>le Tour de France, Drugs, and Lance Armstrong


“At breakfast. UCI antidoping inspectors just walked in. Blood control for Levi, klodi, alberto, and myself. This is a good thing..”

~ Tweet from Lance Armstrong (on 7/10) before the first
major mountain stage of the 2009 Tour de France

Image by Max Whittake/Reuters

I am a fan of pro cycling and especially the Tour de France. I’ve been a TDF fan since around 1984 when Greg LeMond came in third overall. Whenever I talk to others about the tour they always bring up doping. The most common kind of comment is something like “all those guys dope, everyone knows that.” If you know the history of the Tour de France, and endurance sports in general, then you know that statement has a lot of truth. (See the List of doping cases in cycling.) And yet, where are we today? Do all the cyclists dope like we tend to think? When others say they all dope, or more specifically, “You know Lance dopes, How else could he have won some many tours,” I am inclined to say show me the proof.

Testing for doping in cycling has been around for fifty years. The process, though never perfect, has been put to the test many times and is constantly being improved. A lot of pressure is on the testers because they may disqualify a wildly popular cyclist. The penalties for testing positive are rather stiff, including lifetime bans from the sport. And it may be possible for cyclists to get around some testing. But not likely, at least when it comes to truly performance enhancing drugs in quantities that actually improve one’s performance. In other words, if a cyclist has been repeatedly tested and has passed those tests (and these tests are random, sometimes in the middle of the night, and if you’re not there when the testers show up they count it the same as testing positive) then it is very unlikely that cyclist is doping.

Image from here

Lance has been tested nearly 40 times so far this year alone. For whatever reason he tends to get singled out a bit more than other cyclists. Many of the tests were blood tests too. He has passed every test this year, and every test so far in his career. Is this absolute proof of innocence? Of course not. But the question I have is what special information does the average person have that the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), and other respected sports agencies that govern drug testing don’t have? Testing for doping in many sports is a very recent thing – think of major league baseball. In cycling its been around for decades and has continually become stricter and more severe. Just to help quell some of the accusations, Lance Armstrong has even begun posting the official results of his drug tests on his Livestrong web site. At some point one has to say he isn’t doping.

Image by Frank Jansen, the Netherlands

I must say I have no interest in defending Armstrong. He can do that himself. Someday he may fail a drug test, or his past tests, which are saved, may be retested and drugs found. But I doubt it. And cycling is not all about Armstrong. There are several riders in this year’s tour I would love to see win the thing. But I have to say I’m going to let the antidoping control take care of the doping issue and I will just love the tour as I do every year – and as I’ve done so many times before, I will be rooting for Armstrong.

Finally, it would be remarkable for Armstrong to win an 8th Tour de France. But the truth is, it is remarkable for anyone to win such an event. I have ridden a couple centuries (100 miles in one day) in my life and they were difficult. To race that distance, and sometimes much further, sometimes over the steepest of mountain passes, and to do so for 21 days in a row is a staggering athletic achievement. No wonder there is a temptation to dope. Hats off to riders who don’t dope and cooperate with the antidoping testers. It’s good for the sport.

Image from Livestrong web site.

“Knock knock. Another antidoping control. Seems excessive but I’m not complaining. This is a good thing. I like good things times 40.”

~ Tweet from Lance Armstrong (on 7/11) before the second
major mountain stage of the 2009 Tour de France

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