with my wife in Labor and Delivery in the hospital before our second son was born. During the avalanche of circumstantial evidence and accusations, I just didn’t want to believe the worst, so I could still revel in the enjoyment of all those tour victories by a dominant cycling personality. What finally released me from my desire to believe “it ain’t so,” was Bill Strickland’s commentary (in his book about the second comeback) about Armstrong’s competitive display of the art collection in his house. Strickland characterized his experience of Armstrong showing his art, and somehow staring that LA stare through the paintings. Strickland reflected that it was more about competitive art collecting, to convince himself of and others of his sophisticated self-image, rather than the intrinsically taking in the art. I’d read about his diverse appreciation of artists, especially during the second comeback, thinking, wow, could LA be an interested and interesting dude? Strickland’s prose helped me realize that Armstrong was after something else, less internal. Those are his problems, not ours. At the least, it released me from caring about whatever Armstrong did or didn’t do. It probably helped Strickland too.

  7. Of all the athletes who have tested positive, my impression is that a majority initially deny using anything, and a rare few are able to prove inadvertent ingestion. The deniers do so because they perceive it is the best interests of their careers at that point in time, and they are probably right. Unfortunately, once they have chosen that course of action, they are in a position where it is even more catastrophic to reverse course, so they rarely do so until they are in a situation where they have nothing left to lose, which makes them “proven liars”, etc, etc, when they finally do so. When Tyler and Floyd were initially caught I wanted to believe them both, but quickly found it unreasonable to do so. I believe that they are now telling the truth, but they face the credibility problems associated with having tried to deny for so long. The deal with Lance is that he still has quite a lot to lose by confessing to anything, and that he appears to be a sociopath who does not feel any sort of guilt about anything that he may have done.

  8. Had Lance not used his win to then delve into asking people for money for his foundation, I honestly would not care too much. Just another doper in a sport that at the time was dirtier than a University of Florida Sorority girl. But he decided to use his success, and play upon that success by presenting it as some amazing natural feat of work ethic and genetics, and how his training is why he was beating everyone else, and this was after cancer.

    Once it went down that road…it become more than a sports story. It turns into fraud, but using a false story to raise funds, however well intentioned.

  9. Name me another foundation which would be allowed to ask people for money, using false stories of hardship overcome? It would become a scandal, and likely investigated for fraud. I am only speculating, but I would not be surprised if this is partly the angle Novitsky is heading down in this investigation.

  10. I am just glad that Tyler Hamilton cares so much about the sport and young riders he is coaching to make his confession during the biggest race in the U.S. That is sure to help the sport. Good work.

  11. Well, if you look at the past, those who admitted to doping always were off worst.
    Perfect example: Ivan Basso
    He got torn apart by the media mercilessly in a way which surprised me. The same TV commentators who never said a word of doubt about Valverde ripped him apart for 3-5 years. And the comeback: dozens of cyclists have come back from bans, but almost none of them got ripped apart and humiliated like Basso.
    All because he was stupid enough to confess

    And he didn’t even accuse anybody !!!

  12. Lance Armstrong the ‘athlete’ certainly gets the conversation going.
    Enough has been written over the scenario to eventually bore many, despite the passionate reasoning, for or against.
    I think the outcome of this matter is so entwined with the upper level of the sports management,
    that for the various organisations, national bodies, and self serving depts, to actually convict & discredit the person, by waving the universal ‘moral’ wand is likely to be diluted, or disputed,
    with varying global jurisidictions.

    The ‘battle’ may be viewed as to the guilt or innocence of LA, yet the sport has an inbred ‘culture’ that is not restricted or exclusive to the riders, nor is it anymore or less dissolved with time.
    LA is an irrelevant distraction – guilty or not.

  13. @JZ: You said it, man.

    I am getting ready to drive up with friends to Santa Clarita to catch the last stage of the TOC on Sunday and it really pains me to see this whole affair flaring up again. I don’t know much about Tyler, but it’s hard to see this timing as anything other than inconsiderate and extremely ill-conceived.

