By Patrick O’Grady
“Was winning the Tour seven times that offensive?!?” — Lance Armstrong firing a bon-mot shot at the French via Twitter
Back in the day, we used to joke that OLN was the Only Lance Network. The outfit calls itself Versus now, but the Only Lance Network remains as a multimedia collection of newspapers, web sites, blogs, magazines, video outlets and wire services for whom bicycle racing means All Lance, All the Time.
The latest from the OLN concerns Armstrong’s out-of-competition encounter with a French drug tester. At issue is a 20-minute shower Armstrong took between encountering said tester and the actual tests themselves. He and his people say it was a question of taking time to verify the tester’s bona fides; the French say it was a violation of the International Standard for Testing, which requires an athlete notified of his or her obligation to provide a sample to “(r)emain within direct observation of the DCO/Chaperone at all times from the point of notification by the DCO/Chaperone until the completion of the Sample collection procedure. …”
There is some dispute as to whether the tester erroneously approved the shower. This would seem implausible, given the clear language of the rule and the résumé of the tester, whom John Leicester of The Associated Press describes as “a man with 15 years of testing experience who teaches other would-be testers about the job and who has worked at the Tour, the Rugby World Cup and the athletics world championships. …” And surely Armstrong, who gets tested more regularly than a flatbacker at a Nevada brothel, should know the rules backwards and forwards, in English and French, after two decades of enduring drug snoops at his doorstep.
But, hey, even UCI chief Pat McQuaid seems confused on the subject, proclaiming that the seven-time Tour champ “had every right to take a shower while his manager checked with the UCI that these people had the authority to take these samples.”
This all sounds too pedantic for words until you remember that cycling is home to more dopers than was Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love. Take your eye off some of ‘em for a second and they will be up to their bug-spattered Oakleys in human growth hormone, EPO and other people’s blood, frantically trying to cover their tracks like a diarrhetic cat in a litter box full of pot belge. If this were not so, we would have no need for rulebooks thicker than Russian novels from the likes of WADA, USADA, yadda yadda yadda.
Nevertheless, Armstrong is predictably outraged, as are his fans, most of whom probably aren’t subject to the indignities of drug screening as a condition of employment — unless, say, they’re maintenance workers at a tourist attraction, UPS truck drivers or copy editors for The Los Angeles Times. I know this last one from experience, having landed an interview and a tryout there back in the Eighties, when the LAT was not yet an embarrassment to journalism and Peruvian marching powder was all the rage. I was understandably nervous; after all, you never know where those French fellas are gonna turn up.
But c’mon. What we have here is a case of la force irrésistible meeting the immovable object — or, as a colleague noted wryly, a pissing match, pure and simple. Armstrong takes a squirt at the French, the French reply in kind, and the rest of us get to sit back and watch, hoping we don’t get splashed.
The scary thing is, it’s more interesting than Le Tour has been for the past few years. Quel dommage!
Did O’Grady come out clean this time or is he positively dopey once again? Send your samples, both positive and negative, to firstname.lastname@example.org.