Keeping Score

 Who is this man and how can he help clean up cycling?

The reactions to Lance Armstrong’s decision not to enter arbitration have been as varied as the colors of the rainbow. Their sheer diversity is surprising if only because of some of the emotionally charged comments on Facebook and Twitter (not to mention RKP’s comments section) are as irrational as the number i and even harder to understand. I don’t begrudge anyone their feelings about Armstrong, cycling or this case, but I think it might be helpful to keep a bit of score.

Cleaning Up Cycling
I’ve seen any number of assertions, even some by the mainstream media that this has somehow served as an important step toward cleaning up cycling. Armstrong may have been charged with participating in an organized doping program, but he was only one of the hydra’s many heads. Removing him from that operation didn’t kill it. Amended results notwithstanding, Johan Bruyneel has lost the last two Tours de France and judging from this year’s performances by Team RadioShack, the one-time master of all things grand tour seems to have lost his touch, so the point there may be moot. Even if Bruyneel is banned from the sport, his was only one of many systematic doping programs; he was less an instigator (think Ferrari) than a facilitator, a manager. One can be virtually assured that somewhere on this planet some team manager is attempting an end-run on the system.

Will cycling be cleaner after this case? It’s unlikely. No amount of punishment meted out on the Texan will likely convince any rider who is currently doping to stop the practice. Those riders look at the fact that they haven’t been caught yet and are likely to be able to continue what they do. And riders who aren’t doping, but are wrestling with whether or not to start will mostly likely view this in terms of big fish/little fish. Armstrong was a big fish, they will reason, and subjected to a great deal more scrutiny. They are, by comparison, very small fish, and in their thinking, unlikely to receive the same amount of scrutiny, allowing them to fly under the radar.

The bigger refutation to the idea that cycling will be cleaner is that the techniques being used to accomplish doping are generally not the ones that were used by Armstrong and co. A retroactively produced documentary directed by Martin Scorcese wouldn’t uncover every detail of what was done during Armstrong’s run. More specifically, while transfusions may still be in use, the methods used to mask them have certainly evolved, which brings us back to the point that this case doesn’t fix today’s doping.

Doping: 1
Clean Cycling: 0

Knowing the Truth
Many of Lance Armstrong’s detractors have itched themselves into oozing meth sores waiting for Tygart’s inquiry to divulge the full story about Armstrong’s doping. From what was taken, to how much was paid, to the methods used to evade detection, to the bribes paid (and to whom) down to the name and Social Security number of every rider who ever doped on that team, people wanted flesh. While the fat lady hasn’t hit the stage, Armstrong’s decision to forego arbitration means we are unlikely to see full transcripts of the grand jury testimony, particularly the testimony from George Hincapie, David Zabriskie, Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde, which has reportedly resulted in six-month suspensions they will serve after the season ends.

Again, to the degree that the merit of the outcome of this case was based on learning the truth, we’ve been denied that satisfaction. While the cycling world may be convinced that Armstrong used PEDs, there is an even larger population for whom believing Armstrong is a persecuted innocent is as easy as believing that the next Mega Millions jackpot is theirs.

I don’t want to get into a semantic argument on the nature of truth, but it’s worth asking if those who desire the truth be exposed will only be satisfied if the entire world arrives at the conclusion that Armstrong doped—an outcome that may not be possible in a world where we parse the varieties of rape. However, if they can be satisfied if only the cycling world believes Armstrong to be guilty while the prevailing story about him is that he was the victim of a witch hunt, then it’s worth asking if their desire for the full story is meant to satisfy their personal curiosity, which is a less noble motivation.

Doping: 2
Clean Cycling: 0

Playing to Lose
There’s a lot of talk that in doping, Armstrong didn’t level the playing field because each rider responds to doping products and methods differently. While that is true, here’s another fundamental truth: Every clean rider is different. Pros have widely varying VO2 maxes, maximum and resting heart rates and lactate thresholds. You line up for a race hoping that your training has been sufficient to overcome any genetic shortcomings you might have. There is no level playing field.

There’s an oddly relevant scene early in Douglas Adams’ book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Adams describes a drinking game played by the character Ford Prefect that involved something called Old Janx Spirit and telekinetic powers. The loser of the game was forced to perform a stunt that was “usually obscenely biological.”

Then came the line, “Ford Prefect usually played to lose.”

I was a teenager when I read this and the thought that someone might want to deliberately lose a drinking game was funnier than a Monty Python movie. However, it started within me a more serious meditation on why someone might enter any contest with the intention of losing. I didn’t come up with an answer for situations that didn’t involve anything “obscenely biological” until I came to appreciate the nomination process in American politics, a place where people with neither the qualifications nor chance of becoming president will run for the office as a way to angle for a job better than the one they have. More recently, though, I’ve come to see riders who chose to race clean during the height of the EPO problem—we’re talking mid-1990s through the turn of the century—in a similar light.

Given that the vast majority of results from that era are dominated by riders who we know doped, riders who lined up for any race big enough to warrant television coverage without veins filled with rocket fuel were bringing fingernail clippers to an air strike. They were playing to lose.

