So, what’s been going on while I’ve been away for most of the past week? Nothing major it seems. Just the complete fall from grace by one of the biggest names in the history of cycling.
Last week Lance Armstrong saw all but one of his endorsement deals go up on smoke when companies like Nike, Trek, Giro, 24-Hour Fitness and others dropped him as a spokesman. Only eyewear company Oakley stood by the former pro-cyclist, taking a wait-and-see attitude. Yesterday, Oakley announced that they too were terminating their contract with Armstrong as the news broke that he would be stripped of all seven of his Tour de France titles.
On Monday, the International Cycling Union (UCI) announced that they would uphold the findings by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which released a report a few weeks back that accused Armstrong of being the ringleader in “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” The USADA also said that it had retroactively tested urine samples that Lance gave at the 1999 Tour and that they tested positive for EPO, a banned substance that helps build red blood cells, which in turn adds oxygen to the bloodstream. In doing so, the drug can greatly increase performance in strenuous aerobic activity. Those qualities, plus its inability to be detected, made it a popular choice for cyclists looking to get an edge at the time.
It is unclear yet exactly what the Tour de France will do in terms of awarding victories for the seven years that Armstrong dominated the race. Most of the riders that shared the podium with him have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, admitted to their use or have been named in other doping scandals. In some cases, Tour leadership will have to go down the list of final rankings as far as 7th or 8th place to find someone who hasn’t been caught up in a scandal a one time or another. It is possible that they will simply leave the titles vacated for those years, effectively leaving a giant blank spot on the sport’s biggest and most well known event.
Armstrong’s fall from grace has been swift to say the least. Even as recently as a week ago I still heard friends and acquaintances defending him to a degree, despite the mounting evidence against him. Now you’ll have a tough time finding anyone to speak up in his defense, even here in Austin, Texas, the headquarters for Livestrong and his base of operations. The revelations of the past few weeks, including the dropping of the endorsement deals and the UCI stripping him of the titles, seem to have put an end to the question of whether or not he doped. Now we’ll have to wait to see if criminal charges will be pressed against him and there has already been talk of some the companies he worked with wanting their endorsement money back. Whatever lies ahead for Lance Armstrong, I think it is safe to say that he has a long way to go before all of this is behind him. Whether or not his fans or the American public in general ever forgive him has yet to be seen.
Somewhere Greg LeMond is feeling vindicated I’m sure.