    The Tour of California (and a lot of professional teams) are fighting for their lives right now and to distract people and sponsors from this awesome race with this tired old crap is just not right, at all. I don’t have a problem with Hamilton confessing under oath in a courtroom, but why 60 Minutes, dude? And why right now?

  14. If he is as guilty as the accusers all say, why are the riders even tested? He’s been tested so many times, and according to accusers, doped so frequently, that he should have had a positive somewhere in there. But none. The biggest doper of all time maybe and never a positive test? Good testing system there. Or was there a positve somewhere and it was hushed up as I’ve heard some suggest. Either way, the governing body, or whatever they should be called, should be strung up.

    And leave the foundation out of the discussion. What does that have to do with doping in cycling. It’s a stretch to condemn that organization as well.

  15. @Jay Taylor

    What should have pained you is the fact that the UCI suddenly pulled USADA from conducting independent doping controls at the ToC. Ever wonder why? I dunno, maybe a 40ish year-old Chris Horner rocketing past others on a mountain climb is a sign there is still a problem.

  16. Eric, guys like Bernard Kohl raised similar questions about testing after they got caught.

    Testing is supposed to at least make cycling cleaner, and I think in general it has; though it didn’t look that way today.

  17. regarding the timing of the 60 minutes story, that has more to do with 60 minutes and ratings than anything else. Keep in mind that we are in sweeps ‘week’ currently.

    As for Lance, I have gotten to the point where I just don’t care anymore. whether or not he doped 12 years ago means less to me than what is happening in the sport today (will we have 2 grand tour results changed in June?).

    that being said, a second rider accusing the sports governing body of covering up a positive test is very important as it directly relates to whether we can trust what is happening today.

    so irritating and depressing at the same time

  18. @mindtron:

    If this was the matter of a former 7-time TdF champion living quietly in the backwoods of Texas, asking to be left alone. I agree.

    But Lance and his foundation continue to use his story, and have used his story to benefit from donations from individuals and other foundations. That is what I call “fraud”. It makes what Landis did pale in comparison.

  19. Great comments, one and all. A heavy topic. Must we tear down our heroes? Perhaps. Many have fallen on their own. Some have been destroyed. Landis & Hamilton both lost their savings, their marriages, their relationship with their parents, in short, they both lost a lot. Some have died. A sad state of affairs. To wash away the grime, well, it will take some work. Seven in a row is awe inspiring. But, the truth of the matter is the best of the doped took the top spot. And, he probably would have won anyway, without the help. Was is Bassons that said they would all be going 5k slower, but the same man would win without the drugs? Was it VDB that said, regarding his win in LBL over Bartoli, that equal weapons makes for an equal fight? The shame, really, is that these two issues prevail: 1) one must dope to survive in an era of oxygen vector doping, and 2) there is no upside to telling the truth – and inversely no downside to continued denial (Virenque claimed it was not doping if one did not fail a test). Coming clean must be rewarded or we will change the status quo.

  20. So he beat a bunch of dopers… even though it’s “circumstantial” – how could he be clean? Considering his own teammates that he was a captain for were doping, did they not stay together, sleep together, eat together etc…? Makes no sense at all, it’s like saying a clean bodybuilder could’ve beat Arnold in his prime while on the “goods”… let’s get real with the “genetics” bull crap. LA is a Sociopath who lacks any sort of conscience.

  21. Thanks for all the comments, plenty of interesting points and as ever they really make the blog worthwhile. Too many to respond to individually.

    On the subject of testing, think of it as a net where some fish might swim though… but it stops some. If it works, it’s not by catching everyone, it’s by controlling the arms race. You end up reducing the doping, to the point where riders are not (forced to) taking wild levels of experimental medicine just to win and some do get caught. Now that’s ideal but its essential. But remember a lot of the biggest cheats get caught by the police. Festina, Puerto, Mantova and more are down to the police and other law enforcement agencies.

