The Tour de France is supposed to be the greatest test of human endurance. A race that covers a total distance of approximately 3 200 kilometres over 21 days with 2 rest days does not sound like any sort of test – that sounds like a form of superhuman punishment.
It would therefore make sense that any of the super-humans competing in the Tour would need some form of pharmaceutical supplement to help get them through the gruelling exercise of finishing the race. The most high-profile of these super-humans Lance Armstrong, has recently been in the headlines for his alleged systematic use of drugs that allegedly enabled him to win an unprecedented seven Tours in a row. The “Reasoned Decision” by the USADA is what led to a recent decision by the International Cycling Union (UCI) to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour titles.
With Lance Armstrong, there has been much suspicion and many accusations over the years, but the man himself has stated repeatedly that he has never failed over 200 drug tests. The evidence provided by the USADA in their report is circumstantial in parts, but there is too much corroboration of witness testimony and other evidence such as e-mails and bank transfers for Armstrong
Depending on your viewpoint, most people seem to fall into the black or white category when it comes to Armstrong and the doping scandal that has engulfed him.
Black – “Armstrong is a liar, a cheat, a bully and a creep for deceiving us all for so long. He deserves to be stripped of all his titles”.
White – “Armstrong is a human being. He overcame cancer and established a charitable foundation. He can’t be that bad. Just leave the past in the past and let him keep his titles”.
I think that Armstrong falls somewhere in the grey category – the evidence (as circumstantial as some of it appears to be) is too overwhelming for him to be innocent of doping. However, as much as one takes drugs it still requires an extraordinary level of athletic skill to achieve what he achieved and I give him credit for that. Based on the stats showing the level of doping in cycling (and in the Tour in particular) , it certainly appears that the majority of Armstrong’s competitors were doped up at the time. Armstrong is a human being and I think he did what he felt he had in order to win. The fact remains, however, that the entire sport of cycling is tainted and what happens next to the sport is more important than what happens to Armstrong as an individual.
In their blog post “Stop Persecuting Armstrong: Time For A Doping Amnesty in Cycling” Julian Savulescu and Bennett Foddy illustrate how widespread doping is (and has been) in the Tour de France.
“According to Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s book Le Tour: A History of the Tour de France, doping is a part of the spirit of Le Tour. Since it began in 1903,riders have invariably used performance-enhancing substances in an attempt to get through the gruelling 21 day test of human endurance. They have taken alcohol, caffeine, cocaine, amphetamines, steroids, growth hormone, EPO and blood doping. Fausto Coppi, who won the golden jersey in 1949 and 1952, summed it up when he was asked whether he ever used amphetamines, or ‘La Bomba’, and replied, “Only when absolutely necessary.” When asked how often that was, he said, “Most of the time.
The 1967 Tour saw English rider Simpson collapse and die during the competition with amphetamines in his pocket. And since then, out of the 21 podium finishers in the Tour de France for the period 1999-2005, 20 have been directly linked to doping. For the longer period 1996-2010, it is 36 out of 45.
Bradley Wiggins, the winner of the 2012 Tour de France and Olympic road time trial gold medallist, was asked whether or not he has any sympathy for Armstrong and he replied: “‘Not really, no,’ said Wiggins. ‘My main concern is that I’m the winner of the Tour de France having to pick up the pieces for other people.”
Let us hope for his sake that these are not words that will come to haunt him in future years, because that would not be dope.