As the 2014 Tour de France prepares to crown a new champion this Sunday, the long shadow of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal continues to plague the sport.
Once considered the greatest bicyclist, and arguably greatest athlete, in the world, Armstrong has tried to repair his disgraced career, and once-lucrative brand. Dropped by Nike (which famously stood by Tiger Woods after numerous infidelities came to light), Armstrong recently appeared in, believe it or not, an instructional video for Outside Magazine’s website showing how to change a flat tire.
It was less than two years ago that the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. It was a year ago that he famously appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and admitted to doping. Armstrong is banned for life from the competitive sport, and is facing a mountain of legal woes that threaten to leave him penniless.
To refresh your memory, Armstrong admitted to doping by using EPO or erythropoietin, a hormone that acts on the bone marrow to stimulate red blood cell production. An increase in red blood cells improves the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry to the body’s muscles, which can lead to improved performance.
A Dutch newspaper recently polled 25 living Tour de France winners about whether Armstrong should be given back those titles – earned while benefiting from, in USADA’s own statement at the time, “the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
Half of them said he should get the titles back. The argument from many appears to be that the there should not be blank spaces in the seven years Armstrong “won” the Tour. The person who crossed the finish line first, so they say, is the winner … period.
Not on the list of Armstrong apologists is Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour and someone who has said Armstrong deserves to go to jail. Interestingly, LeMond also recently posted his own “How to Fix a Flat” video, ostensibly as a way to take a jab at Armstrong.
Let’s be clear about something – Armstrong cheated. He admitted to cheating. As far back as 1999, when a French newspaper first made the doping allegations against him, he lied and bullied people to try to cover up his cheating. He played up the fact he is a cancer survivor to help build his fame and fortune, all the while taking illegal drugs to enhance his performance.
Unfortunately, Armstrong was not alone. The scandal put renewed focus on the use of illegal drugs in cycling, and the investigation by international cycling’s governing body continues to this day.
Hopefully, the winner of this year’s Tour de France will deserve the title – earned without the benefit of illegal drugs or unethical behavior. The sport needs time and distance to recover, but it also needs champions willing to play by the rules and willing to hold themselves and their peers to the same standard. That’s an example the world can be proud of.
Unfortunately, the former champions who think Armstrong’s titles deserve to be re-instated have failed that test.
Dr. Annette “Dr. Z” Zaharoff heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. A former professional tennis player who competed in the WTC circuit, Dr. Zaharoff remains actively involved with the US Tennis Association. Learn more about her at www.drzmd.com.