Debate Center, 9/4

Armstrong Stripped of Tour De France Titles for Suspected Doping

For nearly a decade, American cyclist Lance Armstrong dominated the world of bike racing, winning a number of titles including seven consecutive Tour De France victories. Throughout that time, many in the world of professional cycling suspected Armstrong of cheating, although he consistently passed all drug tests in which he was required to participate. Last week, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped the famed cyclist of his seven Tour de France titles. The Agency also negated any other results he may have earned from Aug. 1, 1998 through the present and banned him for life from sanctioned cycling events for using and distributing performance-enhancing drugs and then covering it up.

Armstrong, who retired from competitive cycling last year, has denied doping and declared that the USADA is on a “witch hunt.” He pointed out the hundreds of doping tests that he passed. Armstrong said he “played by the rules” but gave up the fight because USADA was conducting an unfair investigation with “zero physical evidence.” He did not cooperate with the investigation. The former world champion indicated that he’d rather spend time on other causes, such as his family and his Livestrong foundation, which raises money to fight cancer.

In 1996, at the age of 25, Armstrong was diagnosed as having testicular cancer with a tumor which had metastasized to his brain and lungs. His treatments included brain and testicular surgery and extensive chemotherapy. He battled back from his illness and began winning his string of Tour de France victories from 1999 through 2005.

For much of Armstrong’s career during his successful run of Tour victories, Armstrong faced persistent allegations of doping.  A number of professional cyclists and sports journalists have alleged that Armstrong’s success was the product of his cheating and doping. Armstrong has consistently denied using illegal performance-enhancing drugs and described himself as the most tested athlete in the world. From the fall of 2008 through March 2009, Armstrong submitted to 24 unannounced drug tests by various anti-doping authorities.

So how are they alleging that Armstrong got away with passing almost every doping test over the years that he was winning the Tour de France, the period of his greatest success? Cyclists and other athletes have often used drug versions of human proteins, especially erythropoietin (EPO), which boosts red blood cells, and therefore the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. This would give an obvious advantage to any athlete who used (EPO). Until about 2002, there was no reliable way to test for EPO and some medical experts would argue that there still isn’t. The drug is difficult to detect primarily because the drug version and the natural version look almost identical.

USADA’s case against Armstrong was built primarily on witness testimony and blood samples indicative of doping. While Armstrong says he passed hundreds of drug tests, USADA head Travis Tygart says Armstrong’s doping included using banned drugs that were not detectable in tests. He also said there is no test for prohibited blood transfusions, which USADA said Armstrong used to gain an edge.

In announcing his decision to not contest the agency findings, Armstrong however strongly criticized the testimony of witnesses who said they saw Armstrong doping before races. Many of these witnesses were former teammates of Armstrong. Armstrong observed that the USADA “allegedly made deals with other riders that circumvent their own rules as long as they said I cheated (in exchange for their testimony).” He noted that many of those riders continue to race after making “sweetheart deals” for themselves despite their admitted violations.

Forum Question of the Week:

“Do you believe that there was sufficient proof to warrant stripping Lance Armstrong of his title?”

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