The problem isn’t that they lacked ambition or a work ethic; rather, it seems that those riders brought morality into what has effectively been an amoral system. The only proven way to win during that era was to dope.

Doping: 3
Clean Cycling: 0

Justice Served
I’ve seen a few people compare Lance Armstrong to Jerry Sandusky. The comparison goes like this: Lance Armstrong did more good than bad because he gave lots of people hope and sold a bunch of bikes and those people outnumber the riders he cheated out of winning by doping. Similarly, Jerry Sandusky did more good than bad by giving underprivileged kids the opportunity to participate in sports, and those kids outnumber the kids he sexually assaulted. It’s an obscene comparison because you can’t equate the soul-shattering violence of a sexual assault—an event that can destroy a person’s ability to sustain intimate relationships—with cheating. Each of Sandusky’s crimes was personal, committed one-on-one. Conversely, while there’s no doubt that riders like Christophe Bassons were harmed by Armstrong’s methods, they were victimized by more than just Armstrong—most of the peloton, actually—and they suffered more as collateral damage. Events such as Armstrong chasing down Filippo Simeoni are more serious than simple collateral damage, but even that is a light year from sexual assault.

A much greater illusion is the idea that justice has been served. Imagine you live in a neighborhood where nearly every car runs the red light between you and the corner store, making a milk run pointlessly suicidal. Suppose that the police swoop in with a huge dragnet and ticket only one driver. Granted, he drove faster than anyone else through the light, but with only one of hundreds of drivers out of the picture, justice has yet to be served because it’s still not safe to walk to the store.

Justice will be served once the peloton is essentially clean. Essentially is an important modifier here; cycling will never be quit of doping, but a mostly clean peloton is a realistic goal. Until we’re there, we don’t have justice.

Doping: 4
Clean Cycling: 0

Following the Money
The majority of the money that floats the cycling teams competing in the world’s biggest races comes from outside the sport. For the most part, the men responsible for sponsoring these teams aren’t cycling fans. Unlike those of us who follow what’s happening in cycling on a daily basis, for them, cycling is an occasional blip on the news radar. When you look at cycling through their lens, most of the news about cycling in the last five years hasn’t been good. In the United States, nearly every occasion that has brought cycling to any sort of headline capacity has been doping. Armstrong has been making headlines lately, but before that it was Contador being stripped of a Tour de France. To give you some idea just how hard it is for cycling to make national headlines, most of the accounts I read barely made the nullification of his Giro performance a footnote. Before Contador the last time cycling made real headlines was in 2011 when Tyler Hamilton appeared on “60 Minutes” and the only reason that merited news was because of his previous relationship to Armstrong.

When you factor out Armstrong, doping and the Olympics, the national media hasn’t found an American cyclist worthy of a headline since Floyd Landis won the Tour de France. Think about that for a moment. That’s six years.

Nike has already signaled that they are standing by Armstrong. They are one of the only companies on the planet with the marketing genius in-house to figure out how to spin this into a “Lance is still the man” ad campaign. Because of their reach and the fact that they sit at the top of the pyramid of sports brands, there are few companies as well-equipped to weather such a storm. That said, don’t think they aren’t gunshy; it’s worth noting that you don’t see them lining up behind Tejay Van Garderen just yet. We may not see Nike sponsor another cyclist as long as Phil Knight lives.

I’ve spoken to people in the hunt for non-endemic (outside the industry) sponsorship for four different teams. They all reported the same challenge: the number one conversation killer is doping scandals. For many companies, the potential damage to their brand that would come as a result of a doping scandal makes the sport too great a risk. Again, these are companies that aren’t in the bike industry.

There is odd relationship at work. Bike companies don’t factor in these considerations; they are all-in as it were. Specialized isn’t about to start sponsoring sprint cars or bass fishermen. Surprisingly, when a sponsored athlete gets popped for doping, their reputation doesn’t take the sort of hit that a company like T-Mobile or Festina did, companies whose names became synonymous with doping scandals. An athlete who tests positive is still an embarrassment, but they get a bye on the image-pummelling that companies outside the industry can’t afford to face.

For all those who think that we’ve already hit the nadir for cycling sponsorship, consider that the Armstrong affair isn’t actually over. There’s still a chance that there could be civil lawsuits regarding Armstrong’s winnings and the names of the US Postal Service (an organization that really can’t afford any more bad publicity) and the Discovery Channel will be buried in more mud than can be found at a monster truck rally.

Not enough? Consider the number of teams that operated with a “this space for rent” status in the last five years: Team Columbia-High Road, Garmin-Slipstream, Cervelo Test Team and Leopard-Trek, just for starters. We can add Liquigas-Cannondale to that list because bike companies—even companies as large as Specialized and Trek—don’t have the kind of cash handy to step into a title sponsor or co-sponsor spot. When you see their names in a title-sponsor spot (e.g. Liquigas-Cannondale), it’s a sign that the team is shy of their sponsorship goals.

But wait, the problem is worse than that. Imagine how executives at Faema would be sweating if WADA decided to go back and retroactively amend the rules so that they could investigate all of that team’s riders, especially Eddy Merckx. Who would want to risk a sponsorship in a sport where you could be embarrassed decades after your sponsorship has ended? I haven’t checked eBay lately, but last I knew there were no active auctions for time bombs.

