Lance Armstrong Myths & Facts

Lance Armstrong Myths & Facts

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FACT: Lance has been targeted because he was the most skilled—and aggressive—doper, not because of his cycling. According to USADA, Lance had “ultimate control not only over his own drug use, which was extensive, but over the doping culture of his team,” going so far as to intimidate teammates into saddling up to drugs—or to face being replaced. What’s more, Lance had final say over the “small army” of doctors, directors and drug smugglers his team employed—an army that was paid not only to stay one step ahead of drug testers, but also to design and facilitate an intense, systematic drug regimen “in large part to benefit Armstrong.”

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Wrong. The USADA has only tested Armstrong 60 times over his career. Pair this with the UCI’s reported just-over 200 blood draws, and Lance is a long way from his (and his lawyers') claim.

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The number, though, is insignificant when one considers that Armstrong did, in fact, fail not just one drug test over the yearsbut two. Thefirst alleged positive cameduring the 1999 Tour de France for cortisone (which a doctor remedied by writing a backdated prescription to treat a saddle sore); the second, in the 2001 Tour de Sussie where UCI officialsallegedly stepped in to cover it up(soon after, Lance made a $125,000 donation to the organization).

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<p>As to the hundreds of negative drug test results that Lance did attain, these can be explained by one simple fact: drug tests simply aren’t that hard to pass. USADA details the USPS Team’s avoidance techniques, which range from illegally infusing saline into riders’ systems 20 minutes before a test in order to lower drug levels, to simply pretending to not be home when testers arrived unexpectedly.</p>

What's more, "blood doping," a method that was heavily adopted by the USPS team, is virtually undetectable, as it's simply injecting the rider's own more-oxygenated blood back into his own body. Anti-doping organizations have only recently begun to catch up in their testing techniques. 

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Sure, the Lance era is generally regarded and often referred to as a dark, sordid time in cycling history in regards to drug use. In fact, 20 of the 21 Tour podium finishers from 1999 through 2005 have been directly tied to doping, in one form or another. But that doesn’t mean that every talented athlete succumbed to the pressure. Take, for instance, Christophe Bassons, a talented French cyclist who rode during the 1999 Tour (the first of seven consecutive) and publicly criticized the prevalence of PEDs in the peloton. After hearing of it, Bassons was subjected to “very merciless and venomous” teasing by Armstrong, “much like a playground bully.” Isolated and ostracized, Bassons quickly faded then dropped out of from the pro scene. But could he have taken Armstrong in competition if the playing field were clean? “We’ll never know,” said Jonathan Vaughters, a former USPS rider. But, “Bassons was a talented rider, for sure.”

LIVESTRONG

It’s true, Livestrong is a fundamentally good charity, earning the “top rating” of an A- from CharityWatch.com based on the percentage of spending that goes toward programming (though many might be surprised to know how little the foundation gives to cancer research). But the relationship between Lance and Livestrong is more complicated. In a 2012 article in Outside, Bill Gifford sums it up nicely:

“Livestrong spends massively on adver­tising, PR, and ‘branding,’ all of which helps preserve Armstrong’s marketability at a time when he’s under fire. Meanwhile, Armstrong has used the goodwill of his foundation to cut business deals that have enriched him per­sonally, an ethically questionable move.”

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The world will never know what percentage of Armstrong’s successes as a cyclist were achieved a by type-A obsessive dedication to the sport and natural physical athleticism vs. what was by achieved through the knowing manipulation of his body’s chemical makeup. In 2005, National Geographic reported that Lance’s genes are loaded in his favor—an oversized heart pumps huge amounts of oxygen and he boasts an extremely high VO2 max. Others have claimed that Armstrong’s femurs are long, considering his height, which allows him to pack more power into his pedaling. And yet others have pointed out that man had many moments in the saddle that showed pure skill, having nothing to do with PEDs.

Some aren’t convinced. “I think his [2006] New York marathon results are the closest we can get to understand how he’d perform alongside other non-doped athletes when he races without a needle,” Australian antidoping scientist Michael Ashenden recently told The Associated Press, about Lance’s debut 3-hour finish. “Good result, but definitely not someone you’d regard as the world’s greatest endurance athlete.”

Andrew Loehman

Either way, Lance won't be back strictly in the saddle, as he's banned for life from pro cycling (plus, he's not exactly a young buck at this point, either), and the world will continue to debate. Though, there may eventually be some inkling of truth to be found in his athletic future, as he hopes to resume racing in triathlons and may be cleared to do so, depending on how he handles his up-and-coming confessions.

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Still under investigation...