Armstrong comes out swinging, but will he fight?
“In my mind, I’m truly done. You can interpret that however you want. But no matter what happens, I’m finished. I’m done fighting. I’ve moved on. If there are other things that arise, I’m not contesting anything. Case closed.”
—Lance Armstrong, in the June 2012 issue of Men’s Journal, on the prospect of a potential fight to clear his name of doping charges after a federal investigation was dropped.
This case is anything but closed.
After U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. dropped a federal investigation into alleged doping at the U.S. Postal Service team, Lance Armstrong said he wouldn’t spend any more time fighting allegations that he doped to win his seven Tours de France. Just minutes after a flurry of fresh doping allegations were made public Wednesday, Armstrong came out swinging.
“These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity,” he said in a statement.
“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one.”
Armstrong faces a passel of United States Anti-Doping Agency allegations made public on Wednesday, when The Washington Post printed excerpts from a 15-page USADA letter to Armstrong dated June 12.
The most piercing accusations in the letter claim that Armstrong, team doctors and team manager Johan Bruyneel participated in a doping ring from 1998-2011, with more than 10 cyclists involved.
USADA also claims that blood tests from 2009 and 2010 were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions,” casting a tall shadow over Armstrong’s comeback — a comeback in which it seemed he was out to prove to doubters that he could succeed clean.
Armstrong told Vanity Fair in September 2008 that he would go to great lengths to compete, but compete clean, in his comeback. He told the magazine that he’d hired a video crew to document his run-up to the tour, including an independent anti-doping testing regimen managed by Don Catlin, former director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Lab.
“I’ll be totally honest with you,” Armstrong told Vanity Fair in 2008. “The years that I won the Tour, many of the guys that got second through 10th, a lot of them are gone. Out. Caught. Positive Tests. Suspended. Whatever.… And so I can understand why people look at that and go, ‘Well, [they] were caught—and you weren’t?’ So there is a nice element here where I can come with really a completely comprehensive program and there will be no way to cheat.”
That program fell apart after the Tour Down Under in January of 2009, and Armstrong worked for the remainder of the year with Danish anti-doping scientist Rasmus Damsgaard, who administered Astana’s program. The talk of independent testing quieted as well and by May of 2010, Armstrong’s focus was directed more at fending off accusations from Floyd Landis rather than promoting his clean comeback.
Armstrong’s lawyer, Washington-based Robert D. Luskin, was unavailable for comment when called by VeloNews Wednesday, but told The Washington Post the allegations were “a product of malice and spite and not evidence.”
To this day, Armstrong has never been sanctioned for a positive doping control.
What is clear is that the allegations immediately freeze Armstrong’s pursuits as a top-tier triathlete. He had planned on racing the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in October, but is banned immediately from competition, also derailing his plan to compete in the Ironman France in Nice, France, on June 24.
The World Triathlon Corporation issued a statement Wednesday, outlining Armstrong’s suspension.
“Our rules, as stated in the WTC Professional Athlete Agreement and Waiver, dictate an athlete is ineligible to compete during an open investigation. Armstrong is therefore suspended from competing in WTC-owned and licensed races pending further review,” the statement read. WTC owns the Ironman-branded triathlons.
If a sanction comes for Armstrong, it would likely mean an end to his relationship with WTC, which donated $1 million to the Lance Armstrong Foundation in a deal that had the Texan competing in six Ironman events in 2012; he’s won the last two half-Ironman distance races he’s entered and has recently been considered a legitimate contender in Kona in October.
What’s less clear in the haze of the allegations is what the charges may mean for Armstrong’s Tour titles. The World Anti-Doping Agency does not strip results eight years after they were accrued, but USADA argues in this case that the alleged activities took place within the last eight years and that “conspiratorial acts” from outside the statute of limitations may be pursued, based in part on USADA v. Hellebuyck.
All this puts Armstrong’s recent claim into question: He recently said he wouldn’t fight to keep his titles if USADA came pounding on the door.
“It doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t run around bragging, feeling like I have to be a seven-time Tour de France champion,” he told Men’s Journal. “I worked hard for those, I won seven times, and that’s great. But it’s over.”
It seems very, very far from over.