It was reported today that American cyclist Lance Armstrong is facing possible punishment from the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD). The controversy revolves around the events leading to the French speaking out against the former champion. The French are claiming Lance delayed a testing official for 20 minutes before submitting to a test. Under French law, an appointed Anti-Doping official can show up announced, anytime, and the rider must submit to a test immediately. Not only must the athlete give the blood, hair, and urine sample, he must stay in the sight of official until the samples are taken. This is to prevent the rider from trying to beat the test.
Armstrong, the seven-time former Tour de France champion (99-05), reports that upon arriving home after a training a session, a testing official arrived. Armstrong says that he asked the official if he could take a shower while his representatives verified the tester’s credentials. The official obliged, allowing Armstrong to clean himself up. He flat out denies the claims that he delayed the testing, saying “I did not try to evade or delay the testing process that day.”
Now, the AFLD is considering punishing Armstrong for breaking the rules of testing. The rules are in place after previous athletes have tried numerous methods to mask or skew tests. These methods include injecting clean urine into one’s bladder, using a masking agent to skew the results (such as laundry detergent), or equipping oneself with a fake bladder. While this is understandable, one must consider that a urine test is not the only test being taken at the time. The AFLD official also procures a hair and blood sample from the athlete. These are nearly impossible to mask.
While most news organizations are reporting that Armstrong faces punishment for the miscommunication between himself and the testing official, most are barely stating the fact that the French admit that Lance Armstrong did in fact pass the tests. There was no evidence of foul play or foreign substances in any of the samples tested. He was clean, yet he still faces a possible Tour ban due to the apparent inability of the testing official to enforce the rules.
This smells fishy. After over a decade in the sport, Armstrong must know the rules, but so should the tester. Why Lance was allowed to shower and then to report him to the AFLD is unknown. If Lance faces punishment from the Anti-Doping organization, so should the testing official. Also, this is not the first time the French have tried to smear Armstrong’s name in doping scandals. In 1999, Tour de France officials accused Armstrong of using cortisone as a masking agent. They later recanted after they learned that it was used to treat a skin ailment (cortisone is a very common product used for skin issues). In 2005, it was reported by a French newspaper that samples he had given in 1999 contained EPO, a doping agent. No sanctions were ever filed. Are the French on a witch hunt, attacking the most visible rider in the Tour? It appears so.
For a sport mired in scandals, they need to be strict about cheating. But they also need to be thorough, avoiding character accusations before results are known. This sport has not been the same since Lance Armstrong retired in 2005, and for them to launch a personal attack on the legend during his comeback is risky. He is single-handedly making the sport relevant, along with the Tour de France in particular. This is not to say that they should turn a blind eye to the most popular figure in the sport. But they should be more careful when making accusations, as they need Armstrong more than Armstrong needs them. If Lance decides he is not willing to participate in the French tour, he does not lose anything besides a possible title. The Tour de France, on the other hand, has everything in the world to lose, including sponsorships and ratings. While we may never know the true story here, we should know that he did not test positive for banned substances or masking agents and he should not be ostracized by speculation from the French.