Thursday, November 1, 2012

Supporter Submission: Credibility Battle Between Armstrong and USADA

I have no credential to analyze or judge how Lance Armstrong, Nike or the Livestrong organization are dealing with the fallout of this scandal or the great charity work that those three entities have been able to accomplish together, so I will mostly side step that aspect of the story. I would however, like to supply some background on professional cycling and drug doping especially in the Tour de France which is the Super Bowl of the sport, and maybe even defend Lance Armstrong a little...

The sport has been tainted by drug use from the start. Before blood doping and HGH, cycling had a long history of illegal alcohol and ether use to minimize the pain of endurance racing. 1998 was roughly the start of the sports modern attempt to fight doping. From 1998 to 2010 there has only been one winner of the Tour who has not been implicated in doping scandals (2008, Carlos Sastre). If you were to re-award the Tour titles to the second place finisher in each of the tarnished races you would only solve the problem roughly half the time because the second place finisher has also been linked to doping in six of these years.

In four of the years Lance won the Tour, the second place finisher has tested positive for doping or admitted doping. To this day no one has been able to produce a positive test for a banned substance for Armstrong, cover-ups aside.

If the Tour committee were to try and fill a podium of completely clean cyclists there would be years like 2003 when a cyclist who finished in 11th or 12th place would be promoted onto the podium. This would be similar to awarding a bronze track medal to a sprinter who was eliminated after coming in 6th in a semi-final heat.

Roughly two-thirds of the top three finishers in the Tour each year – again, from 1998 – 2010 -- have doping allegations, suspensions or positive tests in their careers. So any given year, a clean rider only needs to shoot for third in the final race standings to be awarded the victory when the two riders ahead of him are enveloped in doping scandals. (This is not the best competitive strategy, but is actually statistically valid in those years.)

USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) is the organization behind the current investigation into Lance and in my eye seems sketchy at best. These guys are not a government agency and are not internationally accepted. Do not confuse USADA with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), who are the top notch drug testing agency and run the drug testing for the Olympics and everything else of importance.

The US government spent two years gathering evidence against Lance and dismissed the case before even getting to trial. This is the same group of people who brought Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to trial with what was proven to be below average evidence in each of those cases. If the government couldn't gather enough evidence against Lance to bring him to trial much less convict him I am a little worried about the quality of evidence an independent organization like USADA could have gathered.

USADA still does not have a positive test for Lance Armstrong. The best they can produce is a test of his that they claim is "consistent with blood doping." Take that for what you will, but if I had a test that scientifically proved he was cheating I would be shouting it from the tops of mountains not burying it under affidavits and using mixed language to describe it.

There are a number of affidavits from teammates and everyone else who claim they saw Lance cheat. Some of these people are more reputable then others. Floyd Landis is the least reputable of the group having written and sold a book claiming he did not dope as a professional cyclist and then admitting to it a few years later. (My father is still waiting for his refund on that book as it was not sold in the fiction section at the time.) I cannot truthfully claim that all the testimonies are of this poor quality. George Hincapie is reportedly among the group and in addition to being my all time favorite cyclist is considered by all in the sport to be a stand up guy. Similar to a Derek Jeter type, love him or hate him you have to respect him.

The most damning piece of information about USADA for me is that they have a self-imposed and self-chartered eight-year statute of limitations. Lance won his first tour in 1999. For those who are confused it is currently 2012. Under the organizations own rules they are only able to challenge the final two of Lances seven titles, but instead USADA has gone after all the titles and submitted evidence and affidavits that are 14 years old. As I said before that seems sketchy, at very best.

It is hard to say Lance is completely innocent but he and his attorney have consistently claimed that this is a witch hunt by USADA. I hope everyone draws their own conclusions about Lance and hopefully some of the information above helps you make a more informed decision. If you forced me to take a lie detector test and asked me if I thought Lance was guilty, I would tell you yes, I think he is probably guilty. But the following three points give me hope that he could be innocent:

1) The US government abandoned a court case against him for lack of evidence. A syringe and cotton swab in a beer can was previously enough for them to bring a case to court.

2) There is still not one drug test that proves Lance cheated.  Ryan Braun has a test that proves he cheated and is still considered innocent, and the 2011 MVP.

3) USADA broke its own rules to try and completely wipe Lance from the record books even though he is retired and currently only does bike races for charity.

Thanks to anyone who has read this much of my rant.


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