Has our Republican-controlled House of Representatives found its next Planned Parenthood to defund or is this latest development in the Lance Armstrong doping "conspiracy" just another example of an elected official looking out for the interests of a constituent?
Late yesterday both Velo News and Cycling News reported the involvement of Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner in the USADA investigation of Lance Armstrong. Representative Sensenbrenner has called on the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to investigate the activities of the USADA and how it spends its $9 million in annual taxpayer funding.
The GOP rep fired off a letter to the ONDCP regarding USADA oversight in general and the Lance Armstrong investigation in specific. The letter pretty much summarizes Lance's objections to the USADA's investigation and could very well serve as a press release in the court of public opinion. It is required reading for anyone who wishes to debate this case.
It should be noted that Congressman Sensenbrenner represents the district where Trek Bicycles is headquartered and that the people of Trek are his constituents. The reputation of Trek Bicycles - Lance's longtime sponsor - could very well be tarnished should Lance be stripped of his 7 TDF titles.
Whether an elected official should get this involved in a specific action of a tangential agency is certainly a separate topic for debate. Personally, I think it's an abuse of power that only underscores the bought-and-paid-for perception of the Citizens United era of democracy...
It bears reiterating that there is a lot at stake if the USADA is allowed to strip Lance Armstrong of his 7 TDF victories through its arbitration process. First, of course, is the relinquishing of the wins, followed by the return of the prize money and the rewriting of the past 13 years of US bicycle racing history.
If you were to sum it all up in one word, that word would be disgraced.
Lance would be disgraced, as would the cancer charity that bears his name. His US Postal, Discovery, and Radio Shack teammates would be disgraced - even if none of them were sanctioned in a similar manner. Trek Bicycles and Lance's longtime sponsors and all the other organizations that paid him to endorse their products would be disgraced. US bicycle racing and all the clean professional and amateur riders who participate would be disgraced.
The activity of bicycling would be tainted in the eyes of much of the American public.
If you read the published remarks of the USADA's Travis Tygart - including his response to Sensenbrenner's letter to the ONDCP - there is no question that he believes Lance is guilty. He is fully invested in the conspiracy theory and is behaving as if the ruling of any arbitration panel is a foregone conclusion.
Tygart tries to reassure the public that Lance will get a fair hearing, yet he fails to convince us with statements like this one; "The evidence is overwhelming, and were we not to bring this case, we would be complicit in covering up evidence of doping, and failing to do our job on behalf of those we are charged with protecting."
When will we get to see this "overwhelming" evidence? Are there failed drug tests from 1999 to 2005? Videotapes or photos? Taped phone conversations? Confiscated substances? Or is the case based on corroboration of former teammates who are not being sanctioned in exchange for their testimony?
Regardless of how any one of us may feel about Lance - guilty, not guily, undecided, or indifferent - we each need to question the fairness of this process.
Does the USADA have an obligation to bring forth this hearing regardless of the amount of time lapsed? Has the USADA exceeded its statute of limitations? Does it have jurisdiction over this matter or must that jurisdiction be specifically granted to it from WADA or UCI? Can the USADA initiate its own investigation without a positive drug test?
If, as reported in Cycling News, the USADA has suspicions about Lance's test results from 2008 to 2012, can it retroactively investigate the period of 1998 - 2007 without similar discrepancies in blood tests from the prior period? Does it have the authority to strip Lance of his titles without actual physical evidence?
Make no mistake about it, Lance Armstrong is in the fight of his life.
Lance is pulling out all of the stops and using every tactic at his disposal - much like he did when he was racing. He has a lawsuit pending in Federal court. He has his sponsor's Congressman calling for an oversight investigation. He has indirectly made his case in the court of public opinion.
What happens should the court challenge fail, the oversight threat fizzle, and the arbitration hearing go forward?
We will know the answer to those questions in 28 days or less.
My prediction is that the court will dismiss Lance's suit or rule in favor of the USADA. Congressman Sensenbrenner will be unsuccessful in intimidating Tygart into backing off. Lance will enlist the support of the UCI to shut down the USADA investigation before the arbitration is allowed to begin.
At the end of the day, the UCI can't allow itself to be put on trial in the court of public opinion.
The international popularity of bicycle racing is at stake. Sponsorship dollars and broadcast rights will not be jeopardized by a lone pseudo-bureaucrat playing the role of the Solicitor General in the Supreme Court of his own imagination. This isn't a RICO case and he's not saving the free world from a conspiracy of high-level corruption.
This is professional bicycle racing.
And while I welcome your comments regarding this controversial issue, I would rather be shining a light on everyday bicycling - writing summaries of the chainlink's event calendar, providing commentary on MAP-21, posting reviews of trails like the Chicago Area's Des Plaines River Trail, or sharing my thoughts on the upcoming RAGBRAI ride. Maybe next week...
Keep riding and be safe.
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