Doping: 0
Clean Cycling: 0 (everyone loses if there’s no sponsorship)

The disparity between the way USADA pursues American athletes and the lengths that the Spanish federation goes to defend its athletes has made a mockery of the judicial process. That no American athletes have moved to Spain and taken out a Spanish license may be the best single argument currently for just how clean the American peloton is. If I were a doped cyclist, I’d have purchased an apartment in Girona and renounced my citizenship by now. It would be my insurance plan against Travis Tygart nuking my life.

While I think it’s a travesty to have a guy like Tygart, who seems to hold a hostility for cyclists, running USADA, I can say that I’d feel a bit differently if he were running WADA. Were every pro cyclist subject to his scrutiny that might help the sport as a whole. I think it would force him to reevaluate his priorities and we might see a different mission in just what he pursued. With more on his plate, I have some small degree of faith that he’d have to chase the present with more verve, which is how cycling will get cleaner.

Doping: 1
Clean Cycling: 0

Final Score
We don’t need a recap to know that clean cycling hasn’t fared well against these issues, which is why even though cycling is significantly cleaner than it has been at any point in its history, it is still easily embarrassed and as a result, underfunded. If professional cycling is going to survive and reach a place where the average member of the public is willing to believe that cycling is a clean sport, some big changes are going to need to take place.

House must be cleaned at the UCI. The organization has been part of too many alleged coverups and has shown too little leadership to hold our faith that they understand what the public and sponsors demand. Pat McQuaid needs to resign and then people who understand the importance of the fight against doping must be hired.

What this really comes down to is that testing must improve. But how? Most of the riders out there make so little they can’t support a family on their income, so asking them to give up more of their income to fund testing is as thoughtful as asking them to give up a finger. Or two. It’s not unrealistic to tax the incomes of the top 200 riders to help pay for more testing for them. Still, that’s not a great source of funding for more testing because a sponsorship drought means that incomes for many riders are depressed. Increasing the ask for potential sponsors is unlikely to achieve the results we seek.

So who can pay? Here’s a suggestion: The Amaury Sport Organization, RCS Sport and other event organizers. They’ve got skin in the game—every time a rider tests positive at one of their races, that’s bad press for the race and the organizer is embarrassed. So far ASO and other race organizers have been intransigent on the point of sharing revenue from TV rights. While seemingly every other sport on the planet shares TV revenue, bike races have had an unusual relationship with television because they have not needed facilities owned by the teams in which to stage races—think stadiums. The use of open roads combined with a notoriously weak riders’ union has allowed ASO and others to keep millions upon millions of euro any other sport would long since have divvied up. No one else has both the pockets and the need to clean cycling up that the ASO does. No one man can do more to help reform cycling than ASO’s head, Christian Prudhomme, pictured above.

By having race organizers pay for more testing we could achieve some of the aim of revenue sharing, without making it an open-ended request for the checkbook. It would be a way to move things in the right direction.

Testing needs to be more frequent for more riders. It’s impossible to say that will fix things, but more testing and better testing will help. And if the sport has fewer doping scandals—in particular, fewer scandals at the very top—then cycling will seem like a better investment and finding sponsors won’t be as hopeless an endeavor as tilting at windmills.


Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. e-RICHIE

    Since you are bringing in Prudhomme and the TDF into the equation…

    I think the TDF model and all grand tours should be abolished. They have jumped the shark. The sport is hard enough without using a 100 year old business model served up fresh every summer. The schedule runs almost 10 months long. For some, the sport is July in France. Not only is the event the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest of bicycle racing with a little Depression Era dance marathon action thrown in, it’s not even a race for most of those pinning on a number. Teams and sponsors want to be part of the dance because of the exposure it brings. They are there to sell much more than they are there to win anything atmo. A breakaway, a failed one at that, could provide more airplay for a brand than it could ever hope to get in a print ad campaign or similar. And then there are the physical aspects of the three week event. The demands are beyond reasonable. If you need that explained then I should stop typing now.

    All of the worst that is pro cycling has ties to grand tours. Give me a one day classic any day of the week. I only follow the TDF and Giro because these races have monopolized the June and July schedule such that little else makes a radar. Yes, I am sure there are some other kinda’ sorta’ mildly important races occurring at this time. But all the world stops when the tours are on. For sake of sanity, for the sake of humanity, and for the sake of keeping another generation of racers from turning themselves inside out simply to finish trying to digest those frankfurters, I say the race must end.

    The tours must reinvent themselves into events that allow racers to race within normal physical boundaries. Fine – you want them to climb the Tourmalet or have 80kph sprint finishes on city streets so that you can sell product? We don’t need three weeks of it or the pageantry and baggage that comes with it. The recent JV Op-Ed piece, the pending book written with Tyler, the USADA ordeal with Lance – these are all part of the baggage that our sport carries as a result of these demanding and inhumane events. Go to the window and scream, “Three weeks is too long and I am not going to take it anymore atmo.”

