Lance Armstrong. The seven-time Tour de France winner has decided that he no longer wants to fight the allegations that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is bringing against him. In a statement released on his website last night, Armstrong said "Enough is enough." He knows that this fight will probably go on for months and that even if he manages to clear his name yet again, he'll probably continue to be dogged by allegations and charges for years to come. Rather than face that ongoing battle, he has decided against taking his case to arbitration and simply accept the USADA's decision. He'll almost assuredly get a lifetime ban from competition and could potentially lose all of his Tour wins as well.
There has been a lot of hyperbole tossed around in the press over the past 12-hours or so, thanks in no small part due to statements made by Travis Tygart, the Chief Executive of the USADA. Tygart says that he can and will strip Armstrong of his seven Tour wins, despite the fact that he has no jurisdiction to do so. Only the International Cycling Union (UCI) or the Tour has the ability to do that and at this point we have no idea if or when they'll do that. The UCI has been in contention with the USADA over this investigation for some time and have spoken out against the process. They don't seem likely to want to cooperate with Tygart and his team. Officials from the Tour de France on the other hand, may see things differently.
Despite never failing a drug test throughout his career, reports indicate that the USADA has found two samples from 2009 and 2010 that indicate that there may have been efforts to mask the use of performance enhancing drugs. Lets be clear here. The samples don't show PED's in Armstrong's system, simply that there may have been steps taken to hide their use. Tygart is also said to have ten former teammates of Armstrong lined up to testify that he was doping while winning all of those races, although some believe that those other riders had little choice but to testify or face their own inquiries as well.
More than one critic of the USADA's investigation have called it a "witch hunt." Some have even hinted that there is a bit of a personal vendetta on the part of Tygart. His battles with Lance go back a number of years and his desire to catch Armstrong have continued despite the cyclists retiring. Twice. It should also be noted that the USADA moved ahead with it's investigation despite the fact that the U.S. Attorney General's Office dropped its case against Armstrong back in February. That investigation lasted for two-years and was abandoned for lack of evidence.
Some have wondered why this case is moving ahead now when Armstrong is no longer cycling competitively. While he was no longer on the international cycling circuit, Lance was competing in triathlons and doing quite well. He had planned on racing in the Ironman Championships in Hawaii this fall and by many accounts he was poised to have an impact on that sport as well. Despite the fact that he was retired from pro cycling, Armstrong was competing, just on a smaller stage. The lifetime ban from competition will ensure he doesn't take part in any sanctioned events again.
As a huge cycling fan I realize that the era in which Armstrong raced was one in which nearly everyone in the peloton was using some kind of performance enhancing drug or other method to gain an advantage. That doesn't excuse their use of course, it is just an acknowledgement that it was a different time for the sport. The UCI has taken great strides to clean up cycling and while they're not completely there yet, things have certainly improved over the past few years.
We'll have to wait and see how everything falls out with this case. The USADA will likely pass their brand of judgement very quickly. How the UCI and the Tour de France responds will be very telling. Either way, I'm sure Armstrong is looking forward to turning the page and moving forward. He still has a lot of good work to do with his Livestrong Foundation and I truly believe he is just plain tired of fighting these charges.
Whether or not he gets to keep those seven Tour wins remains to be seen. But fans of the sport and of Armstrong know who won those races out on the road. The results of this investigation won't change that.