Lance Armstrong drops his doping fight with USADA – what now?

The seven-times Tour de France winner looks set to lose his titles. Gero Breloer/EPA

It seems as if the case against Lance Armstrong has ended not with a bang but a whimper.

The American seven-times Tour de France champion issued a statement earlier today, stating that “enough is enough” and that he would no longer engage with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), whose ongoing doping allegations he described as a “charade”. There was, he added:

zero physical evidence to support [USADA’s] outlandish and heinous claims. The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colours. I made myself available around the clock and around the world […]

From the beginning, […] this investigation has not been about learning the truth or cleaning up cycling, but about punishing me at all costs.

In short, Armstrong maintains his innocence, but will not contest the doping case brought by USADA and thus will accept any sanctions the organisation imposes.

After a US court decided a few days ago it had no jurisdiction to interfere with the USADA proceedings, Armstrong was left with two possible moves:

1) Contest the USADA allegations in arbitration

And what allegations they were, running the full gamut of drug use and blood manipulation, and their prolonged cover-up:

… numerous riders, team personnel and others will testify based on personal knowledge acquired either through observing Armstrong dope or through Armstrong’s admissions of doping to them that Lance Armstrong used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone during the period from before 1998 through 2005 and that he had previously used EPO, testosterone and HGH through 1996 …

[…] Doping is further evidenced by the data from blood collections obtained by the UCI from Lance Armstrong in 2009 and 2010. This data is fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.

The above would most likely include testimony from Armstrong’s former teammates Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and others who have already levelled various allegations over the last several years.

This process would have been a donnybrook of the first order - a dozen or so high profile athletes laying out testimony (and being cross-examined) in front of the world’s media, discussing the intricacies of doping at the highest levels of cycling for more than a decade.

Ben Macmahon/AAP

Not only that – the involved parties would be a series of Armstrong’s former teammates, and the evidence would have become as specific as the dissection of Armstrong’s original blood-testing results.

This undoubtedly would have been the highest profile doping case in history - bigger in scale, bigger in scope and bigger in consequences than anything that’s gone before.

And there is no doubt USADA will not blink – team doctor Luis Garcia del Moral and consultant doctor Michele Ferrari, both named in the same US Postal Service case as Armstrong, are already listed as sanctioned for life on the USADA webpage.

Considering this, it is no surprise that Amstrong has decided to:

2) Not contest the allegations in arbitration, and accept any punishment.

This makes no difference to his road cycling career after retirement, but will affect his ability to participate in future World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) events.

It will also almost certainly mean the loss of his seven Tour de France titles, the possible revocation of his bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics and further sanctions for prize monies lost etcetera – not to mention further personal financial consequences from lost revenue, sponsorship and the like.

Regardless of his guilt or innocence, it is a simple matter to understand how contesting this process would have appeared.

Where are we now?

So what actually happened? We don’t know.

We are left with an enormous black hole where there should be information. USADA has revealed maddeningly little information on these matters – merely what and who they involve.

The primary alternative motive offered by Armstrong – a personal vendetta mounted by the USADA – would have to be extreme if true. It is hard to imagine the animus that he must have generated to make a bevy of professional cyclists break ranks and discuss this matter openly under examination, considering their historical reticence to ever discuss such issues.

But we really don’t know. And once more, we are merely left with inconsistencies and frustrations. No doubt this will result in the usual sound and fury in conversation - supporters of Armstrong will note angrily that he has never failed a drug test; detractors will note that former sprint star Marion Jones used to declare precisely the same thing - before she admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, and was jailed for initially lying about it.

None of these arguments are new – nor are serious allegations and personal enmity towards Armstrong recent phenomena. After being promised a definitive answer, we are left once again wondering precisely what happened.

Where to from here?

The only real winner after today’s events is cycling, but not because of any laudatory action on the part of the multiple regulatory bodies involved – in this case the USADA, USA Cycling and the UCI.

The whole case points to a systemic mismanagement of drug control as regulation has either, depending on your perspective, failed to bring a legitimate case against the sport’s most high-profile and flagrant drug user for around 15 years; or viciously persecuted the only household name in global cycling, who is entirely innocent.

But cycling still wins, as Armstrong’s move defuses the situation entirely and guarantees the promised media circus will not eventuate at anything like the planned intensity.

It seems likely that the only thing most people could agree on right now would be Judge Spark’s final conclusion from his arbitration earlier in the week:

As mystifying as USADA’s election to proceed at this date and in this manner may be, it is equally perplexing that these three national and international bodies are apparently unable to work together to accomplish their shared goal - the regulation and promotion of cycling.

Further reading:
- Is the Lance Armstrong affair a race to the bottom for cycling?
- Lance Armstrong charged with ‘blood doping’ and EPO-use … so how do they work?
- Frank Schleck, the Tour de France and doping: so what’s xipamide?
- Contador, doping and the need for speed
- Alberto Contador banned for doping, but what is clenbuterol?