Monday, January 24, 2011

Is Lance In Trouble?

It's over. The remarkable racing career of Lance Armstrong officially came to end on Sunday, January 23rd. He competed in his final international event, The Tour Down Under. No rider in the history of the sport won the Tour de France as many times. No rider in the the history of the sport made more money. And no rider in the history of the sport was more of a lightning rod.

Now what for Lance? He has talked about entering the Ironman in Hawaii this fall. He'll continue to head his Livestrong Foundation. He may even go into politics. But there is something else that will have to be dealt with in the immediate future.

The Feds are after Lance Armstrong. Bulldog investigator Jeff Novitzky is out to prove that Armstrong doped his way to his seven Tour titles.

The case the government is building is said to dwarf the BALCO investigation in terms of size and amount of work. Sports Illustrated, long a champion of Armstrong's, ran a feature story this week called "The Case Against Lance Armstrong." The French have been after him for years, and are assisting in the investigation.

But what do the Feds really have, and is Lance really guilty?

As of right now, it looks like there is no smoking gun. No positive tests that can be proven to be Armstrong's, no DNA on a needle, no video of him doping, no confession from the man himself. The case Novitzky is building is centered around testimony--multiple sources saying they saw Lance dope, they heard him talking about doping, or they doped with him. But the Armstrong camp dismisses most of these accounts as being from people who are jealous (Greg LeMond), who have no credibility (Floyd Landis), or who are obsessed with bringing him down (Betsy Andreu--and LeMond again).

There is no doubt that Lance has pissed off and pissed on a lot of people over the course of his 20 year career. He was known as a mafia-type boss of his teams. If you crossed Lance, you paid for it. He knows how to hold a grudge.

You can explain away the individual accusations: LeMond never had time to bask in the afterglow of his wonderful career--the year he retired, Armstrong rode as the World Champion and already America had it's next LeMond. There were also the stories of LeMond feeling as though Lance never paid him enough respect--and of course the fact that Lance went on to break most of Greg's records. Landis has no credibility--he lied about doping, swindled half a million dollars out of innocent people for his defense, then, when he had nowhere else to go and was broke, admitted he took drugs and tried to take Lance down with him. Betsy Andreu says she heard Lance in the cancer ward admit to doctors that he had taken every performance enhancing drug imaginable. The doctors present deny that, and Lance claims Andreu is obsessed with him (she apparently blogs about Lance non-stop).

But what about the argument that where there is so much smoke, there must be fire? Everyone who finished on the podium with Lance during his 7 year Tour-winning run has tested positive for doping. How could Lance beat all of those doped-up guys if he was clean? And what about the suspicious lab tests from the '99 Tour, or the early 90's USA cycling teams? (For the record, Lance's camp claims the samples are too old, or not his, or call into question the chain of custody--all valid) And it's more than just LeMond, Landis and Andreu who have stories about Lance. Could so many people be lying?

Lance, of course, has his backers. For every one person who says Lance doped, there are ten former teammates or coaches or friends who say they never saw any sign of it. That's where the Feds need a smoking gun to get a conviction. As a friend of mine who is closer to the situation than I am pointed out, the Feds will not go after Lance for doping--they'll go after him for perjury. They will hope to get Lance to testify under oath that either A) he doped, or B) he didn't--but then hope to have enough testimony from others that he did. Or hope to have a smoking gun that catches him in a lie. Or, at the very least, hope Lance takes the fifth, thus creating Mark McGuire-like speculation that he's hiding something.

Do I think Lance doped? I think there is a very good chance that he doped before his cancer diagnosis. The 90's were a filthy time for the sport. Everyone did it. Unnatural performances occurred. There was no test for EPO. The sport changed. After cancer? I would like to think he didn't--could someone who cheated death really pump themselves full of dangerous chemicals? Could someone who is an inspiration to millions of cancer survivors really risk his reputation and risk flushing his Foundation's work down the toilet? Could the most tested athlete in the history of the world really be that good at dodging positive results when everyone around him gets busted? It all seems far fetched--but possible.

Then there is the theory that Lance is his era's Babe Ruth. He is Jordan, Gretzky, Bolt, Phelps, or Tiger. That he was simply that talented and more driven than those he raced against. Do we think that every legend dopes, or are there simply athletes that come along who happen to be superior to everyone else?

Lance seems very confident that his name will be cleared. Many of his fans feel the same way. I don't think there is a smoking gun, and I don't think Lance will shock us with a confession, therefore it's my guess that nothing will stick. He'll move on. His reputation will take a temporary hit, but if he's cleared, his image as Tour winner and cancer fighter will remain, and that will be his ultimate legacy.

Having said that, if he enters the Ironman this fall and wins it by an hour, we'll need to revisit the subject.


