What’s Next For Lance Armstrong?

800px Lance Armstrong MidiLibre 2002

As widely reported last week, Tyler Hamilton was on the CBS news show 60 Minutes over the weekend, where he recounted tales of performance enhancing drug use by Lance Armstrong and other members of the U.S. Postal Team which dominated the Tour de France a decade ago. If you missed the report, and want to catch-up, a transcript and several videos are available by clicking here.

During the interview, Hamilton talked about the use of EPO, testosterone, and even blood transfusions that he, and his teammates, including Armstrong, used while he was part of the team from 1999 to 2001. Hamilton described the culture of cycling as being one in which if you didn’t use these banned substances, you simply wouldn’t be able to compete. If a cyclist wanted to keep his job, and stay in the sport, he really didn’t have any choice. What he described is not unlike a number of other sports, such as baseball, where the annual home run race became a media circus in years past.

Watching Hamilton give his account of the details, I was struck by how difficult it seemed for him to talk about his experiences during his career as a pro-cyclist. He was very much aware that he was not only sharing the intimate details of his own life, but also that of many of his friends in the sport, including Lance Armstrong. He seemed extremely reluctant at times and I personally felt that he was very convincing. Hamilton shared with the 60 Minutes audience the same things he told a grand jury that is investigating the use of performance enhancing drugs in the sport, and whether or not their use on the U.S. Postal team constitutes fraud against the government, who was primary sponsor of the squad. Depending on their findings, riders, coaches, and doctors, including Lance Armstrong, could face jail time.

While Armstrong hasn’t really responded to the accusations directly, there isn’t much here that he hasn’t heard before. His legal team has pointed out the fact that Hamilton has a book that he is pushing, and that by dragging Lance’s name into the conversation, he stirs up controversy and garners publicity. As always, Armstrong hangs his defense on the fact that he has been tested hundreds of times throughout his career, and hasn’t failed a single test.

While processing all these latest accusations, the one thing that stood out in my mind most was not what Tyler Hamilton said, but what fellow rider George Hincapie hasn’t. Hincapie and Lance have been friends for years, and there may not be another rider that is closer to Armstrong. Hincapie rode along with Lance on all seven of his Tour de France victories, and the two have remained close, even after Lance’s retirement.

In light of Hamilton’s statements, rumors have come to light that Hincapie has told the grand jury similarly damning things about Lance. While Hincapie has neither denied or confirmed these rumors, he has allegedly testified that he and Lance injected EPO together and had, at the very least, talked about other performance enhancing drugs.

If this story is true, and Hincapie has admitted these things, it would be a witness that would be difficult for Armstrong and his team, to dismiss. George doesn’t have an axe to grind, he doesn’t appear to be selling anything, and he hasn’t rushed out for an publicity. Discrediting his accounts will be no easy task to say the least.

Taking into account all of this news, it is difficult to not think about what might be next for Lance Armstrong. He and his legal team seem prepared to fight to the bitter end to protect his considerable reputation, continually pointing to the fact that he has never failed a drug test, something that was also called into question in the 60 Minutes report. Proving a negative is always a difficult task however, and we all know there are ways to mask the use of performance enhancing drugs, which will always cast a shadow of doubt in either direction.

Personally, I think that it is naive to believe that anyone could win the Tour multiple times without using some kind of PEDs. When you consider that the vast majority of the peloton appeared to have been using something, it seems miraculous that anyone not doping could compete at all, let alone win. I don’t want to dismiss the fact that the use of performance enhancing drugs were so prevalent in the sport, nor offer up any excuses for riders, but much like the “home run era” of baseball, the doping era of cycling was, and quite frankly remains, simply standard operating procedure for the athletes who were and are competing during that time period.

Of course, the grand jury doesn’t seem to see it that way, and they seem to be hyper-focused on nailing Lance Armstrong the wall. Much like the investigation into Barry Bond’s use of PEDs, it has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a case against Lance, which could quite possibly land him behind bars. Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider the case against Marion Jones, and where she ended up.

The differences between Armstrong and Jones however are quite vast in terms of public personas. Marion Jones is an accomplished Olympic athlete who was very dominant in her sport and competed at an incredibly high level. Lance Armstrong was also a very dominant athlete who ruled his sport, but he is also an American icon, whose story has inspired millions and his charity work has extended his reach well beyond the world of cycling. He is, quite simply, one of the most respected athletes in the U.S., and if these accusations were to be proven true, it would shatter a lot of the Armstrong myth that many have come to enjoy.

