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Time to crucify Lance?

Is the white flag an admission of guilt, asks Madeleine King

Lance Armstrong: Drug cheat or maligned superstar? Credit: The Guardian

Lance Armstrong: Drug cheat or maligned superstar? Credit: The Guardian


I blame Lance Armstrong for my irregular sleeping habits.

No, he didn’t pass on an extra vial of EPO to keep my heart rate up, the adrenaline running. It was the 1:00am alarm ringing, milo and crumpets on a cold July night, watching the final laps of the Tour on the Champs Elysee and Lance Armstrong donning one yellow jersey after another.

Nostalgic and whimsical, I know, but such things happen when you grow up watching Armstrong’s feats. Suffice to say, it was a sad day in my household when news broke that the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) had banned the superhuman rider for life and stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles: a decision that came after Armstrong laid down his challenge to their years-long allegations of drug use.

“Enough is enough,” Armstrong said in his statement. “I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999 … The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.”

The cyclist went on to call the USADA’s three year pursuit of him an “unconstitutional witch hunt”, motivated by former teammates’ testimony while ignoring the hundreds of clean blood and urine samples he had provided both in and out of competition.

By no means do I claim some divine knowledge of Armstrong’s innocence or guilt. But it takes little effort to see that he has now been sanctioned by an organisation recognised only in the US, under no legal or arbitration proceedings, on the basis of claims made by fellow riders (four of whom received suspended bans on their own positive test results in exchange for naming Armstrong). Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.

Other riders have since come out in Armstrong’s defence. But the USADA’s Travis Tygart claimed victory: “It’s a heartbreaking example of win at all costs overtaking the fair and safe option. There’s no success in cheating to win.”

The cyclist’s statement says otherwise: “I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair. Regardless of what Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims.” I’m sensing some personal animosity here.

For much of the mainstream media, his fraud is indisputable: “We now know” his seven titles were fuelled by illegal drug use, stated Channel Ten News. His “legacy in tatters”, said the ABC. Matt Seaton, for The Guardian: “By refusing to mount a defence in the US Anti-Doping Agency’s case against him, Lance Armstrong has – whatever equivocation and claims of persecution he persists in – all but conceded that he won his seven Tour de France titles by doping.”

Others were more balanced, acknowledging as The Wall Street Journal did that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing authority on cycling, was yet to respond and could appeal the sanctions. Armstrong concurs, saying he will not recognise the USADA’s authority to make such decisions, and criticises their selective application of rules and deal-making.  No word yet from the Tour de France organisers.

Can we still cling to the golden rider, the cancer survivor, the charity activist with $500 million donations to his cause? Or is it time to give up what Matt Seaton calls the “master-narrative” of the heroic battler and acknowledge those wins were far from superhuman?

The circumstances are divisive, the legality contentious, the mythology hanging by a thread. I openly admit my childhood devotion to the Tour and affection for it will be severely damaged if the allegations prove true. But will they ever? Armstrong is not the first person in history to take a stand against a system of authority that has not operated fairly or judicially.