Readers react and write in on the Lance Armstrong cover story and some of the additional writing I’ve done on the subject online. Feel free to send further commentary to me at tjmurphy@lavamagazine.com. —TJ Murphy

Reduce Armstrong’s Ban? No way

I saw the cover of Lava Magazine with the Lance Armstrong image and the article suggesting Lance Armstrong should be allowed to compete again at my LBS.

I just went to the LAVA website and reviewed your posting of Feb 27th.

I am compelled to respond and note that you have invited responses.

It is overly simplistic to compare the penalty given Mr. Armstrong to those who testified to USADA and admitted their own use of PEDs, and were given six month bans.

Mr. Armstrong was not just another run-of-the-mill user of PEDs and blood doping, his crimes are far greater than are the crimes of those who received six month bans.

Armstrong was: A systematic cheater almost his entire career in cycling (I cannot comment about his earlier triathlon career).  He bribed riders (eg. Roberto Gaggioli ) to let him win the “triple crown” of cycling in 1993.

There is evidence (what he told doctors while he had cancer, per Ms. Andreu) that he was using PEDs before he had cancer, not just while he was winning the seven Tours de France.

He lied under oath to keep the bonus from the insurance company (fraud).

He drove people out of cycling including Ms. O’Reilly, a soigneur on the team, accusing her of sleeping around, and French cyclist Christophe Bassons for telling the truth.

He encouraged teams and TV coverage to not hire Frankie Andreu after Frankie retired from racing.

He (along with Johan Bruyneel) pressured other riders on his teams to take PEDs and use blood doping.  This latter was probably also done by some other team leaders, and certainly many of the stars and probably a lot of the super-domestiques and domestiques were using PEDs and blood doping as well, but there are no stories circulating, or evidence available, that other teams and other team leaders were doing this to the great extent Armstrong and his team were.

Armstrong threatened some of those who were being called to testify.

It appears he has been lying his entire cycling career, and that he has not told the entire truth to the CIRC.  His actions beyond using PEDs and blood doping himself go well beyond what any other team leaders/dopers were doing.  He refused to testify to USADA (whereas everyone who received the six month bans agreed, and did so).  I wonder if he is a sociopath, and I believe he has acted like a thug.  My view is that he should be serving a prison sentence.

There is no place for a person like this in sport.

Are there others who should receive longer-than-six-month bans? Sure, some others have been banned for two years, and a few for life.  And if the CIRC comes up with evidence of egregious behavior by others — say perhaps evidence that Bjarne Riis pressured riders to dope for years (which by the way Dave Zabriskie says did not happen), or new evidence about team doctors procuring and administering drugs, I am in favor of lengthy and in some cases lifetime bans. And in particular, if it is established that past presidents of the UCI, or UCI staff were complicit, ban them!

Your posting asks how far back we should go; that is already answered.  There is a statute of limitations.  For example Ryder Hesjedal testified about PED use (including his own use), but was not given a ban because his use of PEDs was long enough in the past the statute of limitations kicked in.

I am in favor of the PED use before statute of limitations restrictions being made public, but no bans are appropriate.  If further evidence of PED use from Mecrkx, De Vlaeminck et al, so be it; better to have it exposed than covered up.  But the statute of limitations means no suspensions for them.

I am a masters racer, cat 3 55+.  From rumors going around the local racing scene, extraordinary performances in local races, and a couple of masters being suspended for PED use, I expect that some percentage (I believe it is quite small) of local racers are using PEDs/doping.  This is clearly cheating.  So is bribing and threatening.  There is NO PLACE FOR THIS IN SPORT!!! And we cannot make heroes out of those who do this.

I am generally pleased with the biological passport, the election of Brian Cookson,and have high hopes for what the CIRC report (which I hope to read).  I also read much of the USADA Reasoned Decision, including some of the rider testimony (the testimony of one rider who was pressured into using PEDs as a young rider new to the team was sickening).  I think pro cycling is much cleaner than it was, and indeed now cleaner than other Olympic/subject to WADA sports (I am not including US professional “sports” which are a joke in this regard).  And frankly, I believe triathlon needs to do more testing and be more serious about combating PED use.

(Name withheld by request)

Editor’s note: One issue that comes up with the idea of not only cleaning up the present of the sport, but to take on the monumental task (and probably impossible) of cleaning up the past (however you define that) would be the cost. And cost versus effectiveness. One of the possible reasons that federal investigators dropped the Armstrong investigation—as suggested by journalist Daniel Coyle in “The Secret Race”—is that in tallying losses and gains on the Balco case, government officials probably asked, “Was the Balco case worth all the time and taxpayer money put into it?” Some may say it was, but considering how obviously weak the testing programs are in major professional sports, it’s a question to be asked. Who would pay for such an investigation? As a former doping official told me, age-group athletes may care, but the greater public doesn’t.  It’s hard to imagine that the business side of these sports—this includes the IOC—would ever be interested in funding such an undertaking.

