The last time I wrote about Lance Armstrong and his impact on bike racing (6/1/2011), I was contemplating charges made in public (by some) and before a grand jury (by others) by former members of Lance’s professional cycling teams. They all attested to the presence of performance-enhancing drug use on those teams, and of Lance using his powerful influence to quash suspicious test results. Since then the federal investigation of Lance has concluded without any charges being issued. Most observers thought that the entire investigation was a waste of taxpayer money. The prevailing sentiment was that the era between 1992 and 2007, when many individual riders and teams were apparently using drugs, should not be revived for further scrutiny, because now a new ethos and testing process are in use.
But the USADA (United States Anti-Drug Agency) has opened its own investigation of the matter, using some of the federal evidence. The problem is that the USADA has neither the power nor the responsibility under law that the federal government does. It cannot send Armstrong to prison. Yet it can strip him of all his titles, even those not won under USADA jurisdiction, and essentially destroy his reputation and obscure the significance of his achievements. And it does not have to follow the same protocols of due process or validity of evidence that the federal court system must. Lance ironically, in some ways, is more vulnerable and less able to defend himself than he would be in a federal court. And thus it is not surprising that his lawyers have sought to make this a legal issue by moving it to the federal courtroom. They are suing the USADA, challenging the legitimacy of its methods and procedures, and seeking a restraining order against the proceedings against Armstrong. This could drag on longer than the Contador matter.
Just as the Tour began this year, a European newspaper leaked the names of some of those associates of Lance who had given Grand Jury testimony against him. The fact that these things always arise right as the Tour is ready to start shows how the media seek topics that are “timely” in a way that emphasizes publicity rather than social justice, and also shows how interest groups, knowing that about the media, use the instincts of the media to advance their own causes.
The five named associates are riders Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie, David Zabriskie, and Christian Vande Velde, and ex-rider and present Garmin Directeur Sportif Jonathan Vaughters. The latter has been an outspoken anti-drug figure in cycling for several years; the others have kept a low profile about the issue, to the best of my knowledge. None has ever tested positive for drugs. Yet all of them admitted to using drugs, and all the riders apparently will be getting six-month suspensions, conveniently beginning on September 1, by which time the season is winding down, in exchange for their testimony.
Are these guys honorable whistle-blowers, taking a stand for clean sports, or detestable rat-fink stoolies? I go with the latter. They all go back well over a decade with Lance. Hincapie rode on Lance’s team for every one of his seven Tour victories. Over the years each of them has benefited from his association with Lance, both professionally and financially. Hincapie, for instance, has a line of cycling clothing that he supplies to certain first-line cycling teams. He wouldn’t have had the reputation and credibility to make that business succeed simply by winning Ghent-Wevelgem and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne once each. He made his name riding on the front of the U. S. Postal train in the Tour de France, setting an infernal pace to weaken Lance’s opposition.
When the Feds came and said to Hincapie, and to the others, “we have evidence of drugging in U. S. Postal, and we know you were involved. But we’re really after Lance Armstrong and (coach) Johan Bruyneel, so tell us what you know and we’ll give you only a minor suspension,” they moved to save their own skins. Whistle-blowers observe corruption, are not involved in it, and come forward of their own volition. The morality of their motives is evident. At best, the morality of this group is ambiguous. If, and it’s a big “if,” their testimony provides a “smoking gun,” they will have done their bit for drug-free sporting. But they also have shown themselves to have been uninterested in doing so until threatened with their own punishment. Having profited for years from being associated with Armstrong’s successes, under pressure they reveal themselves as moral cowards.
When the news broke last week Hincapie at least commented that he felt sorry that Lance that had to go through this, and that Lance had achieved amazing things and done much good for his sport. Leipheimer, Zabriskie, and Vaughters all said in effect that they were busy with the Tour and had nothing to say. Vande Velde was too far down the General Classification to be reached.
TdF 2012 First Rest Day Stoolie placings:
19 Leipheimer 8:34
49 Hincapie 25:25
81 Vande Velde 36:16
116 Zabriskie 44:12
21 (out of 22) Garmim-Sharp (DS Vaughters) 1:25:42
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.