By now the news about the Federal investigation into Lance Armstrong being dropped and Alberto Contador's ban have funneled through the news outlets. Now the more detailed stories and reactions from the cycling world are emerging. I thought I'd chime in as well on what really are the two biggest stories in cycling.
Lance is an enigma. Some love him. Some hate him and some love to hate him. For most, the decision by the Fed to drop the case will do nothing to sway their opinion either way about the guy. For those who are convinced he doped, no charges means the Fed dropped the ball, Lance has good lawyers or it just means Lance doped, but just not on the taxpayer's dime. I've read through the comments sections on the articles I've read, and the haters are just gonna hate.
For the Lance supporters, this vindicates him of doping and is more proof that accusations are just that. Those in the Lance camp believe the investigation was a waist of time and money and the lead investigator, Jeff Novitsky was just on a which hunt trying to make up for failures in the Barry Bonds case. Regardless of which side you're on, the latest news probably changes nothing.
For me, it proves that Lance is untouchable. Whether its because of wealth, power, influence or actual innocence, people keep lobbing up there and he keeps knocking them out of the park. With what was being said, the FDA had no choice but to look into it. If federal funds were being used illegally, we as taxpayers have a right to know. And if the law was broken, the guilty should be brought to justice. But the Fed case also proves to me that accusations are just that...comments by people who may or may not be telling the truth and have no evidence other than their word.
The Fed investigation focused on the claims by Floyd Landis and others that there was systematic, team sanctioned doping going on within the US Postal Service cycling team. After 2 years of investigation, trips to Europe and Grand Jury testimony, the government couldn't gather enough proof that Landis' claims were true. Did Lance dope? Well, according to the FDA investigation, he didn't dope in the manner claimed. I think that says a lot about Landis' testimony and the beef he's got with Lance.
It doesn't look as though all is well over at the FDA however. According to NPR, there are some who believed charges were coming and the case ended prematurely.
What about the other "evidence" against Lance, namely the positive tests from 1999 or the alleged cover up from the UCI in 2001? A look at the investigations into those cases yields results similar to the Fed case. There's not enough there to prove Lance doped. The 1999 samples were refuted by an independent investigation. Yes, it was a technicality that called the samples into question, but they couldn't prove they were Lance's samples. The UCI cover up was also hearsay. There was no solid information that could prove the UCI covered up a Lance positive from a race in Switzerland.
So you have a guy who's never failed a drug test, been investigated numerous times and yet still comes out clean. That's good enough for me. Plus, I'm a bit pragmatic about the situation. If Lance doped, then he was the best doper. Almost all of his competitors during that time have been caught, implicated or confessed. So it was a level playing field. If he didn't dope (and this is where the evidence lands) then he's an even better athlete as he pummeled the dopers.
This leaves us with the situation where Lance himself can point to various official findings, reports and investigations where they weren't able to pin down a doping infraction. The book is not closed on Lance however. USADA is requesting the details of the Fed investigation to see if there's anything they can find about Lance doping. They'll run into some issues with statutes of limitation and other loopholes that I'm sure Lance's legal team will fight tooth and nail. But until then, I'm going with what's been presented...not one entity able to prove Lance doped.
Contador's case is a whole different ball game. I'm not a big 'Bert fan but that's more because of of public persona and the attitudes of him and his Spanish mates not because of doping. What we have with 'Bert is an undisputed positive test, something Lance does not have. After almost 2 years of court proceedings and appeals, the Court of Arbitration for Sport handed him a 2 year ban retroactive to the date of the positive test in August of 2010. The ban negates all of his results from that time, including the 2010 Tour de France.
The real tragedy here isn't so much the positive test, but the way it was handled by the powers that be. 'Bert's defense was tainted beef. The minuscule amounts of clenbuteral found in his urine sample were smaller than most labs can even test for but there is no acceptable limit for clenbuteral. Sponsors, riders and fans shouldn't have to wait this long know the outcome of a race. Could his positive test be the result of tainted beef? Sure, but he couldn't prove it within the system that's in place and it took too long. Both sides were allowed to stall and posture for no real reason at all. There needs to be more in place, to protect riders as well as organizers, so this kind of charade doesn't happen again.
Is 'Bert guilty? Of course he is. Was there dope in his system? Yes! That was never in dispute. The thing about doping isn't so much for race day performance but to train hard enough to be the best on race day. Most doping takes place during training. Clenbuterol isn't really a "performance enhancer" but allows for rapid weight loss. As CAS indicated, the small amounts of the stuff in Contador's sample indicated possible drug use just prior to the Tour or worse, that he transfused tainted blood during the Tour. They did acknowledge in their decision the possiblity of accidental contamination, but the rules state that it doesn't matter. The rider is ultimately responsible for what they ingest. It sucks that this happened. But with so much at stake, CAS had to set precedent here. Could the positive been from beef? Sure. but 'Bert couldn't prove it so he got flicked. Was Contador a victim of an overly intolerant system? Possibly, but as with Lance, I'm going to go with the official record.
The only good thing to come out of all this is that cycling is doing something about doping. It does cast a cloud over the sport but the cheaters are getting caught. NFL, MLB and NBA players are probably just as dirty, but very little is being done to catch the cheaters. Cycling will survive. It survived the Festina affair in 1997 and it survived Landis and it will survive Contador. There is a new crop of young riders who are adamant in their fight against doping and becoming a victim of something tainted. Taylor Phinney won't even take supplements as he's afraid of ingesting something by accident. While its sad that kind of paranoia exists, its good that we can finally start to believe our heroes are racing clean.