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Armstrong's Deceit and Cycling's Culture of Complicity

The mentality and money that surrounds cyclists like Lance Armstrong continues to mitigate against catching them in the act of cheating. According to the author of this op-ed from France's Humanite, it is this unspoken conspiracy that shielded the American throughout his seven years of triumph over his competitors - and that continues to cast a shadow over the sport.

By Lionel Venturini

August 25, 2005

l'Humanite - Original Article (French)    

Why is it that a feeling of uneasiness persists after the revelations by [French sports daily newspaper] L’Equipe that the seven-time winner of the Tour de France used EPO during the 1999 race?

Armstrong on the Victory Stand, July 26.

 Is it because the suspicion clearly remains that had been felt up to the time of that last arrival on the Champs-Elysées, his hand over his heart, listening to the American national anthem? Or is it because these delayed revelations refer to the long years of complicity between racers, athletic directors, organizers and followers of all types, including journalists? The sports daily [L’Equipe] defended itself meekly, “in the name of what moral … should the battle against doping have an expiration date?” an editorialist wrote yesterday.


There is discomfort because tongues were wagging - not in the evening at the hotel after a stage of the [Tour de France], but in the columns of newspapers, when we learned only today that police suspected wrongdoing based on information they had received and were watching the Discovery Channel team closely during the stage in Pau [in southwestern France] in 2005.

NPR TALK OF THE NATION: Charges Just a Litmus Test of Trans-Atlantic Emotions Over Armstrong, August 25, 00:11:00

There was also discomfort underscored by Marie-George Buffer, the [Minister of Sports in 1999] who initiated a rule that differed fundamentally from earlier ones by taking into account the health of athletes, and not just the cheating. At the time, Buffet claimed to have been bothered by the “publication of a single name … Caution must be used so as not to damage a single individual.” France-Soir [a French afternoon daily] believes that it knew the six other samples from 1999 belonged to a single racer and questioned l’Equipe’s silence on the subject, inevitably suspecting a racer who distinguished himself on the roads of the Tour, “with stage victories or a distinctive jersey,” perhaps a Frenchman.

At least the Armstrong affair once again puts the spotlight on the [cycling] pack and its customs. These collective rites surrounding [performance enhancing drug] injection, close to those of drug addicts, are described quite well in books by Erwan Mentheour in 1999 (1) or Philippe Gaumont in 2005 (2). [These books are] indisputable testimony that cycling culture has made nearly inaudible.

On CNN Friday, Armstrong Again Denied the Allegations.

Living in isolation, more often with their teammates than with their spouses, professional cyclists were long allowed to roam freely. “It is not possible to understand the culture of doping in cycling without first studying the training practices, which are very demanding physiologically, and which are backward when compared to what has long been done in other areas of athleticism,” said sociologist Christophe Brissonneau, describing a “normalization of doping” in road cycling as a rite of integration into the cycling “family.” Sanctions are rarely initiated by athletic authorities. It has always required the law, the police to bring them order. This makes it easier to understand the shoulder shrugging by Eddy Merckx, who called the affair “tabloid journalism. “Lance confirmed to me that he never used performance enhancing drugs.” Or Laurent Fignon, for whom “this story is too old, what interests me is prevention for young people.”

It is hard to disagree with that last sentence. But still, we know that doping goes on, from the confessions of those who do it – of the preparation or recuperation of racers. Francesco Conconi, Italian assistant and intellectual guide to Dr. Ferrari, didn’t hide the truth in 2001 when Armstrong asked him, while climbing in Ventoux, using an earpiece, for advice on what tactics to use based on his physical condition or known reactions to certain products. Certain products? Mystery …

Dr. Michele Ferrari

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Michele Ferrari was convicted by an Italian Court in 2001 for “sporting fraud” and “illegally acting as a pharmacist.” Ferrari is an authority in sports medicine and high-altitude training, and was alleged to have provided professional cyclists –including Armstrong - with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.]

It is also impossible to speak of doping without analyzing the importance of money. To build a career when competing against the quickest people out there, many have found it necessary to use drugs. But to use drugs, money is needed. To continue at that level, a lot of money - to pay the doctor who concocts the regime that will allow one to avoid getting caught. And what of the doctors torn between their oath to heal and athletic morale? There was a strange mix of reactions when, at a conference in Paris in early 2005, a researcher revealed the results of his investigations on iron injections that athletes should receive to make up for nutritional deficiencies caused by EPO treatments: every athlete in the room had to think about refining his regime …


With Armstrong’s retirement, which coincides with the testimony of Jean-Marie Leblanc [director of the Tour de France] as a betrayed man, will a new page really be turned in cycling and the Tour? Pragmatists believe that the Armstrong affair opportunely puts the spotlight on the 2006 Tour. Skeptics will long hold on to their doubts. Others will retain a certainty of not believing the guilt of their idol, like the 72% of Americans polled by the sports channel ESPN.

(1) Secret défonce [Secrecy Destroyed], Erwan Menthéour, Éditions, Jean-Claude Latt es, 1999.

(2) Prisonnier du dopage [Prisoner of Doping], Philippe Gaumont, Grasset et Fasquelle, 2005.

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