Lance Armstrong provokes strong and confused emotions in me. He was my ultimate idol. His 7 Tour victories, his almost too good to be true recovery and super regeneration from cancer sickness and his inspirational books made him a real life super hero. There have always been stories and doubters, but since his initial retirement in 2005 the accusations have mounted. French sports newspaper, L'Equipe, has been on the Texan's case for years, but suddenly the accusers multiplied, led by disgraced Tour de France 'Winner', Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, a self confessed doper. Both former team mates of Armstrong accused him and his then team, US Postal, of systematic doping. Hamilton described witnessing Armstrong using EPO. Armstrong, as is frequently put forward in his defence, has apparently never provided a positive test for illegal substances. I say apparently, because one accusation is that Armstrong brought undue influence to bear upon the UCI to cover up a positive test. Armstrong had made donations to the UCI. They have accepted that this was improper, but have denied that there was any such cover up or any positive test.
Federal investigators in America began investigating Armstrong and the US Postal team 2 years ago. It was alleged that fraud had been committed because team funding, which might have paid for doping, had been obtained from a government agency. Landis and Hamilton amongst others provided testimony to the investigators. The investigation was led by the same US Attorney responsible for the BALCO investigation. Armstrong has lived under this cloud for the past 24 months. Today, in an unusual statement, it was announced that the investigation is now closed without charges.
Triumph for Armstrong et al? Not quite yet. USADA has requested the evidence unearthed during the investigation. It allegedly still hopes to pursue anti doping violation charges against the Tour legend based upon the testimony of eyewitnesses. It is not without precedent for charges to be brought without positive drug tests. In 2008 american cyclist, Kayle Leogrande, was banned after testimony by a team soigneur to whom he had admitted doping offences. However the United States Attorney's Office have stated that it is far from certain that they will comply with nay request for evidence. All will depend on their 'rules and procedures'. WADA has a theoretical 8 year statute of limitations, 'theoretical' because the start point is dependent on many factors including attempts to cover up evidence. WADA expects that the US government as signatories to the WADA Code will do everything to assist as they have with BALCO and other investigations.
The story moves on. USADA has now 13.6.12 charged Armstrong and 5 cohorts including team manager, Johan Bruyneel, with doping offences going back as far as 16 years ago. USADA will seek to overcome the statutory limit.
USADA intends to use former Armstrong lieutenant George Hincapie against him. Hincapie allegedly gave a sworn statement to Federal investigators during the investigation into Armstrong asserting systematic drug abuse. He cannot contradict that now, but I personally do not see him putting Armstrong down in exchange for a shortened ban. They have years of shared pain and triumph together. Hincapie is 39 years old and his career is over. I predict a 'no show' and Hincapie to walk into the sunset.
Armstrong for his part strongly asserts his innocence and cites the usual arguments, never failed a drugs test, accused by convicted dopers. Battle lines are rawn once more. I remain confused and disappointed that the 'ultimate super hero storyline' is still shrouded in doubt.