    The Tour de France may have had relevance back when the mission statement was to increase the readership of L’Auto. Over time it has allowed itself to become the bicycle racing equivalent of competitive eating. The event has eaten its own and has consumed too many generations of youngsters whose dreams include pinning on a number in France in July. To use the parlance of the street, I think this shit is a nightmare not a dream, and the event organizers need to burn it all down and start over, if at all.

  2. KK

    Padraig, I appreciate your analysis, but in this case I think you took aim and fired at the wrong target.

    What should the USADA do when presented with evidence that an athlete under its jurisdiction doped? And worked with others in a systematic program to dope and promote doping over the span of a decade at the highest levels of sport? And what if that evidence implicates the sport’s governing body in enabling, covering up and profiting from that doping?

    If the answer is anything other than what USADA just did, I would love to hear it. It seems to me that Tygart and USADA were fulfilling their obligations to enforce the rules regarding PEDs. You can argue those rules are bad for sport, athletes, and business, which may be so. But until they change, their enforcement shouldn’t be discretionary. The comparison of USADA and the Spanish federation isn’t mockery of the judicial process: it’s stark evidence of the Spanish federation’s failure. You can argue, like Armstrong, that the enforcement process isn’t fair. Judge Sparks got to make the call on that issue, and he disagreed.

    USADA’s job doesn’t include saving cycling from itself, but in my opinion USADA may give cycling its best opportunity to do so. I agree with you: the UCI needs a reboot. The business of pro cycling needs structural changes. If the USADA’s evidence against Armstrong and the others shows what they claim it does, there might be, possibly, enough pressure and cover from ASO, sponsors, team owners, the star riders and maybe even from the peloton to start the process in earnest.

    No, exposing Armstrong as a doper won’t clean up cycling, but it is the right thing to do, and it may be a catalyst for lasting changes.

  3. gad2357

    A mathematical comment:

    i (the square root of negative 1) is an imaginary number. It is not a real number. In mathematics, the real numbers are made up of the rationals and the irrationals. So, i is not irrational (in the mathematical sense). Neither is it rational.

    “… as irrational as the number i…” Maybe, “…as irrational as the square root of 6..”

    See the “Number System” entry in Wikipedia:

    Sorry for the mathematical nitpicking. Thanks for RKP

  4. AC

    KK – I thought Judge Sparks opinion wasn’t that he disagreed with Armstrong’s allegation that the enforcement wasn’t far, but that it wasn’t a matter he had jurisdiction on. As in, Armstrong says USADA is violating his constitutional rights, but an individual agrees to play by the rules of the sanctioning body when competing in sanctioned events. Incompetence at the UCI, USAC, etc. is another matter.

    1. Author

      KK: I think the point that going after Armstrong is the right thing to do is simplistic and naive. By the same standard we should be going after Fausto Coppi. Is that really what you’re advocating? And as AC note, Sparks’ ruling was based not on merit but jurisdiction.

      Gad2357: You’re absolutely right, but I hope you’ll respect my use of i was less literal than literary. 😉

  5. KK

    AC – That was a loose description on my part. Sparks ruled that Armstrong’s due process claim lacked merit (the fairness/constitutional rights argument) The Court declined to intervene on the jurisdiction issues.

  6. David Hendry

    It is all very simple. The money goes to the winners. The also rans get virtually nothing. Those who wish to get rich and or famous will do anything necessary to do so and then if and when they are caught will pay the price and walk away. After all this is over Lance Armstrong has become a millionaire and will remain a millionaire because he did what he needed to do to win. The punishments will never match the payments for winning unless they start to include incarceration etc.

  7. Hank

    This is really not about Lance. That’s were you completely miss the mark. His was not the only name in the charging letter and while his was the most well known it was far from the most important. Lance would have not made it past his first positive in ’99 without the collusion of the UCI. The USADA it is reported to have evidence that the UCI squelched a positive test at the Tour de Suisse and that it ignored suspect bio passport numbers during hi come back.

    Ferrari, Del Moral, Bruyneel and the management of the UCI. That’s where you change the doping status quo -with the management of the sport. The cyclists, even the biggest stars are not in the drivers seat. Lance could have been a cooperating witness as all his team mates were and this could have focused on where this should be focused the sports management and enabling infrastructure but Lance himself prevented that.

    Focusing on just one slice of this case and ignoring the entire investigation allows you to paint this as a vendetta against one pro which won’t change anything. You say the UCI must clean house, yet ignore that the UCI is being challenged in this investigation. How else would the UCI’s hand be forced other then exposure like this? I think your selective coverage of this case is really dishonest and a disservice to anyone interested in a cleaner sport.

  8. Fausto's Schnauzer

    RE: Six month suspensions for witnesses.

    Has this been verified in any way? It first came out of Johan’s mouth in an interview during the TdF, Lance tweeted about it and put in on his Facebook, the “Let me get this straight…” post. After that it was repeated by the mainstream press and much of the cycling press, but no source or verification has ever been cited to my knowledge.

  9. KK

    My original question was What should the USADA do when presented with evidence that an athlete under its jurisdiction doped?

    “By the same standard we should be going after Fausto Coppi. Is that really what you’re advocating?”

    I’ll assume, in my naivete, that you reference Coppi as an exaggeration to make a point, because Coppi, even if subject to WADA/IOC rules, is well beyond any statute of limitation, and is dead: either condition precludes ‘going after’ him.

