August 24, 2012
Lance Armstrong is one of the greatest champions of the cycling, and sporting world. For seven consecutive years at the turn of the century he won probably the most difficult sporting event, Le Tour De France, beating all his rivals and setting a record that will probably never be broken.
Unfortunately, this was a time when cycling was beset by drugs scandals and cheats that dragged the sport into the gutter. Many of his greatest rivals failed drugs tests or were implicated in doping scandals but until now Armstrong was only caught up in innuendo and rumor. He might never have failed a drugs test during his career, but on August 24, 2012 the US Anti Doping Administration (USADA) stripped him of all victories after August 1, 1998.
The Early Career
Armstrong first came to sporting prominence as a promising teenage triathlete in the late 1980s and was USA national sprint course champion in 1989 and 1990 before his 20th birthday. Of the three skills in triathlon, he showed most promise as a cyclist, and represented the USA in the 1992 Olympic Games, coming 14th in the road race.
The next year he became the youngest ever UCA Road Race Champion by winning the race in heavy rain, and took his first stage victory in the Tour De France. Other victories followed over the next couple of seasons, but in 1996 he was unable to compete with his rivals. Shortly after finishing 6th and 12th respectively in the time trial and road race at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Armstrong went to the doctor with a painful lump in his testicles and was coughing up blood.
The diagnosis was stage three testicular cancers that had metastased to his lungs, abdomen and brain. Immediate treatment was required to save his life, and his doctor gave Armstrong a 40% survival chance. Treatment included orchiectomy and chemotherapy, although an unusual combination of drugs minimized the risk of lung damage. This decision probably saved his sporting career.
It is difficult to imagine the shock that comes with such a diagnosis and treatment without experiencing it for oneself. Even surviving cancer is a battle, but Armstrong not only won that fight but went on to resume his cycling career. Even more surprising is the success that he achieved after going into remission.
In 1998, Armstrong rode the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain), and finished the race in fourth place. This was a fantastic achievement in one of the three Grand Tours of cycling, but more was to come. This was the start of his success with the US Postal team.
Starting as he meant to continue, Armstrong won the prologue of the 1999 Tour De France, and went on to finish the race over 7 minutes ahead of his nearest rival. This was followed by victories over the next six races, beating any rival who came up against him. In 2005, Armstrong retired from cycling for the first time. Drugs rumors were rife during the time, but he did not fail any tests.
After his recovery from cancer, Armstrong created the Lance Armstrong Foundation to support cancer sufferers. Over the last 15 years, this has raised over $300 million for cancer research through the sale of Livestrong bracelets. Irrespective of what happens to his sporting record, this deserves a great deal of credit.
In 2009, Armstrong joined the Astana team and rode the Tour De France in support of eventual victor, Alberto Contador. He finished in third place overall, his worst finish since his cancer diagnosis. After the fourth stage, he was just 0.22s behind the yellow jersey wearer, Fabian Cancellara.
For the following season he formed Team Radioshack and raced his final Tour De France, finishing 23rd after suffering a series of crashes. Something he mostly managed to avoid while winning the race.
After retiring from cycling in early 2011, Armstrong went back to triathlon and attempted to qualify for the 2012 World Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii. After winning Ironman 70.3 Florida and Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, Armstrong was banned from competition by USADA in June 2012.
The Doping Charges
In June 2012, USADA announced it would formally charge Armstrong with doping and drugs trafficking. Along with former team manager Johan Bruyneel and four others, this is the result of several years of investigation. The accusations are that Armstrong used banned substances, including EPO, steroids and blood transfusions dating back to 1986. To date, he has never failed any drugs tests.
This announcement led to a series of lawsuits from Armstrong, which judges rejected. On August 24, Lance Armstrong ended his fight against USADA and decided not to take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). He still maintains his innocence for all charges.
At the moment, USADA have revoked all victories from August 1998, but it is still uncertain whether the governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), will ratify this. It is also uncertain who will become the winner of those races.
Currently much of the evidence that USADA holds is not in the public domain. The other accused parties will have their day in court when all of the evidence will be heard, including testimony from ten ex-professional cyclists and former teammates. Until this happens it is not possible to decide on their guilt, or innocence, but for it to get to this stage, USADA must be confident of a strong case.
When this happens we will be able to make a fully informed decision about the guilt of Lance Armstrong. At the moment it appears that one of the greatest sporting stars of the 21st century is guilty of cheating the sporting public, his employers and rivals. It will be a sad fall from grace for a great champion and committed charity worker whose achievements rank among the best of any individual sporting icon.