  22. @ The Inner Ring:

    Great analogy for the current testing protocols. Unfortunately, until I feel the UCI is really interested in actually catching all the cheats, I am not going to be completely satisfied that the sport can clean itself up. The ATOC / USADA issue really is being under reported, especially in light of the fact that it appears that the biological passport is being used by the UCI to manage its testing protocols not to catch dopers, but to potentially know who to steer clear of in order to not pop them for doping.

  23. To clarify – I am speculating (along with others) that the UCI Biological Passport is being used for this. No one has come forth. But interesting that Horner is killing guys close to 1/2 his age up mountain passes, well past when the body begins to break down, and yet, not one eyebrow raised about that or the USADA issue.

    If our sport is going to clean itself up – both the testing needs to be above the board, and Honers of the world should be getting dropped.

  24. I really don’t know how he could have done it , not the doping , he obviously did that , but all the livestrong cancer stuff , did he not think that doing all that based on a fundamental lie could be incredibly damaging for so many people when the truth came out ?

    I feel sorry for all the people he has duped

  25. What will seal LA’s fate will be testimony from Big George. The ultimate lieutenant, trusted friend, and ‘clean’ rider. I can almost guarantee he won’t purjure (sp?) himself for Lance, though, so when that testimony comes out (and it will) it will be game over.

  26. I was convinced Lance was guilty after reading the Walsh book. A lot of smoke, and so likely fire. I also couldn’t believe that everyone around him who told a story contrary to his script was either a “disgruntled former employee” or had an axe to grind for some unknown reason. The back dated prescription for cortisone following the 99 Tour prologue win. The subsequent testing by the French of his old frozen samples that showed EPO. Landis eyeballed him. And now Tyler. To those who would say those two aren’t worthy of belief now because they are admitted liars makes them seem all the more credible to me, because drug use and its cover-up can’t exist without lying. Lance is simply the last guy who’s still lying about it. Where was Lance’s outrage against all of his doped competitors that he, while riding cleanly, was defeating? Don’t you think he would have complained at least a bit? Finally, his latest tweet in response to Tyler, 500 tests, no positives, I rest my case, is the classic non-denial denial. It seems that Lance now can’t bring himself to say that he never doped.

  27. @Mark:

    I agree – Lance has painted himself in such a corner, that for him to admit to doping after all this denial will make all other confessions and positives pale in comparison (save for Contador – if only because he is currently destroying the Giro by even racing in it this year).

    I have a feeling Lance never thought it would get to this point. If you recall, until his later years (and well after the Livestrong foundation was started) that doping protocols really were able to detect certain drugs. In addition, Puerto had not taken effect yet, and in general, there was little in the way of evidence that anything would really come to light.

    But once the risks became so high that you would think a normal person would not stoop to this level, he was so far into this lie, and had taken on so much fame, financial donation and in general duped so many, that he is kind of trapped. In a way, I feel bad for him, because he is essentially trapped by this lie, and so has to spend every day acting a role that I bet, deep down, he would wish away. Which makes this even harder, is if he were to drop from the spotlight suddenly, it would only cast further doubt and suspicion on him.

  28. While I don’t particularly like Lance Armstrong’s personality–though I admire all he’s done to fight cancer–I also don’t like all the speculation about whether he doped or not. Regardless of your suspicions, and mine too, I’m not going to pronounce Armstrong guilty until I see positive proof–the kind that would stand up in a court of law.

    Statements from the uber-unreliable Floyd Landis, and from twice banned for doping Tyler Hamilton, who may have his own agenda we don’t know about, are not enough to sway me. Their statements are no more reliable than those of a jailhouse snitch in a criminal case. Regardless of my own suspicions regarding Armstrong, until I see the smoking gun, I’m not about to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty.

  29. BikeRog – the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing is a LEGAL standard – there’s no reason not to take a stand on what you think. And it sounds as though you do indeed have a position on the matter, rather than the intellectual agnosticism you claim to maintain. At this point, I do not in fact believe that there is any “reasonable doubt” about Armstrong’s guilt (and the old saw about how Accuser X is disgruntled/greed/unreliable/has an axe to grind is looking pretty rusty at this point). That’s just my opinion, but no reason not to come out with it. I, after all, am not convicting him or sentencing him.