    But if (choose another strawman/retired but living rider) meets the criteria of working under the jurisdiction of an anti-doping agency and is within the 8 year statute of limitations, what is your justification for that agency (not ‘we’) failing to investigate and present the evidence? Do the WADA/USADA/IOC rules permit such discretion? If not, you are arguing for violating them. What should USADA do?

    Sparks ruling is online for all to read. It is very well written. The relevant summary in on page 2.

    1. Author

      KK: WADA has proposed a rule change so they can go after Armstrong all the way back to 1998, well outside the current statute of limitations. If they are willing to do that, then why not 1968—the start of Merckx’ grand tour victories—or perhaps 1940—the first of Coppi’s Giro wins?

      So no, I’m not exaggerating, they are.

  10. KK


    We seem to have drifted quite a bit from your original post re: USADA and Tygart and my comment in response. My question, cited twice above, remains.

    Regarding the proposed draft rules (you’ll have to point me to the evidence that the Armstrong case had any bearing on them) which if adopted will take effect in 2015 extend the statute of limitations from 8 to 14 years for, it seems to me, the dealer, not the user. Pretty much in line with criminal drug policy, FWIW. Riders who don’t dope, of course, will be unaffected by the proposed changes.

    Of course, it’s easy to imagine scenarios where there is no statute of limitations, and cheaters will always be in jeopardy of being caught and punished. It wouldn’t bother me if cheaters slept a bit less easy than those who didn’t cheat. In reality, there aren’t enough resources to make that practical.

    Cheers for the conversation.

    Links to clean and marked up versions here.
    No anti-doping rule violation proceeding may be commenced against an Athlete or
    other Person for an anti-doping rule violation contained in the Code unless such
    action is commenced within fourteen (14) years from the date the violation is
    asserted to have occurred when the violation involves Article 2.7 (Trafficking),
    Article 2.8 (Administration), Article 2.9 (Complicity), or Article 10.6 (Aggravating
    Circumstances); or within eight (8) years from when the violation is asserted to
    have occurred for all other anti-doping rule violations.

  11. grolby

    Padraig, it’s the charges leveled by USADA that allow them to prosecute doping offenses that took place beyond the normal statute of limitations. KK has provided the relevant rule – this isn’t USADA proposing a new rule, it is within the rules as they currently exist.

    I don’t agree with your analysis of USADA’s motives or the significance of prosecuting Armstrong with respect to the current anti-doping fight, but I can see that what we both ultimately want is a sport that is safe for those who choose not to cheat, where doping is under control* and culturally frowned upon, and an effective governing body free of corruption and scandal. So cheers to that! I have some hope that this case will help lead us in that direction. The next few months will see if that hope is justified.

    *Put that way because dope-free sport is a shibboleth, however badly we want it. Successful mitigation, where doping is rare, relatively ineffective and tough to hide, is both a laudable and realistic goal – given effective enforcement and positive culture.

  12. grolby

    I forgot to add: if the UCI disagrees that this rule applies to the US Postal Conspiracy case, they are free to appeal USADA’s imposed sanction to CAS. Personally, I think they would be unwise to do so, but they have that option.

  13. Md


    I’ll admit I’ve never liked Lance and have wanted him to be “the first against the wall when the revolution comes” ever since he did his I’m the greatest routine in Oslo back in 1993. The thing is though if the USADA is right and Armstrong is guilty then all the other things he’s done, Livestong and such, has been built on a platform of lies. I contributed to his charity a few times and bought the ugly wristband because while I didn’t like the man, I respected his achievement. A columnist in my local paper wrote the other day that “cancer has a way of making stuff like sports and lies and petty betrayals pretty insignificant”, but because I bought into the “I beat cancer and won the tour so please donate” schtick I feel that he’s cheated me personally. For that, for the hubris, the bullying, the defamations and all the other things I really am glad to see him finally get his comeuppance.

  14. bcampbell

    Wrote something longer on why it is sad that cheating doesn’t seem to matter to a lot of folk – decided there wasn’t a lot of point.

    He did it. He did it big. He did it for a long time. He knew what would happen if he was exposed.

    As he said “Don’t cry for me”

  15. Travis

    I’m sorry, but a six month out of competition suspension and they are still riding? USADA wants a clean sport and we all want a clean sport then all of them, even Vande velde, leipheimer, et al need lifetime bans and all winnings stripped. They admitted doping then they should be out for good! No managing, no consulting, nothing, nada, zip. I really have no love for LA, but I do think the rules need to be applied unilaterally across all of cycling and sport.

  16. scaredskinnydog

    @DavidA, almost snarfed my coffee all over the keypad. Ah yes, Pot Belge the doping choice of REAL MEN.
    Director- “Here, take this just before the start”
    Rider- “What will it do”
    Director- “Make you so wacked out of your mind you won’t feel a thing”
    Rider- “are there any side effects?”
    Director- “Well yes, it may cause you to spontaneously explode after the finish”
    Rider- “After the finish? O.K. sounds good!”

