We May Never Know If Lance Armstrong Doped

It's easy to assume the cyclist is guilty—but there's still no proof.


Lance Armstrong is convinced—or at least sounds convincing—that the repeated allegations of his having used performance enhancing drugs is "a witch hunt."

I've reviewed as much of the evidence against Armstrong as I'm capable of digesting, and I share his conclusions. But witches do exist, and sometimes witch hunts uncover them. It's not far from the realm of possibility that both of these statements are correct: Lance Armstrong is the victim of a witch hunt, and Lance Armstrong is guilty of using PEDs.

I don't know the truth. Neither do scores of journalists whose opinions on the subject are everywhere, shaping public opinion. A quick look at the New York Daily News' front and back covers says it all. The front page proclaims "STRIPPED—Disgraced Lance's 7 Tour titles wiped from the record books." Back page: headlines of "Tour De Fraud" and "Lupica: Armstrong Can No Longer Outrace His Lies." That's Mike Lupica, of course, who never saw an athlete accused of anything, particularly drug use, who wasn't guilty. He writes about these things the way the loudest guy in your local pub shouts—at the top of his voice.

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There are no revelations in either Lupica's column or the Daily News' feature except what everyone else woke up to find out this morning. Namely, that the United Sates Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has declared that Armstrong will received lifetime ban from Olympic sports and will have all 7 of his Tour De France titles removed—there are other punishments, but that's the gist of it—following his decision not to challenge the results of the USADA's two-year investigation.

It is not yet certain that the USADA has the power to do any of this. We'll see. But that so many have decided in advance that the agency can do all this—including forcing Armstrong to return his prize money—indicates how many were predisposed to believe in Armstrong's guilt.

I write this not as a journalist, but as a fan, which is to say I only pay attention to cycling a few times a year, and my knowledge of the world of doping in sports, from the chemistry to the politics, is spotty. When a scandal rears its head, I do a crash course in the available facts, calling on experts, when needed, for explanations and analysis. I've been collecting information on the Armstrong controversy for several years now and am finally convinced that I will never know enough of the background to make a decision on my own.

I do, however, have a number of outstanding questions. For instance, I would like to know how everyone can be so positive as to what it meant that four cyclists - four key members of Armstrong's former team—opted out of consideration for the Olympics back in June.

According to Henry Blodget of Business Insider:

One obvious possibility ... is that some or all of these cyclists are among those who have provided evidence against Armstrong and don't want the distraction or bad publicity associated with the arbitration taking place at the same time as the Olympics—especially if they themselves admitted being involved in doping.

Another possibility, presumably, is that they want to be available to defend Armstrong.

Okay, they might have been able to give testimony against Armstrong, they might have been doping themselves, or they might have waned to be available to defend Armstrong. That about runs the gamut, and like so much of the so-called evidence in this matter, I know nothing more after reading it than I did before I read it.

Here's another piece of "evidence." In an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in July, Floyd Landis, a former Armstrong teammate, claims that Johan Bruyneel, director for the US team during all of Armstrong's Tour de France wins, told him that the team sold some sports equipment to pay for their dope. But that's hearsay; when the Journal asked Bruyneel to respond, he chose not to. Go make a case based on that one.

Here's another one. Armstrong is alleged to have returned at least three tests in the 1990s that were positive for testosterone. In the January 24, 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated, Selena Roberts and David Epstein, in a story titled "The Case against Lance Armstrong," talked to anti-doping scientist Don Catlin, whose lab conducted the tests.

A few days later, though, Catlin responded that "both the story and their interviews contain innuendo and mischaracterize key elements." The website The Catlin Perspective further concluded, "We find that the elements of Ms. Roberts and Mr. Epstein's story that involve Dr. Catlin lack credibility. These reporters have delivered a story that misrepresents the truth."

And here's yet another. After Armstrong's retirement in 2005, L'equipe, a French daily sports paper, published a widely discussed story claiming that samples taken from Armstrongfrom the 1999 Tour tested positive for Erythropoietin or EPO - a hormone that increases red blood cell production, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. However, an independent investigator , Emile Vrijman, later issued a report which called into questions the lab's handling of confidential samples and pretty much exonerated Armstrong.

Finally, there's one question that really nags me that I've not seen a convincing answer to. CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteylan concludes that the the charges first brought against Armstrong in June by the USADA were based on—his words—"non-analytical evidence." This means that in the nearly 500 drug tests Armstrong has taken through his career, there is no proof that any have been positive. Many other prominent cyclists—most notably Spain's Alberto Contrador—have been caught juicing. But with so many accusations against Armstrong, why is there no hard proof?

I don't know the answer to this or many other questions involving Lance Armstrong, but I know enough to ask the questions.If someone who knows more than I docan supply some definite answers, I would, along with millions of other people, be most appreciative. In the meantime, let's stop—you'll pardon the expression—recycling old charges.