By Simon Farnsworth
“If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is too good to be true.”
It’s a phrase we use in all walks of life- from the salesmen that knock on your door too those pesky spam emails you receive but when it comes to sport we like to put this saying to the back of our minds. We don’t like to think that a hero of ours, who we have long admired, as being too good to be true. We like to believe in sporting miracles and Lance Armstrong was the ultimate miracle.
Sadly, however, the man who dominated cycling and made a fortune from it was too good to be true. Yesterday, the cloak was ripped off the Texan and the full extent of his deception was revealed.
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) published a 1,000 page report which included 26 sworn testaments, including 15 from former US Postal team mates, as well as details of financial payments, emails, scientific data and lab test results that further proved that Armstrong was a drugs cheat. USADA left no stone unturned as they revealed the biggest story of cheating sport has ever seen. A scandal that dwarfs Ben Johnson and even BALCO as this was the downfall of not just a cycling Goliath but a source of inspiration to millions.
The 1,000 page report has given a whole new meaning to his autobiography entitled “It’s not about the bike”.
In a statement accompanying the report, USADA chief executive Travis T Tygart said: “The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
The report, entitled Reasoned Decision, added that in Armstrong’s pursuit of winning the Tour de France multiple times he became dependant on “EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions but also, more ruthlessly, to expect and to require that his team-mates would likewise use drugs to support his goals if not their own.”
It was also stated that: “It was not enough that his team-mates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping programme outlined for them or be replaced.
“He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and re-enforced it. Armstrong’s use of drugs was extensive and the doping programme on his team, designed in large part to benefit Armstrong, was massive and pervasive.”
Armstrong has denied ever doping but will not fight USADA charges.
Some of the most damning evidence came from Armstrong’s former team mates. George Hincapie said that in 1995 Armstrong told him “the team needed to get on EPO.” This was before the onset of cancer and before he joined the US Postal team. Hincapie also claimed that Armstrong pulled out of a race in Spain in 2000 to avoid being tested as he was using testosterone at the time.
Perhaps the saddest, most damning indictment of the US Postal team came from former team mate, Dave Zabriskie’s. He believed his Father died from drug use and resolved never to dope. Then, one day Team Director, Johan Bruyneel, and Dr Luis del Moral took Zabriskie and teammate Michael Barry to a cafe in Girona and explained that they had to use EPO. Both the riders were put under extreme pressure to partake in the drug programme of the US Postal team. Zabriskie recalls how after the meeting: “I went back to my apartment and had a breakdown. I called home, crying. I had pursued cycling as an escape from drugs.”
This is the darkside to Lance Armstrong. The one we were never supposed to see.
Even with the strength of this report, Armstrong still has supporters out there, but their numbers are quickly dwindling. This morning Nike has stated they will stand by their man but for how much longer? When will it become untenable to support a man whose image has transformed from hero to villain in a matter of weeks? This is purely business for them.
As for the average man, what are we to think? After all here is a man who has survived the impossible, who triumphed over adversity and not only beat cancer but has helped raised close to half a billion dollars for charity. There is no doubting what a fantastic achievement that is but there is no getting away from the fact that this has been set up on the back of cheating and deception. It is impossible to separate the two.
As for his personal wealth, which is estimated at around $125m, what should happen to that? If he has fraudulently gained it why should he keep it? If he has cheated his way to the top, what is the difference between that and your average conman?
In puts a knot in any sports fan stomach to say, but it seems that’s just what Lance Armstrong is- a sporting conman of the highest pedigree.