  17. Andre

    Pedraaig, I think it is an excellent post, it brings a lot of important points in a clear an entertaining way. I am not Lance Armstrong fan, actualy like cycling more now when he is not around.
    Taking into account the cycling scene in the 1990s, I would be surprised if Armstrong was clean, but this is becoming a secondary issue here.
    USADA has every right to expose Armstrong as a doper if they have a clear evidence. Where they went too far is stripping Lance of his TDF victories before they presened any evidence. Because now it’s time to show us the goods. If everything they have are few depositions in exchange for leniency, they will look like malicious idiots in the court of public opinion. And Lance Armstrong will win again.

  18. Jim S

    Neither the FDA nor the USADA investigations have been about Lance doping. That ship sailed a long time ago. (When 6 vials of EPO-laced urine from the ’99 Tour surfaced during validation of the EPO test in ’01)

    Since Floyd and Tyler came clean publicly*, it’s been about Lance being The Guy organizing the doping – getting the dope, teaching guys to use it, getting equipment to monitor blood values and teaching others how to use it to avoid positives, making sure riders know their livelihood depends on a) doping and b) keeping their mouth shut. With USADA, it’s also about UCI corruption; about Lance bribing the UCI to cover up positives.

    Taking down the UCI is an altogether different game than just taking one rider down, even a rider of Lance’s stature; it really does strike at root causes. And exposing systemic team-organized doping at Postal/Disco, organized by Lance himself? Well, that’s just gravy. (And the best thing to happen to the sport since Operacion Puerto.)

    Tygart has said he has no obligation to keep the evidence sealed and it will be made public after the complete process runs its course. We’re only maybe 1/3 of the way through this. Lance getting bounced out of the sport is not the main show.

    Personally, I think doping sanctions need to apply to teams, not just riders. As long as a team can set up a doping program and then throw a rider under the bus when they turn up positive, I don’t think anything will change.

    There’s no way these guys ride day-in and day-out next to a juiced rider without knowing it. As it is, they keep their mouth shut and when/if he turns up positive it’s a mealy-mouthed PR release by the team about disappointment with the rogue doper, then life goes on. Pure “heads I win, tails you lose” for the team, all benefit if the guy gets good results undetected and no real impact if he does get caught. That has to change.

    Create rules for them to police themselves. I doubt teammates and staff would tolerate a guy doping if it jeopardizes their own paychecks. Set it up so that if a rider tests positive, he gets his two year ban and the team – mechanics, DSs, masseuses, riders, everyone – get two months suspended without pay. (If the team exposes the doping, there is no sanction.) 2nd rider on team goes positive, whether it’s the same season or not, and team is suspended for the rest of the year. Three strikes and they are all done for life. It’s absurd that the Phonak management (9? 11? positives in two years) now runs BMC, one of the biggest teams in the sport. Evans, Phinney and Van Garderen clean? I laugh.

    * As for the “witch-hunt” or “personal vendetta”, how can USADA *not* follow up on Floyd and Tyler’s testimony?

  19. Jesus from Cancun

    I agree with Andre. Few people seems to have thought about it that way.

    I think Padraig hit the nail in the head. I finally read a proposal rather than just factoids and opinions. I don’t know which strings pull what, but it makes a lot of sense to have the ones who make the most out of professional racing contribute the most to the anti doping fight.

    Will they listen?

  20. Debbie in Alamo Heights

    So I’m still a little unclear. Padraig, do you think the USADA’s inquiry into the organized doping scheme involving Lance was worthwhile?


  21. Paul

    The ASO tried with the 2008 Astana ban. Did that make a difference? It was a disappointment to me to miss Contador.

    I don’t see how clean cycling could get a positive score.

    Anyway, looking forward to watching the Gateway Cup in St Louis this weekend

  22. Rod Diaz


    We disagreed previously and we found that we have more in common than our (passionately) held differences.

    I have a few points to make here:

    Your conclusion is completely in accordance with mine – the UCI is under severe accusations of corruption and collusion and needs to respond to these or be fully overhauled. If the accusations of corruption are true, house must be cleaned and testing must be more reliable, effective and transparent.

    Now, in contrast to your method, I’ll work backwards. From these conclusions to the “causes”:

    First, it is doping scandals that hurt sponsorship and image. However, having OD’d dying cyclists won’t help either. So putting the responsibility of these damages on the antidoping agencies instead of the cheaters is at least a partial misallocation of guilt: it is the dopers fault that the reputation of the sport is tarnished. And maybe the system that let them get away with it successfully. Pantani and Ulrich were both ridiculed (if revered) for their doping and character foibles. I loved those two guys, but they still cheated. One paid with his life for his inability to cope with his failures. Why should we expect an antidoping agency to claim that an athlete is too big to fail and “bail him out” like a mega-bank?

    Secondly – sure, Bruyneel hasn’t “won” a TdF in a few years. But his influence is there. Same with the rest of the accused. And Livestrong-Trek is still a developing team. Now, in full speculation, if you were D. Phinney and knew the “score”, wouldn’t you have told your kid “hey boy, I love these guys to bits, but maybe look for another team. You know what I’m saying?” THIS IS FULL SPECULATION – and as much as it is saying that the alleged witnesses got a 6 month ban in the winter. We don’t know. But cyclists are not physiologists, and if someone is enabling them they should be denounced, outed, and sanctioned. Irrespective of whether they win or not. Kelme collapsed under these circumstances – because they were effing cheaters that almost killed their riders and finally got nabbed during Puerto. With no positive tests, I might add.

