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Lance Armstrong Formally Charged With Doping By USADA

Lance Armstrong in 2004.  When we believed.
Lance Armstrong in 2004. When we believed.

The Texas legend has been formally charged with doping by the USADA and it could mean the loss of 7 Tour de France titles and the discredit of a figure who elevated U.S. cycling from a niche backwater to legitimate national interest, while inspiring millions as a cancer survivor.

In the 15-page charging letter obtained by The Wall Street Journal, USADA, the agency that oversees antidoping efforts in Olympic sports in the U.S., said "numerous riders, team personnel and others will testify based on personal knowledge" of Mr. Armstrong's alleged doping. The knowledge was "acquired either through observing Mr. Armstrong dope" or through "admissions of doping to them," it added.

The 15 page letter of charges is freely available for you to read and the contents are devastating.

Armstrong is being accused of extensive cheating, including:

  1. Use of EPO (increases red blood cells) between 1998-2005.
  2. Blood doping (transfusions used to extract athlete's own red blood cells, reintroduced later to aid performance). The letter states that Team Discovery Channel and the USPS teams created entire race strategies built around blood doping schedules.
  3. Testosterone. Armonstrong and teammates took a mix of olive oil and testosterone frequently as part of their training and performance regimen.
  4. Human Growth Hormone. It was provided to multiple team members, though Armstrong is not specified.
  5. Cortisone abuse.
  6. Saline/plasma infusions to prevent triggering hematocrit markers in blood testing.
It's not exactly a secret that every major cycling figure of the past two decades engaged in some degree of blood doping and performance enhancement, and that cycling is arguably the dirtiest sport there is, but the accusations against Armstrong go well beyond red blood cell enhancement (which pro cyclists seemingly regard more as a rite of passage than cheating) and mark him as just another cyclist working the system, an accusation he has always vehemently denied.

Armstrong contends:
...the "charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity."

That may be true and cycling is frequently marred by a particular brand of pettiness (any wonder the French love it?), but it doesn't look good for Lance. These are not criminal charges, but the blow to Armstrong's legacy would be be substantial. That's unfortunate, because whatever one thinks of Armstrong's obsessive single-mindedness and likely deceptions, he has done a lot of good.

Since 1997, the LiveStrong Foundation has raised over 325 million dollars to support cancer research and offer services to people and families affected by cancer. 81 cents on every dollar goes directly to those affected, a very good level of performance for any public charity. Beyond LiveStrong's direct impact, he has had an incalculable effect on cancer fund raising and awareness for other organizations, and has served as a source of personal inspiration for tens of thousands of cancer survivors.

I hope that any loss to Armstrong's reputation won't detract from more important fights.