Scot Moser touches on complexity and problems of investigating the past to clean up the present:

The problem with cycling and or Major League Baseball is that the league or UCI looked the other way until everything hit the fan and then went after the bigger names after the fact. You can not put up a stop sign today and charge anyone who drove through an intersection in the last year for running a stop sign.

Nobody cares about a domestique or utility infielder in baseball but they do care about the stars. Penalties need to be consistent across the board. You can’t have some athletes get a six month suspended sentences while stars get lifetime bans.

It also becomes  a battle of egos with Travis Tygart of USADA and Armstrong. Nobody puts a trout from the backyard stream up on the wall but they do display the big Marlo.

Scot Moser

Following is a letter from Geoffrey Mar, in Calgary, sharing some historical perspective from a road cyclist’s point of view on the triathlon/ LAVA discussion:

I happened upon a recent series of articles that you had authored about doping, cycling and Lance Armstrong.  It is ironic to me that the only guy who seems to ‘get’ what is going-on here is coming from the Tri world.  Maybe that is because your sport is not so bound-up with ‘tradition’ that it cannot even see its own glaring flaws anymore.

Actually, I find Tri-guys very refreshing to deal with.  Their sport is young and flourishing.  They have a real, grass-roots background. They have no pretentions.  Your sport is where cycling was at the turn of the century (the turn of the last century, unfortunately).

When cycling first emerged as a sport, it was a herald of modernity.  Before the pre-eminence of the motor car, the bicycle was it.  It provided freedom and opened people’s eyes beyond their local area.  It made the world smaller.  Even today, the nature of the venue makes it accessible like few other sports on earth.  Unfortunately, that very accessibility has made it very susceptible to certain types of abuse – both sporting fraud and administrative and journalistic sanctions.

In the early days of cycling, the accessibility was a boon to advertisers.  In the days before television, a race could reach more people than any other form of communication.  A sponsor’s jersey was a valuable media.  Today, the openness of cycling is a handicap.  There are no gate receipts.  There is no terrestrial or satellite revenue-sharing. Unlike the great teams of the NFL, the Premiership, the NHL, the teams survive hand-to-mouth on the whims of the sponsors.  So do the riders.  That makes them vulnerable.

The sport was in such a ‘catch-22’ situation.  The fans wanted more spectacular stages, as did the organizers (and the journos, too).  The stages got harder.  The riders began to specialize and peak for specific races.  The riders got faster.  All the while, sponsorship dollars hinge on performance in those specific races.  The governing body and the organizers are under-funded.  What’s more, they want the same thing that the fans want.  What did people think would happen?

Because the ‘problem’ started ‘getting out-of-control’ (code for ‘hurting them in the pocketbook’), they decided to ‘act’.  In the end, they singled-out one guy as the scapegoat and said ‘problem solved’.  But is it fair?  Is it fair to single-out one guy?  How about one sport?  Is it fair? No way.  But it is easy.  Why?  Because cycling is weak.  The riders are weak.  Even Lance was comparatively weak.  I like your analogy to the ‘big’ sports.  Do we really think that the FA is going-up against $2.81 billion Manchester United for doping?  Is there going to be an Operación Puerto against $3.44 billion Real Madrid?  Whatever.

Now, do I think that the racing is cleaner?  Absolutely, and that is probably a good thing.  But, do I think that Lance still have won 7 Tours, yes, I really do.  He is an exceptional athlete and people seem to forget that.  To think that Telecom and Jan Ulrich did not have access to the same or similar technology is simply wrongheaded.  The better man (from a racing perspective) still won.

Should we let Lance race?  I tend to think that you’re right.  To hear the pundits on the cycling side (both amateur and professional) talk about it, you would think that their hands are clean, too.  Show me one guy who didn’t relish a 5-col death march and wring his hands with glee at the prospect of the ‘Queen Stage’ while watching the route announcement streaming live on the web.  We’re all to blame.

Which leads me to your sport.  Do you have the odd guy who wants to win an age-group so badly that he does something stupid? Sure.  It is nothing like cycling at the ‘grass-roots’, though.  I am so sick of dealing with idiots who think that the local ‘cross event is the last Superprestige event of the season and they’re playing for all the marbles.  How about arrogant, rude Cat 3s (Cat 3!).  Or ‘commissars’ who are rigidly enforcing ‘rules’ in my son’s events.  He’s seven!  Cycling has just lost its way.  Part of me wants to toss the whole thing and get my boy into the pool to start swimming laps before working on his transitions…

Geoffrey A. Mar

Finally, some Twitter comments follow. (Send thoughts to @burning_runner)