Monday, August 27, 2012

Lance Armstrong and Doping

Last week Lance Armstrong gave up his fight against the USADA. He said he would no longer fight, or even respond to the charges. Many people have claimed that this is a sad day for cycling. It has divided many people over drug use in the sport. Curiously missing from the announcement was any denial of using performance enhancing drugs. The closest he comes is the statement: 
I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. 
Not once does he say that the claims are untrue.

True or not, I think he was right in saying there was no unfair advantage. For the seven tours that Lance won, all but two of the top five riders in all of those have been involved in doping in some way. If one thing is clear, it is that doping is something you do to compete in this sport. It isn't something you can blame one person for.

Taking performance enhancing drugs is part of the structure of the races themselves. The way things work, this type of abuse is encouraged. Not openly, but because there is so little "edge" it is becomes necessary to dope if anyone else is. Peeing in a cup doesn't fix the problem either. It just means an arms race between tests and drugs used to mask results. The real issue is that the incentives to use are too great. Not using drugs is worse than the risk of getting caught. That makes doping a systemic problem in the sport of road cycling.

The only sad thing I see is that this would have been a great opportunity for the Lance Armstrong to actually be the hero people look at him to be. Not to fight the charges, but to admit to them. To show the world the hidden side of professional cycling. If he had the courage to overcome cancer, I would hope he has the courage to be honest about the choices he made. This might have had a greater impact on it than even winning seven Tours.


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