Ever since Lance Armstrong threw in the towel and in essence pleaded “no contest” to the anti-doping case the US Anti-Doping Agency initiated against him, the question has been, “When will USADA make the evidence they’ve accumulated against the (now-disgraced) seven-time winner of cycling’s Super Bowl, the Tour de France, avalable?” Now we know. Today, USADA issued a press release and also released a 200+ page “reasoned decision” summarizing their case against Armstrong. Also on their site, you can find a page with all of the appendices and supporting material, which includes 1000+ pages of documentation, along with videos and a whole lot more. From USADA’s press release:
The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.
The evidence of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming and is in excess of 1000 pages, and includes sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 riders with knowledge of the US Postal Service Team (USPS Team) and its participants’ doping activities. The evidence also includes direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS Team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.
Together these different categories of eyewitness, documentary, first-hand, scientific, direct and circumstantial evidence reveal conclusive and undeniable proof that brings to the light of day for the first time this systemic, sustained and highly professionalized team-run doping conspiracy.
Notable in the USADA’s initial statement is the list of cyclists who co-operated with the investigation. It confirms that George Hincapie, Dave Zabriskie, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and a number of the usual suspects provided evidence. Hincapie released a statement on his website. Dave Zabriskie also released a statement. VeloNation.com quotes an op-ed piece Levi Leipheimer wrote for the Wall Street Journal, and statements issued through the Garmin-Sharp team.
VeloNews.com has a whole lot of coverage, including summary and a link to this ESPN.com discussion featuring Armstrong attorney Tim Herman, USADA’s Travis Tygart, ESPN.com’s Bonnie D. Ford, and Lester Munson, a legal analyst. Among the stories is one where Levi Leipheimer says “doping was organized and everywhere in the peloton. Doping wasn’t the exception, it was the norm.”
Meanwhile, Joe Lindsey of Bicycling.com has a story about Hincapie admitting he doped during his career. Over at The New York Times, Juliet Macur provides a good summary of the day’s developments, too. CyclingNews.com has a bunch of stories, as do a number of other outlets.
So what does it all mean? Well, as I told KPCC during a brief call earlier today, it appears to add up to a rather devastating case against Armstrong. Because Armstrong chose to plead “no contest,” the picture that emerges is drawn only from USADA’s information. Armstrong’s side may continue to say that the system is rigged (and that’s true, to a certain extent), but they chose not to fight. Yes, it would have taken a long time. Yes, it would have cost a lot of money. And yes, it would have brought out a whole lot of potentially embarrassing information that would make Lance look bad and perhaps damage the Livestrong brand.
Guess what? It’s all out there now for anyone who’s interested to read and to make up their own minds, anyway. I haven’t had time to wade deeply into either the reasoned decision or the supporting material, but just a glance through the reasoned decision tells me that USADA covers a whole lot of ground in their case. Is it convincing? I don’t know — yet — but at this point, I’ll hazard a guess that it won’t change the minds of die-hard Lance supporters and it will confirm the naysayers opinions.
Will today’s developments herald a new, dope-free (or at least mostly dope-free) era in cycling? I’d like to think so, but I’m not so certain. After the 1998 Festina affair, the 1999 Tour was billed as the “Tour of Redemption.” Turns out, it was only “redemption” on the surface and the same-old, same-old underneath. Levi Leipheimer may well be right that a critical mass of cyclists coming clean might provide the real momentum to make the sport cleaner. But it will take some time for that to play out.
The idea of a “Truth and Reconciliation” process, where cyclists and others involved in the sport come clean and tell what they did and what they know, has been floated a number of times. It’s a good idea, from my perspective. Get everything out in the open. But once that happens — if that happens — a credible system needs to be in place to deter future dopers. Do we have such a system at the moment?
Some say that the only way to clean up the sport is a total house-cleaning to remove anyone who’s ever doped. I don’t buy that. For one, it would decimate the ranks of the peloton, as well as team management. Those people who have seen the light, and who wish to turn a page and move forward, are perhaps the best guarantee that the sport could be clean in the future.
After all, the people who know the doper’s mindset and tricks the best are those who were once a part of the ranks of the chemically-enhanced. Who better to spot someone who’s gone off the rails, or even an entire team that has reverted to the old ways?
So where does that leave us? I’d like to believe that today’s developments are a step in the right direction. But lest we forget, Armstrong’s team wasn’t the only one with an organized doping plan. They may have done it better than the rest, but they weren’t an exception to the culture within the sport. They were a part of it.
The old saying goes that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Here’s to hoping that this journey leads to a cleaner sport. But let’s also realize that it depends very much on how the powers that be wish to move forward, and whether they can be convinced this is the right way to go. Pressure from fans and from the media could well sway them in that direction, but only if that pressure is sustained. It appears to be working, at least for the moment. But that pressure needs to continue if any real change is going to occur.