Lance Armstrong Steps Down — Did He Dope? — A Summary of USADA’s Findings

20121017-100734.jpgThe United States Anti-Doping Agency’s 202-page report entitled, “reasoned decision,” charging Lance Armstrong with running “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” has caused a media firestorm. The report found “conclusive” and “undeniable” proof that Armstrong not only doped extensively throughout most of his professional career — particularly when he rode to seven straight Tour de France victories from 1999-2005 — but also supplied the banned drugs and pressured his teammates to stay on a doping program.

Although publicly maintaining his innocence, Armstrong — who has never tested positive for any performance-enhancing substances — decided not to fight the USADA charges. In August, six months after federal prosecutors announced that a grand jury had finished considering the matter (and levied no criminal charges), he withdrew from USADA’s arbitration process. Because he withdrew from the arbitration, the agency banned him from Olympic sports for life and stripped him of his record seven Tour victories. By way of contrast, five cyclists who cut a deal each accepted six-month suspensions after giving statements in the investigation.

The French Cycling Federation supports the USADA decision, stating that Armstrong’s refusal to contest the accusations “sounds like an admission of his guilt” (the Federation also wants reimbursement of Armstrong’s prizes obtained during the Tour de France and other competitions – to the tune of 2.95 million Euros). Similarly, the president of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) believes that Armstrong’s decision not to appeal the USADA’s decision indicates that there is “substance” to the charges. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the ruling body which oversees the Tour de France, has yet to ratify the USADA findings, but since Armstrong has given up the fight I can’t think of any reason why they would not do so.

As I perused the report itself – which is readily available on a USADA website – it struck me that it contained a fair amount of hyperbole and colorful quotes (for the media’s convenience, perhaps). “It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced,” USADA said in its report. “He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and reinforced it.” Chilling.

In a statement accompanying the report, USADA — an NGO started back in 1999 — ensured that it conducted a fair and thorough investigation, and that it was unaffected by outside pressure or celebrity status. Though I have no reason for doubt, I can’t help but think that Lance Armstrong is the biggest fish that USADA will ever have the opportunity to fry. And it seems that they did not hold back on their own spin, value judgments, and eloquent vilification of the long-admired (formerly admired?) sports hero.

But that’s just the report, let’s talk about the evidence it was based on. I was both happy and somewhat surprised to see that all the of evidence — over 1000 pages, as the USADA is quick to point out — was available online. This accessibility struck me as either the height of transparency or the depths of public smearing in a case that is not only subject to appeal but that is being actively challenged by at least three team members implicated in the twisted tale.

Notwithstanding my qualms with USADA’s mode of presentation, the voluminous evidence is overwhelmingly damning — especially because Armstrong is not challenging it. USADA found 26 witnesses to help explain the elaborate doping scheme purportedly used by Armstrong and the US Postal Service team; this included sworn statements from 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates, six of whom have never had any public dispute with him.

The USADA report confirms many stories we have heard before and, as a whole, paints a vivid picture of the doping culture that dominated Armstrong’s team during his Tour winning streak; riders said they felt that they needed to dope to stay at the top of the sport and stay on the team.

His former teammates talked about consuming vials of testosterone oil during races and even blood-doping (a process whereby blood is extracted, filled with enhancement drugs, and then transfused back into the cyclist). By way of example, teammate Tyler Hamilton stated that, during the 1999 Tour, the team was using EPO, a hormone that induces red blood cell production, every three or four days; pre-loaded syringes were injected quickly and then discarded by a team doctor. For the 2000 Tour, Hamilton, Armstrong, and other riders allegedly took a private jet to start a blood-doping regimen, a new process they used to avoid detection at a time when there was heightened scrutiny of all riders.

In addition to the witness statements, the USADA investigation also uncovered a paper trail, including $200,000 in payments from Armstrong to Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, a sought-after trainer of the time who was notorious for dealing in EPO.

UCI has only a few weeks to decide whether it will ratify the USADA’s decision. And the director of the Tour de France has declared that if UCI does ratify, there will be no replacement winner named for years 1999 through 2005; some speculate that that is because it now looks like everyone was doping, and no one deserves the win.

And then there are the team members who have not given up, who are challenging USADA’s report at an arbitration hearing . One of them is Armstrong’s former manager, Johan Bruyneel, and he has good reason. The report pegged him as the focal point of the doping programs in Armstrong’s teams through 2010. I am very curious to see how he fares; if he wins that would certainly add a whole new level to this ordeal.

As it stands, I think that Armstrong doped, and I think he probably went to great lengths to cover it up. Even though he may have had sound reasons for declining to challenge the USADA report, it strikes me as a suspicious — and Un-American — to cop-out. He is certainly not without resources and, to me, it seems like has a lot to lose. He is a legend largely because of his wins. Why would he give them up without a fight?

Update: In the wake of the USADA report, Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LIVESTRONG), and Nike terminated its contract with armstrong. It is a sad day in history.

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