  1. One thing to note as well, Craig, is that Lance and Johan Bruyneel built TDF teams with one purpose only, to deliver Lance to the podium. The focus, to my knowledge, was pretty unique and others just never caught up. It doesn't explain everything but it is a contributing factor in having a clean rider succeed over PED's.

  2. How about some pure conspiracy theory...what if Lance never really had cancer? EPO is prescribed for patients undergoing chemotherapy to help them feel better.

    He could say "of course I have taken EPO--I took it during my cancer treatment." Lance himself has admitted that the doctors told him he had nearly zero chance of having a child naturally after his treatment, and yet he has since had three.

    Is it possible to have doctors and medical records on his dime to back up his story? This is protected information that will never be subpoenaed. Is that even so bad? What if it were true? At worst we have a champion (and liar) who doped during a time when "everyone" doped. LiveStrong has raised millions in the fight against cancer that would never had been raised had the perfect comeback story and hero not been created.

    Do I believe this? Not really. I don't think even Lance could ink a deal with the devil to pull this off so seamlessly. But it is fun to think about and almost plausible.

  3. "Then there is the theory that Lance is his era's Babe Ruth. He is Jordan, Gretzky, Bolt, Phelps, or Tiger."

    I know this theory above has been thrown around a lot. But my question is, what evidence exists that all serious challengers to the guys above cheated? Maybe a few, but everyone else on that respective sport's podium? I don't think it's a fair comparison.

    Besides, it's beginning to look like the bigger smoking gun exists with tax fraud and perjury. If nothing comes of the PED use, they'll almost surely get Armstrong for selling sponsor-gifted equipment, not reporting the income to the Feds and lying under oath. If he gets busted for PEDs, it will probably happen because he gets threatened with tax fraud and perjury if he doesn't admit to the PEDs.

    Don't worry, Armstrong has the resources and contacts to tie this up longer than Barry Bonds, and Bonds is the only one Novitzky has yet to convict.

  4. As a cancer survivor at age 33, I looked to Lance's story for strength during the time that I was going through my battle. I too like to believe that after going through the damage that chemo did to him, that he wouldn't pump more chemicals into his body. But who knows.

    The real crusher would be to those millions of people battling cancer and looking for strength that comes from his story. I hope for their sake, that nothing is found.

  5. Sorry, I'd love to think he did this clean, but please give me an example of another figure who had this much smoke and no fire. McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, A-Rod. And the idea that this sport which is loaded with cheaters had this one man who dominated all those cheaters around him? Way too good to be true, sorry.

  6. Investigating Lance is almost as much of a waste of money as it was investigating Clinton for having his doda slurpled.

    I dont see how any person that has a grip on reality can say Lance did not dope or use everything he could to be better. It is the nature of professional sports.

    We are in a society that praises winners over everything else. 2nd place is first loser. Its like gladiators, live or die. When you have this in a sport along with millions of dollars involved you will have those looking for any edge possible.

    How about taking away endorsements and huge prizes from competitions?

    Doping is a large part of professional sports. Accept it or take the huge piles of money out of the equation if you want to fix it.

  7. The FBI almost never opens investigations they can't take to conviction. They're a bit like the NCAA that way... if you hear that your school is under NCAA investigation, you can be pretty sure that something bad is about to happen. They just don't announce that they've opened investigations until they have some sort of damning evidence in hand.

    If I were a fan of Lance Armstrong, I wouldn't be holding out much hope at this point.

  8. Had to revisit this after all the new stories about lance. I simply look at it this way.
    Change the stories, give Roger Clemens cancer in the mid 90s. He comes back, wins Cy Youngs and Series rings, just like he did in real life. He starts the LiveMens (workshopping) foundation, is all over, an inspiration, etc. and everything from lance's story.
    Then Make Lance a guy who was good, got better, dominated, never failed a test, but had loads of people saying he was dirty.

    Clemens would be defended and Lance would be villified.

    I've never had cancer, so I don't know the mentality of a guy who faced death and fought back that hard. But I think it's plausible that he thought that he wasn't going to waste this second chance, and would do everything he could to win. More training (with a mental strength that comes from his experience) and better drugs. Yes, the cancer might come back with those drugs, but this can easily be rationalized by someone with the fact that the cancer can always come back no matter what you do. If he thought it possible the cancer is back in 5-10 years, might as well go all out before it does. Pure conjecture, but there example of hundreds of other athletes who pumped chemicals in their bodies to make money and win titles when they had every reason to expect a normal lifespan.

    I think if you try to remove the emotion of his story, the foundation, and how great it was to see an american dominate the sport for so long, it becomes the same story you have with sosa, bonds, mcgwire, and clemens.