Lance Armstrong's legacy as a cancer fighter remains "second to none" despite a damning report that labelled him as a serial drugs cheat, according to the president and chief executive of the cyclist's anti-cancer charity.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) accuses Armstrong of having orchestrated "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen" in the report that provided the written reasons behind their decision to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles and to ban him from sport for life.
The 41-year-old from Texas won those titles having overcome testicular cancer and set up the Lance Armstrong Foundation cancer charity, which celebrates its 15th anniversary later this month.
Doug Ulman, the foundation's president and chief executive, said in a statement: "Our long-standing concerns about the impartiality and fairness of Usada's proceedings are compounded today. As a federal judge pointed out, Usada appears motivated more by publicity rather than fulfilling its mission.
"Lance Armstrong's legacy as a cancer fighter is literally second to none. Because of his leadership and vision, the Lance Armstrong Foundation has served more than 2.5 million people affected by cancer over the last 15 years.
"His courage in speaking out about his own diagnosis sparked a cultural shift in this country in how we think about cancer survivors. His leadership helped produce a three billion-dollar investment in cancer research and prevention in Texas in 2007, with the passage of Proposition 15.
"Lance devoted six years to serving this nation on the President's Cancer Panel. His dedication to advancing the fight against cancer in the United States and throughout the world is unparalleled. We are deeply grateful for his leadership and incredibly proud of his achievements, both on and off the bike."
The president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), John Fahey, welcomed Usada's report and said in a statement: "The process followed by Usada has at all times been appropriate and careful, and in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code. The UCI now has 21 days to determine whether it wishes to appeal the case. Thereafter, Wada has a further 21 days to determine whether we will exercise our independent right of appeal. In the interim, it is obviously inappropriate for us to make further comments.
"We would like to commend Usada for having the courage and the resolve to keep focused in working on this difficult case for the sake of clean athletes and the integrity of sport."
Levi Leipheimer, one of 11 former US Postal team-mates of Armstrong whose testimonies provided the basis for the Usada report, was suspended for six months for his role in the doping programme and has now also been placed on non-active status by his current team Omega Pharma - Quick-Step.
Armstrong's reputation has been damaged beyond repair following Usada's publication of the reasons behind their sanctions against him.
The Texan decided earlier this year not to contest the Usada charges, but has always denied any involvement with doping and his lawyer Sean E Breen denounced the action as "a patently unfair, rigged process".
But according to Usada's chief executive, Travis T Tygart, there was "conclusive and undeniable proof" of a team-run doping conspiracy at Armstrong's US Postal Service team.
The "reasoned decision" document said: "Usada has found proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Lance Armstrong engaged in serial cheating through the use, administration and trafficking of performance-enhancing drugs and methods and that Armstrong participated in running the US Postal Service Team as a doping conspiracy.
"Armstrong and his co-conspirators sought to achieve their ambitions through a massive fraud now more fully exposed. So ends one of the most sordid chapters in sport's history."
Armstrong took to Twitter following the report's release to say: "What am I doing tonight? Hanging with my family, unaffected, and thinking about this."
The tweet contained a link to a press release highlighting the 15th anniversary gala celebrations of the Lance Armstrong Foundation cancer charity, and ended with the hashtag #onward.
For seven straight years, he beat everybody up the mountains and through the long valleys and around the frantic circuits of the time trials of the only race that mattered to him and his master plan. Win the Tour and you gain immortality.
A great champion like Greg LeMond could witness Armstrong barreling up some Alpine pass and insist that no human could possibly climb at that rate without doping. LeMond and some friends were righteous in their rage and suspicion. Yet other cyclists were testing positive even under the halfhearted efforts of the world cycling body.
Was Armstrong using some more potent drug, or using it more often? I doubt that. My guess is that cycling has been the ultimate level playing ground we all say we want for sports. It was also a lethal business, by the way: young Tour aspirants were falling off their machines, quite dead, because their altered blood was the thickness of tomato bisque.