    Third – Justice will be served when the peloton is clean – agreed. But that is not a magic trick, it is a process. As long as it is not known and understood if and how doping practices go undetected, this is just a carousel. I wonder how much truth is in it that LA and Postal got 20 min. warning before testing. If you remember Triki Beltran (then with Liquigas), he was absolutely surprised that he was subject to a random test at the end of a stage. He tried to escape by doing some CX but still got tagged and tested positive. Do a video search, it is hilarious when you know the outcome.

    If it is a real level field – do all riders get these warnings? Do all the stars get the chance to shower before giving a sample after they claim a surprise AD agent has “dodgy” credentials? If Froome takes a few months off can he get the benefit of racing without 6 months of biopassport data? This all happened in Lance’s case. Is it ok if Vinokourov sends a donation of $100,000 to the UCI in name of the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan to improve antidoping? I am not upset that Lance got away with this, I am worried that all of the top guys might do right now!

    Now, the important bit. I take no pleasure in having LA going down. That it grew to these proportions is just a sign of the massive problems that seem to plague the UCI. If we are worried about scandals that drive away sponsors, shouldn’t we start by establishing a non-corrupt regulation body that operates transparently?

    I don’t see the above happening without an investigation of this magnitude. It is my deep regret that no evidence has been revealed. Hopefully Bruyneel will keep his case alive and all this will come up.

    PS – teams already pay for antidoping! Assuming that these organizations get an annual budget from sponsors, you can say that it indeed could come from cyclist’s pockets (otherwise, more would go to contracts). So, if instead of being managed by the UCI it is done by an appropriate third party, this conflict of interests disappears.

    Very sorry for the long post.

  23. peter lin

    As much as I would love to see professional sports get clean and stay clean, the facts are pretty clear. Of all the professional sports, why is it that cycling and LA are the target? What about football, basketball, track and other sports? AFAIK, boxers don’t have to submit to random spot checks, just at the fight. Football and baseball athletes have been using PED’s for a long time. The money in cycling is a drop compared to football and baseball. How many cyclists sign a 100 million contract?

    I do think USADA should do a better and more consistent job. Selectively targeting cycling to me shows hypocrisy. USADA has no moral superiority, they are just as corrupt as UCI. I’d rather go out for a ride. USADA has zero affect on me or my love of cycling. Professional sports is what it is, a money making business.

  24. MCH

    Padraig – If I understand your position correctly, you’re taking a very pragmatic view of history and the path forward, rather than a moral, regulatory, or legal view.

    In this view, professional cycling in Europe exists in 2 parallel universes. In one universe, the insider’s universe, everyone from the UCI down knows how the game is played. Those that chose not to dope or didn’t have the most sophisticated doping programs are more or less the same as those that didn’t train as much as they should, or didn’t use the best equipment. Again, everyone knew the (unwritten) rules, so the field was level. The core, unbreakable rule in this universe is never, ever, ever, pierce the veil of the 2nd, public, universe. Do this by getting caught doping and you will be condemned, disavowed, and exiled. All this is done in order to build and fortify the 2nd, fictional universe.

    The objective of the 2nd universe is to build cycling as a sport in the eyes of the sporting consumer. Putting on a good show, full of drama and heroes is critical in this universe. Anything or anyone who interferes with the greater good of this universe is attacked and marginalized. In short, this universe is all about mythology.

    Unfortunately, neither universe can be sustained, nor can they coexist (for long, one hopes) with the universe the rest of us inhabit. If this last statement is valid, and that’s still an open question, the debate should really be about the best path forward. Is the path small changes around the edges? Is it about continued prosecution of current and past offenders? Or is it attacking the really difficult issues: the imbedded structural corruption? The moral, regulatory, and legal discussions are interesting. But, as they tend to focus on the past, they don’t do much for the future.

  25. James

    I’m not a marketing guy, and I don’t want to go too tangential from i, but why do we assume, and accept as fact, that sponsorship dollars will dry up because Lance was busted? It seems to me that if there is TV coverage and a million people lining mountain or cobbled roads most weeks of the year, sponsors will continue to sponsor this show. They know this is a bit dirty, name a sport that they know isn’t.
    Also, TV coverage will not go away if they think people will tune in (unless they are German TV).
    This is just a market correction. It was going to happen sooner or later whether Lance was guilty or not. Sorry Trek, you need another cow, this one died… as all of them eventually do.
    Even Festina still sponsors cycling stuff.
    Sure Lance brought more fans to cycling. Did they all leave when he left? It is my understanding that most stayed. So, why are we convinced that there is an apocalyptic downside to Lance being Called Out?

    1. Author

      MCH: I’ve avoided using the term pragmatic because it seems to have such a pejorative ring to more idealistic types. Morality—doping is WRONG—clearly hasn’t had the desired effect, and rules—if you test positive, we will suspend you—hasn’t gotten the job done, either.