    It’s a frustrating debate, because of the points made by inrng – circumstantial evidence, lots of accusations flying around, etc. I do think that the matter of circumstantial evidence is a bit of a red herring, however. Even in courts, circumstantial evidence like the accusations against Armstrong is NOT inadmissible. There would be a serious problem if it were; there are many cases (including this one) where direct evidence can be extremely difficult or impossible to come by. And lots of parallel allegations, along with other bits of evidence that could be testified to (direct evidence of doping by all of Armstrong’s major rivals, the inefficacy of doping controls, things like that), do add up to a case.

    But that’s a different issue. Most people are already convinced one way or the other about Lance Armstrong. More interesting are the questions raised about timing and appropriateness; not because I think that they’re good questions (I think that pretending that cycling’s PR problem is not in large measure a self-made problem is the very definition of putting one’s head in the sand) but because they reveal a lot about how we think about doping allegations, the people making them, and the future of the sport with respect to the question of doping publicity. As for the idea that things like this are “dredging up the past,” excuse me, but Lance Armstrong was racing his bike in the Tour de France as recently as last year! This is not a distant era of the sport, these issues will keep coming up for a while, deal with it.

    There’s this very frustrating attitude that I see a lot, that cleaning up the sport should somehow be bloodless and accomplished without positive controls and doping scandals. I see a clean peloton and a scandal-free cycling as essentially mutually contradicting goals. The price we are paying now is suffering through a period where cycling’s image is tarnished. It’s unfair, yes, especially given the level of effort to fight doping in cycling compared to other sports, but that’s life. Fighting the fight, though, brings some chance of recovering a good image for the sport, versus going down in flames if omerta is maintained.

  30. I agree with the folks that say all these revelations are a distraction and hurt cycling. And when Lance will finally admit his guilt or be convicted (or both) it will also create a huge mess. But if pro cycling (and therefore club cycling and just riding a bike around town) is to ever stand a chance of surviving, Lance has to be made accountable; he has become a symbol for all that is wrong about the sport he has made millions off of. Also, the UCI leadership who allowed it all to happen should be made accountable — I think if one falls the other will.
    Still today with a corrupt UCI and an unpunished Lance, I believe that Bernard Kohl is right, it is not just that it is worth it to dope, you have to dope to be a contender:
    Cycling’s credibilty as a sport (not just today’s Giro) is being ripped to shreds everyday that Lance and the UCI leadership get away with it. It’s high time to get rid of that tapeworm and all of his cronies and sycophant (though judging by the responses above, their numbers are diminishing).

  31. @Janders. Thanks for the link! I wonder what Lance’s attorneys and pr team are going to do now…. Add a section to their website, after “Andreu is not credible”, “Hamilton no credible” and “Landis not credible” will we be able to click on “Hincapie not credible”? I hope not.
    Another note: The Lance money media pr team said that Hamilton spoke about Lance’s doping so that he could keep his Olympic gold medal. How’s that for dirt slinging? Also, it’s not true, Hamilton did return his Olympic medal.
    The house of Lance is falling. Hourra!

  32. Yes, I think its time for the Armstrong house of cards to fall. I hope and want to believe it will be the end of an era. If Armstrong, the tactical mastermind on so many levels, can’t get away with it, who could possibly think they can? At the same time while I don’t like the fact that he doped I don’t believe it diminishes his on the bike accomplishments, as it seems all the top contenders of his era were juiced.

  33. Chris, it won’t be the end of the era – former teammate Contador is leading the charge for the new brigade of smarter dopers, and winning everything he wants along the way. Even though he’ll be banned come June, he’ll come back and keep doing what he’s doing.
    The only real hope is for the peloton itself to end the omerta and start naming names. It’ll be bloody – even bloodier than Lance’s endgame will be – but it’s the only way to cleanse the sport (at least, the only way I can see for now).

