The Tour de France is the word’s most famous and challenging bicycle race – a 21-day, 2000-mile ride through grueling mountains and picturesque towns in France and neighboring countries. But for US cyclist Lance Armstrong, who has won a record seven Tour de France titles, it was not the steep inclines of the race that proves to be the most grueling.
Last week, Armstrong gave up his legal battle with the US Anti-Doping Agency, who for years had accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his unprecedented seven titles. When Armstrong announced that he would give up his fight with the USADA, reaction was swift. He was permanently banned from competing and he was stripped of all his Tour de France titles.
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, “Enough is enough.” For me that time is now,” Armstrong said in a statement to the Associated Press. Although Armstrong was never caught doing drugs, had passed hundreds of tests for banned substances and still had support from the International Cycling Union, he cited the cost of the legal battle with the USADA’s “unconstitutional witch hunt” as his main reason for giving up on challenging the organization’s accusations. “I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999,” he said. “The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.”
Armstrong leads a foundation he started in 1997 for cancer patients called Livestrong – a foundation he started after undergoing treatment for testicular cancer.
And here is where there charges of doping become strange. Armstrong has not been accused of using testosterone – a drug that would seem to make more sense because he had one of his testicles removed, making natural testosterone much more difficult for him to produce. Armstrong is being accused of using erythropoietin, or EPO – a glycoprotein hormone that controls red blood cell production. EPO is a useful drug for endurance athletes like cyclists because it oxygenates the blood and aids to quickly heal muscle tissue that is worn out from extensive workouts.
Although Armstrong has never tested positive for EPO, charges of him using the drug began when he allegedly told a nurse in the hospital where he underwent chemo for his testicular cancer that he used the drug extensively. Other cyclists on the Tour de France also made claims that they saw Armstrong having blood transfusions to mask his drug use.
Despite the instant media feeding frenzy that pounced on Armstrong as “disgraced” and a “cheater,” the fact still remains that he had never tested positive for any banned substances. And if an athlete can be removed from a sport based on heresy and accusation, rather than physical evidence from a positive test, it cheapens the entire process of testing. Tests are put in place to ensure that sports are fair to those who don’t use performance enhancers. But they are also put in place so athletes won’t have to be subjected to innuendo.
Whether you believe Armstrong’s accusers and the USADA, or you believe him, Lance Armstrong’s career in cycling is over, his reputation is tarnished and the record books will show seven gaping holes where once rode a champion.