Up to 65% Off Road Bike Frames from Ridley, Pinarello, BMC & More at Competitive Cyclist + Free Shipping

Lance Armstrong, in context

I love the way that websites choose headlines to be deliberately provocative … to drive traffic.

  • From VeloNews.com: “Armstrong says he’d cheat again”
  • From CyclingWeekly: “Lance Armstrong: I’d probably dope again”
  • From USAToday: “Lance Armstrong: I would probably dope again”

And so on … and based on the comments all over Facebook and Twitter continue to express outrage at Armstrong’s hubris, but without taking everything into context.

The complete BBC interview prompting all of this hasn’t aired yet, but there is an 11-minute abridged version of it currently posted on the BBC’s website. The excerpt below puts things a bit more in context:

“It’s a complicated question, and my answer is not a popular answer. If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again, because I don’t think you have to. If you take me back to 1995, when it was completely and totally pervasive, I’d probably do it again. People don’t like to hear that.

“Yeah, that’s the honest answer, but it’s an answer that needs some explanation. When I made the decision – when my team-mates made that decision, when the whole peloton made that decision – it was a bad decision and an imperfect time. But it happened.

“I will tell you what I want to do. I would want to change the man that did those things, maybe not the decision, but the way he acted. The way he treated other people, the way he just couldn’t stop fighting. It was great to fight in training, great to fight in the race, but you don’t need to fight in a press conference, or an interview, or a personal interaction. I’d be fighting with you right now – I would be taking you on.

“That’s the man that really needed to change and can never come back. So it’s not an easy question, and I want to be honest with you. It’s not a popular answer, but what really needed to change was the way that guy acted.”

People are probably going to start accusing me of being an Armstrong apologist, and honestly, there is nothing further from the truth. There is absolutely no doubt that Armstrong was a cheat and a bully, but there is ample evidence that he was not the only one cheating.

There is a great article published on Sporting Intelligence a few weeks ago:

“In the 16 TdF races from 1998-2013 inclusive, the 160 top-10 places were filled by 81 different riders, and 31 of them (or 38 per cent) are confirmed dopers who have already been officially sanctioned by some body or other for their doping. These include Armstrong and some other major names and they are marked in red on our ‘Cycle of Suspicion’ graphic.

A further eight riders are known dopers who have never been sanctioned – and they are purple – and a further 14 riders on top are blue, denoting riders who are linked to doping or strongly suspected of doping but have not been proved to be so, definitely, yet.

Together, these three groups make up 65 per cent of the riders who finished in the top ten of the Tour de France in the 16 years under consideration. It would be a surprise in the fullness of time if it transpired that cycling was ‘only’ 65 per cent murky in the EPO era.

Of the 81 ‘top 10′ riders, just 28, or 35 per cent, remain unblemished, yet, and it’s little surprise that 20 of those 28 come from the Tours between 2010 and 2013; it is generally older riders who have been unmasked by the passage of time and retrospective testing of their samples.

So there are lots of questions and answers that I have come to realize over the past few years since this whole thing exploded.

Does Lance Armstrong deserve to be punished for cheating? Yes, absolutely. Did Lance Armstrong’s history as a complete and total asshole influence his punishment? Yes, absolutely and justifiably. Does Lance Armstrong deserve an opportunity for rehabilitation? Well, this is where things might start to get controversial, but I think yes. Do I think his ban should be lifted immediately? Not a chance, but as time passes, I think that a lifetime ban versus the minimal bans that riders who testified against him received may be a bit too much. I’m looking forward to seeing the report of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) when it is released in the next month or so for more information so help me further refine my thoughts on the issue.

As for the most controversial question of all, who won those 7 Tours de France from 1999-2005? With the the knowledge that a vast majority of the top-10 riders riders in that era were doping, it seems a bit incongruous to just leave the winner blank on the official records, especially since every single other podium place during those 7 years has been linked to doping at least indirectly, and all but 2 (Fernando Escartin and Joseba Beloki) directly.

In fact, from 1996-2014, you have to go all the way to 2007 before you find a single rider that has not been implicated or linked doping on the podium (with Cadel Evans’ 2nd place), and 2012 before you find a podium where it is generally assumed that all 3 riders on the podium are clean.

And if you go back to 1991, it’s even murkier, since it is widely assumed that Miguel Indurain may have also benefited from EPO use, and his other podium finishers have all generally been linked to doping as well.

As such, for the time being, I think it is only right and fair to list Lance Armstrong as the winner; but with a very large asterisk, not only next to his name, but next to the names of every other other podium finisher as well. Either that, or the UCI and Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) should wipe out all the results from the beginning of the EPO era in the early 1990s through 2010 or 2011. If there is going to be a gaping hole in the results, it should not be limited to a 7 year period.