      I think it’s worth noting that until recently, in the first universe, the UCI was so willfully blind that they really didn’t know what was going on. The problem was that the UCI was so absent, so derelict in its duty, that cycling brought the scrutiny on itself. The big hue and cry about doping has always come following deaths—the second universe demanded a fix from the first universe. For example, testing increased after Tom Simpson died, and EPO only hit the radar after a bunch of Dutch riders died in their sleep. The UCI wasn’t testing for EPO because Andy Hampsten got dropped on hors categorie climbs by rouleurs.

      There is, unfortunately, a lot of history to suggest that these two universes will continue to collide. While the public wants clean cycling, cyclists who have managed to turn pro want to stay employed. Evidence has shown that the majority of doping has been done in an effort to keep up with the peloton, to remain competitive. Those two goals are inherently at odds.

      To your questions, it seems that we’ve made a lot of small changes around the edges. That hasn’t gotten the job done; if it had, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Prosecution will continue to be an important part of anti-doping efforts going forward; it has to be. But chasing the past means efforts to chase the present will continue to lag. USADA (and WADA as well) is an organization of limited funding. There’s no doubt we need to look at the UCI. I don’t think there’s a problem with its structure; the organization is fine, in theory. The problem with the UCI is one of leadership, and in that regard, they are woefully lacking.

      Moving on …

      I don’t really want to do a whole post on this, but I did some checking around on USADA. For the record, USADA’s 2011 (most recent year available) funding was $13.7 million. Now, keep in mind that’s a budget meant to cover testing for every sport that’s part of the Olympic movement. They tested athletes in 74 Olympic sports last year, some 8024 total tests. Of that $13.7M, they devoted $1.4M to “results management” which would include adjudication of cases. I was unable to find out how much of that was Armstrong, but attorneys I know have said they’d be shocked if USADA hasn’t already devoted a million to the Armstrong case.

      James: No one is assuming that sponsorship dollars will dry up because Lance was busted. This is not an assumption. People who actually deal with sponsorship pitches have told me that in conversations with potential sponsors, those conversation end more often than not because of the potential damage that could be done to a brand by a doping scandal. These aren’t guesses. These are money people saying “no” and taking the time to tell cycling teams why they are saying “no.” The fact that Festina still sponsors cycling means nothing to the thousands of companies that refuse to enter the sport. Also, no one is saying that sponsor dollars will dry up. It’s not that there will be no money for cycling, it’s that the sport would like to be better funded; most teams would like more sponsorship to run a superior program. Some teams can’t even get off the ground because they can’t find enough funding to field a team. Finally, regarding TV, cycling isn’t televised because a network thinks people will tune in. A network televises cycling because they’ve found a way to fill air time with something they can sell advertising for. What ultimately drives cycling on TV is the ability of ad sales people to sell cycling viewers as an attractive viewership. Cyclists are an attractive demographic; they are educated, high earners who appreciate quality. The lack of advertisers is why the Vuelta isn’t on TV in the U.S.

  26. noel

    Sky are getting a huge bang for their buck in the UK right now, absolutely massive. Ok some (mostly outside the UK) think their performance is a bit smelly, but I’ll be amazed if a few other corporates aren’t looking a bit jealously at the exposure they’ve had this year for a relatively small outlay

  27. John Kopp

    I have been a bike racing fan since Greg Lamond won the TDF, and have followed many of the doping cases since. I am most bothered by the complete disregard of athletes due process rights and lack of scientific bases for many of the tests by WADA and the national ADA’s. I have no respect for them and do not believe anything they say. Michael Hiltzer has a good opinion column in the LA Times on this.,0,2080853.column?page=2&utm_medium=feed&track=rss&utm_campaign=Feed%3A%20latimes%2Fmostviewed%20%28L.A.%20Times%20-%20Most%20Viewed%20Stories%29&utm_source=feedburner
    These organizations need to be abolished, or at least reined in to severely limit their power. It is USADA’s arogance that leads people to not believe their charges.
    Wsquared post says it all.

  28. Doug L

    I too think that justice lost, and that this should be much, much more concerning to all of us. We need to take a step back and consider our history, during which there are two (and many more) very obvious examples of the dangers of believing word of mouth as absolute truth: 1) Salem witch trials – people were burned at the stake because of “10” people accusing them of witchcraft (evidence according to many); and 2) McCarthy hearings (i.e., the Red Scare); people’s lives were ruined based on hearsay testimony of many “witnesses”. Have we not learned from our mistakes? I am not saying that there may not be truth to the undisclosed testimony (none of us know what was really said, do we?), but just want to point out that, until we see all of the evidence, we can’t make any kind of an informed decision or judgement. As a scientist, I never just blindly believe what I read or hear; I gather as much real empirical evidence (versus hearsay) as I can so that any conclusion made is well-supported and can withstand scrutiny. This is also the principle on which our judicial system is based, and has evolved into our moral compass as a country, that all people are to be afforded the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. In this case, Congress wrote a really bad law, granting an agency the authority to render decision without providing opportunity for an adequate defense (including discovery), and the USADA is taking advantage of it, knowing that the process, is fundamentally un-American.

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