Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lance Armstrong doping allegations


The blogs are busy today with the latest athlete in a performance-enhancing drug scandal, following the accusation by French sports daily L'Equipe that a prohibited drug had been discovered in the stored urine of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
In a four-page article headlined "The Armstrong Lie,"... L'Equipe printed copies of documents suggesting six urine samples he provided during his first championship in 1999 tested positive for the red blood cell-booster erythropoietin, or EPO... The drug was on the list of banned substances at the time but there was no effective test to detect it.

Armstrong, fresh from a 17-mile bike ride with President Bush, responded (as he has for seven years) with the unequivocal denial, "I never took performance enhancing drugs."

I have to read these accusations with a shaker full of salt ready to hand. French sports writers have come afoul of Armstrong before, in their drive to find some way to denigrate the American's domination of their premiere race. In fact, the drive to find a test for doping with the drug Lance is now accused of using came after similar accusations were leveled at another non-French Tour winner, Danish Festina rider Bjarne Riis.

The French daily also has a history of sniping at Lance.
L'Equipe, whose parent company is closely linked to the Tour, often questioned Armstrong's clean record and frequently took jabs at him—portraying him as too arrogant, too corporate and too good to be for real... "Never to such an extent, probably, has the departure of a champion been welcomed with such widespread relief," the paper griped the day after Armstrong's record seventh straight win.

It's important to note that while France's anti-doping laboratory, which developed the EPO urine test, found at least 15 urine samples (which had been frozen and stored from the 1999 Tour) had tested positive for EPO, they could not confirm any of these positive results were Armstrong's. The samples were "anonymous, bearing only a six-digit number to identify the rider, and could not be matched with the name of any one cyclist."

During his entire post-cancer career, Armstrong has been subject to blood testing after nearly every stage he has raced in the Tour, according to his autobiography, It's Not About the Bike. He's simply very, very good, in a sport for which his natural physical abilities are admirably suited.


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