  34. There are now three things you never discuss at the dinner table: Religion, Politics and Armstrong (thats if you are lucky enough to have more than one cyclist sitting at your dinner table)

  35. I believe that the future for Armstrong is very similar to the Barry Bonds case. In October of 2010 Outside Magazine did a great piece on Lance’s federal case. With Jeff Novitzky as prosecutor there is precedent in what we can expect. If you’re in a hurry read the last 3-4 paragraphs and you’ll see an interesting (chilling?) connection to Hincape’s release today. Hincpape has said nothing publicly except “I did not talk to 60 Minutes”. It’s Novitzky setting up assination with leaked info. Here’s the article:
    What makes this case different for cycling is accountability for testamony with real prison time. Novitzky can say to people “Tell the federal government the truth or I’ll see to it you go to jail”. Game changer, and thats what has drawn a reluctant George and others into the cross hairs. Soon it will be (if not already) Lance before the grand juy and the jaws of the trap are set.
    Gone are the days when the UCI, WADA or anyone else in clycling can impact Lance. Now we can only watch and see the sad reality of a prosecutor with a chip on his shoulder and a sports icon in his sights. Much collateral damage to follow.

  36. We have to retire the word ‘cheat’ from the lexicon of dopolgy and replace it with ‘criminal’ unless we are taking about recreation riders and master level competitors who get their stash online from Canada. Now that’s cheating! It also encourages mass production of EPO and all the other meds popular these days, so now everyone can afford it. With all the focus on a small group of elite riders (relatively speaking) who commit crimes to ride their bikes faster to pay the bills or upgrade the Villa the elephant sits quietly in the back of the room. If you are worried about your kids smoking pot and popping e if wont be long before PED’s will be a very serious concern for our youth in all sports. Perhaps now that old guys are winning big races we can all aspire to go faster for longer along with the kids. The market will grow and supply and demand will increase and what kind of net will ‘control’ that? I really think we have not yet even begun to ask the right questions, perhaps we could start with the meaning of the word ‘cheat’.

  37. It would be a mistake to discount the gravity of evidence against Armstrong. First, Hamilton has stated that he saw Armstrong take PEDs. This is direct evidence on the issue of doping by Armstrong. Granted, there may be credibility problems with the witness, but that can be weighed in the analysis.

    Also, in addition to Landis, Hamilton is stating that Armstrong told him that he failed a drug test taken during the Tour of Switzerland. Such statements could be admissable as exceptions to hearsay under (1) declarations against interest, (2) excited utterances, (3) admissions of guilt or (4) prior inconsistent statements depending on the circumstances. Clearly, if he is saying he has never tested positive (which he does all the time) and he told Landis/Hamilton that he did test positive, those are some inconsistent statements that he might have to explain if he took the stand.

    Second, circumstantial evidence should not be discounted so quickly. Often it is all that is available to convict a person and many, many people have been convicted solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. For example, we now have a half-dozen or so people who claim to have seen Armstrong in possession of doping products (EPO vials in the refirgerator, blood bags under refrigeration – i.e. his former mechanic, Landis, Hamilton), supplied him with doping products (if the Hincapie testimony actually happened), the soignier who disposed of needles, etc. This is very strong circumstantial/indirect evidence of doping and the possession of doping products may itself be a crime (and not circumstantial).

  38. Sorry just read the comment below re Basso…..when did Basso get ripped apart and when did he admit to doping?? As I recall he said he had intention to dope (after winning the giro by 9 mins why would he need to dope if he wasnt already off his t!ts for that?!) , served his ban and seemed to effortlessly fit back in with a big contract, avoid the tour for a year just to be safe and then win a giro ‘clean’and still has the nerve to call that his second win.

    Basso got away very lightly in my opinion compared to Floyd and Tyler……at least even Vino gets a hard time from the press! LA didnt even need to hide his affection for Basso as it didnt seem to matter how close they were.

    ‘Perfect example: Ivan Basso
    He got torn apart by the media mercilessly in a way which surprised me. The same TV commentators who never said a word of doubt about Valverde ripped him apart for 3-5 years. And the comeback: dozens of cyclists have come back from bans, but almost none of them got ripped apart and humiliated like Basso.
    All because he was stupid enough to confess

    And he didn’t even accuse anybody !!!’

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