Lance Armstrong and the truth-tellers … well, sort of

The NYT has a curious piece hailing the independent media as the sole source of truth in the years before Lance Armstrong was buried under 1,000 pages of U.S. Anti-Doping Agency evidence.

Nice shoutout to, home of the ever-classic Tour day Schmalz, but it’s a little unfair to split the cycling media into “brave, truth-telling, low-profile underdogs” and “those who were unwilling or simply scared to tell the truth.” (Or even worse, “enablers.”)

The issue: For journalists to print doping allegations, they have to have something called “evidence.”

The main reason we wait for evidence: It’s simply ethical to do so. The other reason is one I supposed you could file under “scared,” but legitimately so: Lance Armstrong wasn’t just suing his critics over the years. He was winning.

Satire, such as NYVelocity’s inside joke-heavy “Toto” cartoons, has broader protection. And in a lot of cases, satire is better able to tell the truth than the “media.” Just go back a couple of years to the classic Onion story “Lance Armstrong Wants To Tell Nation Something But Nation Has To Promise Not To Get Mad.”

Sure, a few people pursued the Armstrong case when it wasn’t cool to do so. A lot of people in the cycling community owe Betsy Andreu an apology. But “enablers”? That’s a little harsh. And unfair.


Lance Armstrong case: Random things you should know

Questions and answers about the massive Lance Armstrong case file the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released yesterday:

1. Is the case over?

Technically, no. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says the International Cycling Federation has 21 days to consider case, and then WADA has 21 more. See Article 13.2.3 of the World Anti-Doping Code.

WADA can sometimes take a different approach than USADA. See the sad case of skeleton slider Zach Lund, in which USADA gave a warning but WADA took the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and got Lund kicked out of the 2006 Olympics.

But the point here is clearly reputation, not whether Armstrong is somehow able to overturn a ban when it’s clear he’s not going to contest it himself.

2. What’s the typical process for a doping case?

Positive test, “B” sample test, then a hearing. If an athlete is punished, he or she can take it to arbitrators — first within the country in question, then the international Court of Arbitration for Sport. USADA’s FAQ (“Adjudication Process”) explains it more clearly than the World Anti-Doping Code.

3. How can someone be banned without a documented test failure?

Ah, back to my old USA TODAY timeline of the BALCO case. How many hours did I devote to this page over the years?

Anyway — in May 2004, sprinter Kelli White became the first athlete with a “non-analytical positive” suspension. That’s a fancy way of saying “punished without a positive test.” White accepted her suspension. Later in 2004, Michelle Collins went through the arbitration process to challenge her “non-analytical positive.” She lost.

(For eerie foreshadowing, note June 16,2004. Marion Jones says she won’t participate in USADA’s “kangaroo court.” Seems we’ve heard similar things recently.)

4. Why now?

This wasn’t a typical USADA case triggered by a positive test, nor was there an anonymous whistle-blower as in many of the BALCO cases. USADA dates its interest in the case back to November 2008, when it had a hearing with accused cyclist Kayle Leogrande (no, I hadn’t heard of him, either). That led to some broader questions about cycling, which led to a common thread with Floyd Landis, the former 2006 Tour de France champion. Landis had fought a doping case from the Tour de France (USADA was not involved with that case, which was in the hands of French authorities) but was now in a mood to be forthcoming. (p. 10)

But USADA heard of a grand jury investigation into the U.S. Postal Service team, which included Landis … and Lance Armstrong. USADA backed off to let federal authorities do their thing. (p. 11)

That investigation ended in February, and USADA stepped up. Interviews took place through the spring. On June 12, USADA told Armstrong et al it was opening a formal action.

That notification was confidential, as are most doping cases until a result is announced — at least from USADA’s perspective. But athletes sometimes go public, and Armstrong did. Then Armstrong sued, essentially claiming USADA didn’t have jurisdiction. Honestly, USADA isn’t going to lose a case like that, and though the judge shook his head at some of USADA’s filings, he concluded that the arbitration process was reasonable.

(Note that three others, including longtime team director Johan Bruyneel, have gone to arbitration as per any other standard case.)

5. Back up to the federal investigation — how much of the USADA evidence is from that investigation?

USADA says it asked but didn’t get any. (p. 3)

6. How many riders were clean during Armstrong’s tenure as Tour de France champion?

Not many. USADA counted 36 doping cases among the 45 podium places from 1996 to 2010. (p. 7 and Appendix K)

And those are just the ones we know. Some people may have gotten away with it.

(Update: But it seems there were at least a few clean riders back in the day, according to this IM exchange. They must have been ticked off.)

7. Was the whole U.S. Postal/Discovery team involved?

One guy, Patrick Jonker, says no. But he admits he was on the “B team,” not in Armstrong’s inner circle.

8. How did Armstrong and his whole team get away with it for so long?

The George Hincapie affidavit says doping tests have improved over the years, so it would be more difficult today but wasn’t so hard a few years ago. Out-of-competition testing, when you’re really more likely to catch people, was rare a few years ago but has been stepped up. (In some years, Armstrong simply didn’t compete much in the events leading up to the Tour.) The USADA case spells out some creative evasive maneuvers.

Oh, and then there’s the witness intimidation.

9. What happens to Sporting Kansas City’s LiveStrong Park?

Nothing, KC exec Robb Heineman tells The Guardian (he happened to be in London). “We don’t stick our head in the sand… but it doesn’t change how we feel about the Foundation and the work they do.”

10. Isn’t this all a witch hunt?

What would be the motive?

Um ….


11. Well, what’s the harm? It’s not like people were dying.

Are you sure?

12. So the other guys say they quit?

Yes, and one cyclist, Steve Tilford, calls b.s. But he has made similar claims before, and the rebuttal was strong.

13. Will Armstrong lose his Olympic medal?


14. How did Jimi Hendrix figure into this?

USA TODAY dug that tidbit out. Substitute “EPO” for “Purple Haze.”