Floyd Landis, the American cyclist who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory after failing a urine test, has accused his former teammate, cycling legend and seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, of blood doping. According to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Landis, who has long denied the use of performance-enhancers, admitted to blood doping in a series of emails to his sponsors and USA Cycling. The emails also implicated Armstrong and other top U. S. cyclists.
Armstrong was told of the allegations while competing in the Tour of California. He immediately called a press conference to deny the charges — and then went out and crashed his bike, which forced him to abandon the race.
This was not the first time Armstrong has had to deal with doping charges, and it was not the first press conference he has held to deny them.
The question remains, though: did he do it?
I don’t know. But, because of the evolving economics of professional cycling, the temptation is certainly there. This is especially so in Armstrong’s signature event, the Tour de France, considered to be the World Series of cycling.
As a result of his seven consecutive Tour wins, Armstrong has become a very wealthy man, with a net worth exceeding $125 million.
Winning the Tour is a little like winning a gold medal in the Olympics. Other than hardcore fans of the sport, few people remember who came in second. As a result, the winner stands to reap a financial reward that is many times larger than that received by the runner-up.
Yet, the difference in ability between winner and runner-up is not great at all. Armstrong’s average finishing time in his seven Tour victories was barely a tenth of one percent better than the times of the second-place finishers. This is not a significant difference. With just a small change in circumstances over which he has no control, Armstrong could have lost any of those races.
The truth is, any one of about a half-dozen riders in a running of the Tour could emerge the winner given the right circumstances. With so much riding on such a minute performance difference, can you blame a rider for trying to improve the odds a little? Especially since the chance of getting caught is almost negligible.
These conditions are likely to produce something akin to an arms race. Even a cyclist who opposes the use of performance enhancers may feel compelled to use them if he knows his competitors are. In four of Armstrong’s seven tour victories, the second-place finisher was later disciplined for using banned substances (although in three of those cases, the rider was the same person, Jan Ullrich).
So, if it turns out that Lance Armstrong has been doping or using other performance enhancers, I wouldn’t be surprised. His response, and that of his team’s lawyers, so far has been less than reassuring. Their defense has been to assail Landis’ character, to claim he is full of anger and hate. Maybe so, but at least Landis has named names and provided dates and places.
My personal opinion, reluctantly arrived at, is that the drug testing should stop. Every time a new drug or doping test is devised, someone discovers a way to defeat it. Those who get caught are usually just unlucky. If they are bitter about those who didn’t get caught, who can blame them?
Since doping can’t be stopped, why not just bring it out in the open? It’s their (the cyclists’) bodies. If they are willing to risk permanently damaging them for the sake of victory, then that’s their business.