Let’s assume that Lance Armstrong was doping throughout his career.
The reason that doping is considered so reprehensible is because it gives an athlete an unfair advantage, but is that really the case at the Tour de France?
If we look at the period during which Armstrong competed, it’s pretty clear that if Armstrong didn’t use performance enhancing drugs, then he was in the minority.
Of all the riders who finished in the top five positions in Armstrong’s seven consecutive wins only two of those riders have never tested positive, been found guilty or even been implicated in doping scandals. Only two!
Take a bow Haimar Zubeldia and Andrei Kivilev.
Either they did brilliantly well for clean riders in a dirty field, or they were lucky not to be caught.
But whether everyone else was doping is irrelevant. We all agree that doping is a bad thing and making an example of a sporting legend like Armstrong sends a powerful signal to dopers everywhere.
Or it would have, if the authorities could have got their act together.
USADA have handed down what they believe to be a life ban and stripped Armstrong of all "medals, titles, winnings, finishes, points and prizes" according to their press statement. Taking the case of the Tour de France, it's hard to see what right USADA has to take away titles awarded by a foreign sporting body for an event outside of the US.
The USADA case could be compelling and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Armstrong was guilty, but we’ll never know.
And that’s a pity, but it doesn’t really matter.
According to cycling’s global governing body, the UCI, they alone have the jurisdiction to bring charges and hand out penalties. UCI President, Pat McQuaid, has written to the governing body for cycling in the USA stating that “USADA has no jurisdiction for testing in international races" according to the Wall Street Journal.
If they stick to their principles, it’s hard to see them taking much notice of USADA’s findings which ultimately weakens the case against Armstrong.
Besides, it’s not like USADA have covered themselves with glory with some of their recent performances.
Take the case of Justin Gatlin, who recently took a bronze medal at the London Olympics.
He has twice been convicted of doping and yet USADA happily let him run.
In 2006, Gatlin negotiated an eight year ban after testing positive for testosterone doping, avoiding a life ban by cooperating in ongoing investigations. USADA reduced the ban to four years in their final judgement—that’s the way to make an example of him!
Of course, that wasn’t Gatlin’s first offence. In 2001, he tested positive for amphetamines which he argued that he used to fight an attention deficit disorder.
I don’t care how bad his ADD was, a 100 metre sprint takes only 10 seconds, surely he could stay focussed that long!
By walking away from the charges, Armstrong has been very clever. USADA’s evidence will never see the light of day and so we’ll never know whether the case could be made.
Those who believe the legend can continue to do so, those who think that he’s a cheat will feel that they have been vindicated.
The truth, inevitably, will never be known and almost seems irrelevant.
Armstrong has built his defence on the fact that he has never tested positive for PEDs, but while it sounds like a compelling argument, it really isn’t.
I’ve had hundreds of blood tests in my life, but have never tested positive for being male, then again I've never had my gender tested. It helps if you test for the right things.
Dopers will always be ahead of the curve. Authorities need to determine what is being used and then figure out how to test for it, by which time the smart dopers have moved on.
But while he can’t rely on negative tests as proof of his innocence, nor can USADA rely on testimony from tainted athletes as proof of wrongdoing, especially when said athletes seek to benefit from their testimony.
So, despite lots of excitement and bold statements, we’re in the same position we were in before USADA handed down their findings.
This case isn’t going away anytime soon.