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David Walsh: Lance Armstrong’s punishment was ‘draconian and probably excessive, but that was on him’

'The bloody-mindedness that underpinned his seven Tour victories was the same bloody-mindedness that led to the loss of all those Tours and the lifetime ban,' writes Irish journalist.

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The Sunday Times’ David Walsh marked the 10th anniversary of Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban from cycling with a long column in the British broadsheet this weekend.

In the piece, the Irish writer detailed his relationship and coverage of the disgraced former rider, charting their first meeting in 1993, all the way through to the American’s doping suspension, and up to the present day.

Walsh, who for a number of years was among the few critical voices in the media when it came to shining a light on doping in cycling and who challenged Armstrong’s credibility, recalls how Armstrong labeled him as “the little f***ing troll” as a result of his work.

Armstrong was handed his ban in 2012 after he declined to fully cooperate with the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) investigation into doping at the former U.S. Postal team. Part of the “Reasoned Decision” also pinpointed several of the American’s teammates. A number of them cooperated with the investigation and were handed six-month bans at the end of the process.

Also read: David Lappartient: The doping days of Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich will never be back

Walsh’s piece in the Sunday Times recounts how Armstrong’s story played out in a legal and personal sense, and how the American fought USADA before eventually having all of his seven Tour de France titles stripped from him.

“Two months after the report, Armstrong had another opportunity to cut some kind of deal with USADA,” Walsh wrote.

“He met with Tygart and Bock at the offices of the former governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter, in Denver. Armstrong admitted he knew where bodies were buried. Tygart said this information might get his ban reduced from life to eight years, Armstrong wanted it reduced to the six months given to his teammates or, maximum, two years. The thought of giving up former associates in return for an eight-year ban was anathema to Armstrong. USADA got no new names. He got no reduction.”

A number of the riders who were handed six-month suspensions returned to the sport after their respective bans.

While Armstrong and his supporters would characterize the USADA’s “Reasoned Decision” as a witch hunt, it ultimately ended with the disqualification and suspension of a rider who used performance enhancing drugs in order to become cycling’s biggest star.

Walsh acknowledges that a ban was fitting, but he also alludes to the hypocrisy that has seen many other former dopers welcomed back into the fray.

“Looking back, it is remarkable how ruthlessly USADA exposed and then punished Armstrong, while fellow dopers were treated more leniently,” he writes.

However, Walsh adds, that the conclusion of the investigation, and its results, was a situation ultimately of Armstrong’s making.

“Armstrong has rebuilt his life and is now a successful podcaster. The show he hosts during the Tour de France is hugely popular. Within the official world of the Tour, he remains persona non-grata, which is laughable given how many former dopers have been welcomed back. Compared to all of the others, his punishment was draconian and probably excessive. But that was on him,” Walsh writes.

“The bloody-mindedness that underpinned his seven Tour victories was the same bloody-mindedness that led to the loss of all those Tours and the lifetime ban. What worked in victory was disastrous in defeat.”