As I mentioned last week, my biggest fear is that all of the good work that Armstrong has done with his Livestrong Foundation could possibly be tainted by these doping scandals. He has been a tireless advocate for cancer research, and those little yellow wrist bands have raised millions of dollar to help fight that disease. That legacy can’t be taken away from him, and neither should his seven victories in the Tour de France, but it seems that the number of people close to Lance who claim to have seen him use EPO and other PED’s continues to grow.

Eventually it’ll come down to a game of  “Who Do You Believe,” and while we all have our opinions on Lance, the question isn’t just who does the grand jury believe, but also what they can prove. For the moment, that remains a very murky question, and in the end, it will be what decides the fate of Lance Armstrong.

The waiting game continues for us all.

Kraig Becker

7 thoughts on “What’s Next For Lance Armstrong?”

  1. Adventure Blog,

    Interesting lengthy discussion you provided about this extensive controversy. I can this controversy is very important to you.
    Likewise, there are other controversies in mountaineering very important to others. But these controversies get dismissed, and/or 1-3 dismissive sentences, as opposed to your 12 paragraphs on the Armstrong controversy).
    Ueli Steck? Getting away with deception. Surely. And it's a simple issue. Facts. 1, he claimed a roundtrip time from ABC-Summit-ABC, 2, he claimed an ascent time not from ABC-Summit but from Bergschrund-Summit. Why? It's hours and hours higher on the mountain. Deceptive. Fraud. An honest sportsperson would only claim a time from ABC-Summit. Bottom to summit.
    The public? They believe his climb was a full ascent. Shrewd, because Ueli simultaneously claims an ABC-Summit-ABC time.

    Record? Deceptive. No mention of what the past record was (or still is). The public? Most believe he set a new record. Just disgusting. A sport that perverts mountaineering history, with those that exploit the honor-code to do this intentionally. Stangl? Just one who was caught.

  2. Adventure Blog,

    Excellent article. I wrote a post a few days ago that touhed on many of these same themes (conroyandtheman.blogspot.com).

    I do wonder about the developments in the months ahead. If the Armstrong mystique is undermined – and it is starting to crumble – there will be many disappointed fans, but more importantly the legion of followers to Armstrong's entire persona and cause (witness the Livestrong bracelet craze from several years ago).

    As I wrote, I hope the allegations aren't true, but that's getting harder and harder to support. See Armstrong appear in court, in front of federal prosecutors would be a sad (if just) day.

  3. Even pro biking is, likely, fradulent, with performance-aided drugs, done secretly. Mountaineering, also, with the secretive climbs, secretive speedclimbs, no summit photos, no summit witnesses, no timers. Chad kellogg is, apparently, one of the world's top frauds in this respect.

    If a sportsperson can get away with it, many many will. Maybe even Lance Armstrong, and reportedly, hundreds of other pro bikers using illegal, illegal, substances to fraudulently aid their performance. Chad Kellogg, Christian Stangl, maybe Ueli Steck, do EVERYTHING IN SECRET, and then RUN TO THE PRESS TO CLAIM RECORDS.

    No nobility. Almost as worse, their friends – especially Chad Kellogg's on the internet with cascadeclimbers – can't handle him being revealed as a true fraud, pervasive fraud, so they attack back with rampant internet abuse.

  4. I have always believed Lance, and would be very disappointed if this is proved true. While I don't dismiss the possibility that he took PEDs, I think there's a couple of things to bear in mind regarding the testimony of former team mates…
    Landis claims that Lance's drug tests are not proof as they don't work. These tests managed to catch Landis, Hamilton, Roberto Heras, Alexander Vinokourov, Iban Mayo and many other lesser known cyclists (check out Wikipedia for a list of doping cases). The tests seem pretty effective to me and given that Armstrong was tested more than anyone he must have had a very good 'system' to avoid getting caught.
    If indeed he did have a foolproof system to cheat without getting caught, how come no-one else seems to know or use it?
    The Federal case seems to be one based on fraud, that the members of US Postal signed contracts saying they were 'dope free'. Given that Landis, Hamilton (and seemingly Hincapie) have now all admitted to doping while at US Postal – why are they not on trial? Presumably because they were offered a deal: "Snitch on Armstrong and we'll forget about you". This doesn't give their testimony much impartiality in my view, as it would be in their interest to make up stories to get themselves out of jail.

    Like I say, I am in favour of Lance, but am willing to change my view if proof appears. However, from what I have read so far, the only proof is hearsay. Without any physical evidence, I don't see how anything can be proven in these circumstances, even though many seem to be jumping on the anti-Lance campaign.

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