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The Truth about Lance and EPO
submitted by Dave Balkin on 6/26/06

pixelHow would I know if Lance Armstrong used EPO in 1999 as the French newspaper L’Equipe alleges? They say the science is orderly and the results are indisputable. Armstrong strongly denies ever using any illegal substance and has never failed a drug test. As the most tested athlete in the world he’s passed more than 150.
pixelTruth is this has nothing to do about drugs and it’s all about the French hatred for his robotic performances that made winning the world’s hardest bike race look routine. The French may have a mellow approach to many of life’s wayward charms but they’ve taken the pledge when it comes to drugs and cycling.
pixelA perfect example is American rider Jonathan Vaughters who in a past TDF was stung in the face by a bee and he couldn’t take medication that contained trace amounts of a banned substance. Vaughters finished the stage but the next day his face became too swollen to see and he had to abandon. That’s incredibly harsh. But once they took the pledge the French have turned themselves inside out to eliminate any hint of drugs in a sport where it’s been part of the culture since its inception.
pixelIn no sport is performance enhancing more effective and arguably more dangerous than in cycling. Increasing a motor’s ability to do harder work longer is almost always a winning edge. Professional bike riders come from the farms and villages looking for a way up and desperate to get out. It’s seen as everything to gain and an opportunity too good to pass up.
pixelIn the days before testing, drugs were as routine as they are in the NFL and MLB. Jacques Anquetil the most legendary of all French riders never came out and directly admitted to using amphetamines but staunchly defended their use saying that 275 racing days a year demanded their use. Riders of lesser stature from that era freely admitted amphetamine use that was so widespread that some popped pills openly.
pixelDario Frigo, a one time star was kicked out mid way through the 2005 TDF when his wife was arrested at the border with vials of EPO. She admitted they were for her husband’s use.
pixelIn our legal system that’s a dumb thing to do but in France it most likely spared her the treatment given Raimondas Rumsas wife who languished in a French jail for close to a year after a similar arrest.
Raimondas Rumsas was actually on the podium after finishing third and literally, moments after the medal was draped around his neck, he was told of her arrest. He took the back way out of Paris immediately and didn’t visit his wife the entire time she was in jail otherwise he’d have been arrested too. Eventually a deal was made for her release.
pixelThe French epiphany came in 1998 when the Festina scandal broke the Tour de France wide open. The premiere French team with its national icon Richard Virenque was busted and thrown out halfway into the race. Virenque denied any involvement even as all the others confessed and the team manager named Virenque as the ringleader.
pixelAfter years of denial there was an eventual finding of guilt and Virenque who’d cleaned up his act, once again became a national hero. He retired in 2004 after 7 King of the Mountain titles. The French like their heroes to be flawed just like the rest of us and then they love them even more when they rebuild their lives and return to former glory.
pixelIt’s what they hate about Lance. The only time they warmed up to him was in 2003 when he suffered mightily and looked as if he was about to die. “He’s Human After All” read one headline. All the other victories were robotic and this final one where he was in total control really must have pissed them off.
pixelIn a sport where spontaneity and opportunity knock louder than a Ferrari on 87 octane victory number 7 was drawn up and executed as if the self proclaimed world’s hardest sporting event was a ride in the park. They’re glad to see him go and in a way so am I but I’ll miss sitting on the edge of my seat for the better part of a month watching an authentic American hero dominating this intensely physical soap opera.
pixelAuthentic American heroes don’t come around often enough and even as Lance epitomizes the phrase he too is immersed in a culture that understands the need for speed that drives men to extreme measures that bend or break the rules.
pixelDuring a filmed training session there was an informal roadside interview where Lance denied using banned performance enhancing substances but his choice of words was revealing. We don’t do anything ‘naughty” and naughty and drugs are not exactly made for the same sentence.
pixelLance also said he reckoned that at most it would give him a little extra, maybe 2% and that wasn’t enough to make a real difference. I’ll bet every bit of that’s true. Few men know their bodies as well as Lance knows his. Few men are as disciplined, calculating and ruthless when it comes to understanding what it takes for him to get where he’s going.
pixelMy conjecture is it’s unlikely he took EPO in 1999 and it only matters to the French who do not want to believe that anyone can make their national spectacle look so easy. The only way to do that is to besmirch his reputation. The most disappointing part of it is newly retired TDF Director, Jean Marie LeBlanc’s declaration that Lance is a fraud. Would he have said that if both had another year of living with each other? My guess is he wouldn’t have had to, L’Equipe would have waited. What’s another year when it’s old news anyway?
pixelThe really ugly truth and really old news are French riders who have been stiffs for a generation and then some. Frustration and selling newspapers is what this is all about.
pixelMeanwhile, the international governing board of cycling authorized an independent investigation into L’Equipe’s allegations. The investigation was conducted by a Dutch science team. Their findings not only completely absolved Lance but further said the incriminating evidence was bogus, the science was junk and those responsible should be taken to task for it. But this is a world where there is no last word and the perpetrators of this stale news of alleged fraud accused the Dutch of a hidden agenda along with being unqualified.
pixelIf that’s not enough there’s a new revelation of old news. Sealed court documents were leaked on June 22 (two days ago as this is written) to the French newspaper Le Monde. Frankie and Betsy Andreu, really good friends of Lance, hence their 1996 presence in his hospital room as Lance was preparing for chemo. They testified under oath that when the doctor (Nichols) asked Lance if he’d ever used performance enhancing drugs Lance told him he’d used cortisone, testosterone, growth hormone, EPO and steroids.
pixelThe doctor says without any equivocation that he didn’t ask that question and the incident didn’t happen otherwise he would have had to note it as part of his medical profile.
pixelThis case is ancient history and was weird from the start. Lance’s team took out an insurance policy that paid off if he won. In 2004, SCA Promotions accepted a $420,000 premium but withheld their $5 million payment. They demanded substantial proof that past allegations of Lance’s drug use were untrue. In the end Lance was completely vindicated and awarded the $5 million plus an additional $2.5 million by the adjudicating panel.
pixelCycling is a sport where grudges and power politics are the landscape. Lance accuses Richard Pound, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency of leaking the information at this late date. Those two are not friends. Of his friends he says, Betsy Andreu holds a grudge against him and her husband just went along with her.
pixelBottom line for me is the 150 drug tests he took and passed. Does that mean Lance is squeaky clean? It sells newspapers and builds the hype for an event that needs no introduction—especially one this low.

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