The Dope On Lance Armstrong

By Brian P. Dunleavy
June 19, 2012

The Tour de France remains the sports world’s most grueling contest.

Unless, of course, you factor in the post-race drug-testing process… Or the allegedly guilty riders' endless courtroom challenges of the results of said drug tests…

OK, then, I stand corrected. Only in contemporary sports would enduring the he-said/blood-sample-said drama of performance-enhancing drug testing before, during and after the race require more will than the race itself. And in cycling, that’s saying something. For the Tour de France, cycling’s premier race, the world's top riders test each other on the winding, mountainous roads of rural France for more than a month. It is a marathon on steroids.

Oops, that may not be the best analogy in this case.

Recent history has seen numerous champions stripped of their Tour titles long after the race is over (Floyd Landis, etc.) because of cheating. The latest potential casualty, of course, is American "hero" Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner, cancer survivor, boyfriend to the stars and, at least until recently, the Teflon Don of Cycling.

Despite the alleged existence of tainted blood and urine samples, as well as the testimony of former teammates and coaches, Armstrong, who has become an inspiration for cancer survivors world over after successfully overcoming testicular cancer to reach the pinnacle of his sport, has maintained his innocence and his reputation, although the latter just barely.

He has confidently—some would say arrogantly—dismissed charges that he has used performance-enhancing drugs or engaged in blood-doping as the ranting of a peloton of cyclists jealous of his success or the anti-American bias of a foreign-dominated sport laid bare.

The only problem now is that these latest charges have been leveled not by riders but by a government agency, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and an American one at that. It’ll be hard to talk—or more likely litigate—his way out of this one; however, Armstrong’s still trying.

In the end, though, the real story here is not how Armstrong fares in the court of law but what happens to his legacy in the court of public opinion. Until now, the millions he has donated to cancer-related causes, his advocacy on behalf of cancer patients and the “us-against-the-disease” inspiration he has given victims and their families has seen him leave previous charges—much like his rival cyclists—in the dust. His supporters have bought into his seemingly paranoid defenses; they have been willing to overlook mounting evidence and apparent personal failings, including, it seems, his sometimes questionable choices regarding advisers and coaches and his decision to leave his long-time wife (and mother of his children) several years ago.

But can that continue? Will his community continue to rally around him even after the source of his inspiration—his success in the Tour de France after surviving cancer—is effectively rendered imagination by the latest allegations?

Yes, if USADA proves its case, Armstrong will lose his seven Tour titles. But he has a lot more to lose than that.


About the author: Brian P. Dunleavy is a writer who lives in New York.



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