Lance Armstrong: The Emperor Has No Clothes

Lance Armstrong decided to drop his fight against the USADA’s doping charges.

So I go on vacation and decide to make it a real vacation.  Leave the laptop at home, relax – it was even an easy training week – and look what happens.  Stuff hits the fan.

America’s biggest endurance sports icon has gone down in flames.

For one who follows the sport but has never seen it from the inside, the early rumors and news stories were easy to explain away.  When the news about the 1999 positive for corticosteroid came out, Armstrong produced a backdated prescription.  No big deal, it was a paperwork thing, right.  That newfound hill-climbing ability in three-week stage races?  Attributable to having lost 18 pounds in his fight with testicular cancer.

Over time, cracks in the foundation appeared.  The nagging question that refused to go away was Armstrong’s association with Michele Ferrari, also charged by USADA.  It’s curious that David Walsh’s and Pierre Ballester’s L.A. Confidential isn’t available for online purchase in the U.S., although we can read all about it.  Then Floyd Landis tested positive and forfeited the 2006 Tour de France.  After denying reality for years, Landis changed his story, owning up and accusing Lance Armstrong of doping.  If Landis lied for years about his positive, wasn’t the accusation against Armstrong just another lie?

Although they ultimately opted not to pursue a case, the the Feds got involved.  Then Tyler Hamilton came clean.    USADA’s charges finally collapsed Armstrong’s house.  If he’s unwilling to continue fighting USADA, he’s guilty.

Armstrong appeared in Aspen, CO, placing second in the Power of Four mountain bike race.  As he encouraged supporters to disregard “the noise,” stories have burst forth like a meteor shower lighting the night sky.  He had the adulation of hero worshippers in Aspen, but the cycling emperor’s new suit was his birthday suit.  No defenses, no clothes.

Now that Armstrong has backed down against USADA, long-repressed allegations or stories about Lance and doping are finally being published.  Armstrong was allegedly warned in advance of doping controls in France.  According to one account, the French anti-doping agency was foiled at every turn trying to administer a proper doping control.  L’Equipe suggested that a 2005 raid of Discovery’s hotel during the 2005 Tour was called off at the last minute by an unknown authority [in French].  One wonders if the UCI or another, more opaque organization decided to hitch its star to Armstrong, no matter the cost.

The other day, a friend who spent time in the uppermost echelons of U.S. cycling told me a couple of stories about promising young U.S. riders heading across the pond and learning the hard way that they had to juice to compete.  I have no reason to disbelieve him or suspect hyperbole.  He hypothesized that even as he transitioned from a good classics racer to a threat in the grand tours, Armstrong was “five drugs ahead of everyone else.”

While – as noted above – I’ve never raced a bike, I’ve done time on skis and I’m unfortunately all too familiar with the havoc doping wreaks on sport.  I’m done with heroes.  Whether they’re skiers, trail runners, cyclists, or rock musicians.  I don’t want to be disappointed any more.