by Mike Gore
on Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 2:30 PM
Embattled seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer-fighting badass Lance Armstrong is being knocked around by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and might be down for the count. He's no stranger to controversy or doping allegations, but the latest round might be damning.
In June, the USADA formally charged Armstrong with using performance enhancing drugs. Because of this, he isn't eligible to compete in Ironman triathlons for the rest of the year, as he had planned. Armstrong tried to sue the USADA and have a restraining order placed on the USADA. Judge Sam Sparks said (basically) that the suit was ridiculous.
This might sound like a whole lot of falderal that will eventually go away, just like every other doping allegation aimed at Armstrong over the past 15 years. I think, however, that this time is very different.
Why? Everyone else is hunkering down.
George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, and David Zabriske are generally recognized as the strongest American road cyclists, and each has spent time on a team with Armstrong. The four men also represented the USA in the 2008 Summer Olympics and were favorites for the London games.
Around the time the allegations against Armstrong came out, the four men asked to not be on the USA Olympic cycling team. Right after, a Dutch publication, De Telegraff, reported that the four men had made a deal with USADA to testify against Armstrong in exchange for short suspensions in the off-season of 2012. All riders (and their respective team management) have denied making a deal to testify against Armstrong, but the fact that they're dropping out of the Olympics—which is highly unusual—is undisputed.
That's not all, though. Johan Bruyneel, who was the team manager on each of Lance's Tour de France wins, pulled out of this year's Tour just before the start. In his words: "my attendance in light of the recent USADA allegations against me would be an unwelcome distraction to my team."
Bruyneel is specifically named in the USADA charging documents, which allege he gave doping materials to team members and "worked actively to conceal" many doping rules violations. The charging documents also implicate team doctors for administering EPO and other illegal substances—some of whom received lifetime bans this week.
So we've got riders dropping out, doctors getting banned, and a team manager ducking below the radar just before the biggest races of the year.
The USADA will have a tough case to make—Armstrong's lawyers are notoriously relentless, and some time has passed since he raced in the Tour de France—but it seems that people are acting awfully fishy. Pulling out of the biggest races of the year for vague, PR-esque reasons, seems suspicious.