Yesterday, August 23rd, was the deadline for Lance Armstrong to finally face the doping charges leveled against him by the US Anti Doping Agency.
Like most fans of bicycle racing, I knew what the charges were and had a strong idea what the outcome would be. Armstrong would be stripped of all career victories since 1998 - including all 7 Tour de France championships - and banned for life from competing in any professional US sporting event.
What I didn't expect was how Lance Armstrong would react to it.
On his website, www.lancearmstrong.com, he posted the following:
"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, "Enough is enough." For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt. 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."
Despite every attempt he made to stop USADA's sanction from being issued - two challenges in federal court, a threatened investigation of USADA by a US Congressman, and an intervention by cycling's governing body, the UCI - he has publicly announced that he will not participate in the results management process outlined by USADA. He will not appear before its arbitration panel. He will not reserve the right to appeal an adverse decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Lance has decided that he will not dignify these allegations.
He continues in his published statement:
"If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and – once and for all – put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance. But 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. The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colors. I made myself available around the clock and around the world. In-competition. Out of competition. Blood. Urine. Whatever they asked for I provided. What is the point of all this testing if, in the end, USADA will not stand by it?"
For Lance's doubters and detractors, it sure appears that he is playing the victim card. For his admirers, well, they will continue to admire him for not stooping to USADA's level and playing them in their rigged game.
For an outside observer, this controversy will continue to live on with no satisfactory resolution.
The court of public opinion will remain divided as no one will see the evidence USADA planned to present in arbitration. No one will ever hear the testimony by ex-teammates. No one will ever know which ex-teammates - who still may be racing despite admitting to USADA that they had also doped - had agreed to testify against Lance. No one will hear Armstrong's defense against the allegations.
Cycling News has an excellent archive of all the doping allegations against Lance Armstrong dating back to 1999. Bicycling Magazine's Bill Strickland has written extensively about Lance - both as an admirer and a doubter - including this poignant piece, Injustice for all. Everyone is free to study the material and come to his or her own conclusion about whether the greatest American cyclist in the past decade was a hero or a fraud.
I had hoped that Lance Armstrong would take on his accusers in arbitration. I wanted the public to see the evidence. I desired justice - American justice - the preponderance of evidence and adherence to the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt."
I didn't need this for myself - my personal opinion was cemented long ago - I needed this for bicycling.
We all have to share the road with motorists each time we choose to ride. Our safety - our very lives - depends on respect from individuals behind the wheel of two-ton plus vehicles. The last thing we need to contend with is motorists who devalue cyclists because of a conflation with Lance Armstrong. We're not dopers. We're not cheaters. We're just people who love to ride bikes and have a right to share the road.
Maybe Lance did us all a favor by choosing to ignore USADA's sanctions.
Maybe this will fall into the category of yet another Friday news cycle that will largely be forgotten by Monday morning. Average Americans - the majority that don't follow bicycle racing - will hear it and forget about it as soon as some other political gaffe, celebrity scandal, natural disaster, or mass murder grabs the headlines.
For cycling fans, this story is far from over. I predict the UCI putting up a strong resistance to removing Lance Armstrong from the Tour de France race results. With Armstrong declining to pursue arbitration, the UCI may demand USADA turn over all evidence of doping by those prepared to testify against Armstrong and call for sanctions against them.
As I head out to ride this weekend, I won't be pondering any of this. Contrary to what Lance said, it is about the bike.
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Keep riding and be safe!