A Cycling Mafia?
Perhaps nothing is so irritating to the ultimate athlete than being forced to suffer by comparison. After all, the whole reason to be on top is to be above the fray, where comparisons, especially of the suffering kind, are singularly inapt.
Poor Lance. He passed on the opportunity to go to arbitration over the United States Anti-doping Agency’s (USADA) decision to strip him of his Tour de France titles, a curious move for a fierce and legendary fighter.
This week the USADA released its massive “Reasoned Decision” laying out the rationale for revocation of the titles. Fellow cyclists, support staff and friends all testified about the “doping.”
The press focus, heretofore, has been on whether or not Armstrong doped to win. The Reasoned Decision goes far beyond Armstrong’s personal use of EPO, testosterone and other agents. It lays out a pervasive and far-reaching doping operation involving smuggling, “mules”, test evasion, cheating, recruitment, perjury, and using a doctor and others to aid and abet the use of banned substances.
It was, in fact, a sophisticated operation where prospective riders were “made” in multiple senses of the word to engage in the culture in order to become part of the team. Just like the mafia, anyone daring to criticize the operation or the Don Capo was subject to withering intimidation, harassment and worse.
If Armstrong was hoping to skip the “music” he must be sorely and painfully disappointed. According to Huff Post, his attorney, Tim Herman, called the report “a one-sided hatchet job – a taxpayer funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories.” But, that’s what attorneys are for.
The problem with this assertion is the sheer number of people (among them former close friends) who have testified, often corroborating obscure facts and dates, including contemporaneous conversations. In addition, more than one, including Floyd Landis, exposed themselves to legal sanctions, including federal charges, for being forthcoming.
Perhaps the most confounding aspect is that Lance Armstrong, who the USADA casts as a thoroughly revengeful and vindictive bully was (is) seen by so many as a national hero.
Even if doping is endemic to professional cycling, Armstrong moved beyond that personal choice to create a nefarious culture that ruined the lives of younger athletes through perverse pressure both as a mate and a leader.
And then, when they expressed remorse, he went after them.