The ones who really did not want to dope went away. Check out the recent essay “How to Get Doping Out of Sports,” by Jonathan Vaughters, in The New York Times Sunday Review.
Vaughters is a former Tour cyclist who is now running a proclaimed clean program that is competing in the Tour, in a different and vastly more supervised age. The one name you will not find in that essay is Lance Armstrong, who was the straw boss of the team during Vaughters’s short time around the Tour. Make no mistake: that personal history is the subtext for that essay, for Vaughters’s admission of doping.
Armstrong did all the hard training that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens did, for example — dominating his sport the way they dominated theirs. He was combative like them but also charismatic, with a cause far more compelling than theirs: as a survivor of a lethal cancer, he has a foundation that fights cancer. I am told by doctors that if he did take illegal cycling drugs, or even recreational drugs, they did not give him cancer, and also that his struggle with cancer and use of cancer drugs did not lead to his later dominance, except possibly for the weight loss that allowed him to handle the hills better. But he had always been a potential Tour champion.
As Armstrong kept winning the Tour, most people covering the sport were not tracking the whispers and the circumstantial evidence. The journalists David Walsh and Pierre Ballester wrote a book, “L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong,” published only in French in 2004. Armstrong’s lawyers have made sure the book was never published in English, but I can read French (with the help of a dictionary) and was tantalized by some details.
Maybe the most telling segment concerns an Irish masseuse named Emma O’Reilly, who was Armstrong’s personal kneader during the 1999 Tour. (She was also asked to make a mysterious run from Spain to France, to deliver some mysterious material across the border.)
During the 1999 Tour, O’Reilly said, her workload had been lightened when one cyclist, the aforementioned Vaughters, dropped out of the race. That left her more time to minister to Armstrong and one other rider. On the team bus, she claimed, she heard several top team officials fretting about a positive test by Armstrong for steroids. They were in a panic, saying: “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” Their solution was to get one of their compliant doctors to issue a prescription for a steroid-based ointment to combat saddle sores. If Armstrong had saddle sores, O’Reilly said, she would have known.
In “Confidentiel” (page 207), O’Reilly quotes Armstrong as telling her, “Now Emma you know enough to bring me down.”
That backdated doctor’s note in 1999 nullified the finding of steroids. Lance rode on. Five years later, during an early stage in Belgium, I referred to a “positive test” in 1999. One of Armstrong’s top advisers sidled up to me in a prerace staging area and said, in unmistakably legal terms, that a nullified result was not a positive test. I granted the legal distinction but always remembered the urgent and specific way that message was delivered.
That same time in Belgium, Armstrong was browbeating confidants to forget things they might have heard. I know some people who hate him for the tight way he ran the team, and for the threats they said he made. Over the years some associates said Armstrong had doped, or admitted doping. My position was that the sport was administering tests and that other cyclists were failing them. Got proof? I asked. Nobody really did.
Eventually the new scrutiny and other suits forced cycling to tighten up. It was too dirty to go on like that. Two disgraced champions sang on Armstrong: Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. The United States Anti-Doping Agency became, as the saying goes, interested in Armstrong. And finally, that most loyal and longstanding outrider of them all, George Hincapie, was forced to give testimony. Omertà goes only so far.
Armstrong now says he will not play their little game, satisfy their vendetta. He denies all. The world knows he won seven straight Tours, he says, and that is good enough for him.
Of all the legion of the lost, Armstrong most compares to Rose, who had a swagger and a crude charm and made his sport come alive. I still like some of Pete, too, but he did his complicated image a terrible disservice by not cutting his losses early and admitting that he had gambled on his sport. His hits were enough, he felt, but he was dead wrong.
Armstrong suggests that his seven Tours — his open superiority — will sustain him. Now he pays his lawyers and leaves the race maintaining his innocence. I always left the subject of innocence to the tests, to the authorities, to the labs. However, by his departure, I think Lance is trying to tell us something.Continue reading the main story