As predicted, Lance Armstrong is not the only US Postal Service rider to be sanctioned by the US Anti Doping Agency.
USADA's CEO Travis Tygart announced yesterday that six of Lance's former teammates - Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, Tom Danielson, Michael Barry, and George Hincapie - will also serve six-month suspensions and forfeit past race results.
"It took tremendous courage for the riders on the USPS Team and others to come forward and speak truthfully. It is not easy to admit your mistakes and accept your punishment...
The riders who participated in the USPS Team doping conspiracy and truthfully assisted have been courageous in making the choice to stop perpetuating the sporting fraud, and they have suffered greatly. In addition to the public revelations, the active riders have been suspended and disqualified appropriately in line with the rules. In some part, it would have been easier for them if it all would just go away; however, they love the sport, and they want to help young athletes have hope that they are not put in the position they were -- to face the reality that in order to climb to the heights of their sport they had to sink to the depths of dangerous cheating." USADA, 10/10/12
Travis Tygart is not being truthful in the above statement.
None of these riders came forward on his own. Each was interviewed by an investigator from the US Attorney General's office. With no criminal charges that could be brought against any of them, their testimonies were hand-delivered to Tygart. Tygart then coerced each of them to level allegations against Lance Armstrong.
Each of the six suspensions was the result of a plea bargain to allow these six active riders to continue racing.
When the charges against Armstrong were made public at the start of this year's Tour de France, these six admitted dopers were still allowed to race in it, as well as subsequent races throughout the 2012 season, right up until yesterday.
Vande Velde won the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Zabriskie won the US National Time Trial Championship. Leipheimer won a stage at the Tour of Utah and took third in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Danielson won stages at the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Barry took second in the National Road Race Championship. Hincapie was celebrated for seventeen consecutive starts in the Tour de France over his nineteen year career.
Were these delayed suspensions fair to all of the other "clean" riders the USADA is mandated to protect?
Despite the 8-year statute of limitations, USADA moved to strip Lance Armstrong of his race results from 1998 through 2006 (and the 2007 TdF). None of the six riders sanctioned yesterday forfeited results prior to 2003 or after 2006.
If these six riders were part of "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen", why weren't they asked to forfeit results during the same period as Armstrong?
Why were these six riders allowed to continue competing when a six-month suspension was imminent?
If one were to believe the words of Travis Tygart, the sole duty of USADA is to protect the right to fair competition for all US athletes. Rules are set. Tests are administered. Results are managed. Sanctions are issued. Athletes have a procedure to contest results. It's a black and white system.
Tygart has created a lot of gray with his investigation of Lance Armstrong.
None of the sanctions were brought about by a positive test result during the period in question for Armstrong or his six teammates. USADA and other agents for the World Anti Doping Agency failed to detect banned substances in these seven athletes from 1998 through 2006.
Tygart has yet to acknowledge his agency's failure to protect the rights of all American athletes during this time period. Instead, he has made this case about Armstrong's deceit and a vast conspiracy that victimized the hopes and dreams of his unwitting USPS teammates.
Tygart is asking cycling's governing body, UCI, to selectively rewrite American cycling history. All in the name of his version of fairness.
In Tygart's view, Armstrong was a doper, a cheater, a fraud. Lance didn't compete on a level playing field against the world's top cyclists during his 7-year, record-setting run at the TdF. He didn't best his peers in grueling head-to-head competition. Neither his coach's strategy nor his teammates' tactics contributed to his victories. It was all won by dope. It is all invalid.
Keep in mind that the "doped up" teammates' contributions aren't being sanctioned. Forget that Lance's nearest competitors in each of those seven TdF's aren't being subjected to the same retrospective scrutiny. Set aside your disbelief that these six recently sanctioned riders were already admitted dopers before they were allowed to compete this season.
There are too many inconsistencies here to believe that this wasn't solely an attempt by one man to take down Lance Armstrong.
Had it been all about fairness and equality, all seven riders would have suffered the same disgraceful fate that is being proposed for Armstrong. All results would have been invalidated. All would have been banned for life.
Fortunately for fans of US cycling and International competition, the final decision does not rest in the hands of USADA. UCI still holds the final say in upholding all of the sanctions brought forth against these seven riders.
Was this a dark period in American Cycling?
Yes, but no darker than it was in International Cycling.
There is no reason to believe that the US Postal Team acted alone or had an advantage over any other International team it competed against. Aside from the French press, no International team or governing body has leveled formal allegations against Bruyneel's US teams. It is safe to assume that all of the competitors of that era were on a level playing field.
If Tygart is truly concerned about the future of clean, American athletic competition, he needs to direct his efforts toward the future and stop re-litigating the past.
USADA's focus should be on improving the quality of testing and monitoring the activities of US athletes with the biological passport program. He should use the tax dollars his agency receives to raise the bar for testing, not take down an American sporting legend from the past.
It is highly doubtful that any other National Anti Doping Organization will open an investigation into the testing failures of the past. European nations have a very strong desire to put the disgraces of their past behind them and focus on a brighter future...
None of us will ever forget the competitions we witnessed during this disputed era. We lived in those moments. We experienced joy and frustration, pride and disappointment. We were entertained and inspired. USADA's sanctions can't erase those memories or invalidate those emotions.
We can't change the past, but we can learn from those experiences. We can move forward. We need to move forward.
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Keep riding and be safe!