It appears that Lance Armstrong’s decision to quit fighting the US Anti-Doping Agency’s charges against him was more than a case of legal battle fatigue. Wednesday, the agency released a report that included 11 of Armstrong’s cycling team as witnesses against the seven-time Tour de France winner.
In a statement released Wednesday, the USADA said Armstrong’s team the “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” Among the doping tactics that the report alleges, are the use of performance-enhancing drugs by the team which was evidenced by the testimony of 11 members of Armstrong’s team, who also confessed to using the drugs. In addition, a doctor reviewed blood samples taken from Armstrong between 2008 and 2011 and concluded that the results were consistant with a practice called “blood doping.” Blood doping is when someone replaces oxygen-depleted blood with oxygen-enriched blood through a blood transfusion. The report says that Armstong’s blood contained low levels of immature red blood cells in samples taken from the 2009 and 2010 Tour de France.
The USADA’s report further condemned Armstron’s team by stating that its “doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices.”
But was Armstrong’s team really afforded “an unfair competitive advantage,” as the report claims? Among the witnesses to come clean during the USADA investigation was George Hincapie. In a statement released by Hincapie alongside the release of the USADA evidence report, he states that doping in the cycling world was a sport-wide problem, hinting that Armstrong’s US team were not the only athletes to engage in the doping practices that allowed them to win seven Tour de France titles.
“Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them.”
Despite the mounting evidence against Armstrong, which includes documentary evidence, financial payments and e-mails in addition to the lab tests and witnesses, Armstrong’s attorney Tim Herman released a statement denying all the charges, calling them a “one-sided hatchet job” and a “government-funded witch hunt.” Herman described the evidence as ”a taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations, based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories.”
The USADA report could eventually lead to the reopening of the criminal case against Armstrong that federal prosecutors previously closed without issuing formal charges in February of this year.
As of yet, Armstrong’s Tour de France victories have not been stripped, although it all but certain that they will be. Unfortunately fans of a drug-free cycling field, and if George Hincapie’s revelations about sport-wide use of doping practices are true, no one will ever know if the second-place athletes who will now be given Tour de France titles weren’t just as deserving as Lance Armstrong of the scrutiny one gets when he is in first place.