Is it time for cycling to unhitch its wagon from the Armstrong legacy?

Words by Lionel Birnie

I don’t blame people for wanting to believe. Sporting heroes play an important part in the lives of so many. They offer an escape from the mundanity of the nine to five, make us feel that, no matter what difficulties we face ourselves, we can rally behind someone else’s quest to conquer the Alpe d’Huez of life.

Lance Armstrong understood that. He realised that if he stood for something, if he created something to believe in, people would follow him.

Armstrong had been diagnosed with cancer. Not only did he beat that disease, one that touches so many people directly or indirectly and so strikes a very real chord with all of us, but he came back and won the Tour de France. Not once but seven times. In a row.

It was a miracle. The sporting story of not just this generation but any generation. A Hollywood tale that wasn’t projected onto a silver screen but took place on the road – and you could go and watch. You could be part of it. You could yell in his ear and contribute in a small way to the drama.

What wasn’t there to like?

It was hardly surprising the sport of cycling and its authorities also rallied behind Armstrong. They saw the commercial success he had created, marvelled at the riches he attracted, and wanted to bathe in the trickle down.

And together we all allowed one man to dominate the sport, to its detriment. The Tour de France became the Tour de Lance. It was just a moderately amusing pun at first but soon it stood for more. No man is bigger than the sport, you say? Well, Armstrong came closest of all to being just that, certainly in the eyes of people who do not follow the season from Het Nieuwsblad to Lombardy.

A lot of people enjoyed it. But some did not. Some knew a little of what was happening and tried to speak up only to be trampled underfoot in the stampede to hail the chief.

He wielded power. He snapped and snarled at his foes, real and imagined. He chided Christophe Bassons and chased down Filippo Simeoni. Like a mafia don he selected a chosen few and cultivated them. They were granted access to tell ‘The Story’ and everyone else could trot along in their wake. Want to hold a contrary opinion? You’re wrong. You’re either with us, or against us. He inspired in some – many who should have known better – an obsequious need for approval. It was nauseating to watch at times. It still is.

As he was an atheist, it was odd to see Armstrong embrace this almost God-like status. There was even his version of The Bible – It’s Not About the Bike. The Bible didn’t manage a sequel. Armstrong did.

The Lance Armstrong story is so convoluted, so conflicted. It’s like a tightly knotted piece of string. Myth at one end, truth at the other.

And now it is unravelling so fast it is understandable that those who have held on so firmly to the myth end feel shaken and unsure. However, those who have wanted to get to the other end of the string are still a way from feeling vindicated because Armstrong continues to deny. You get the feeling that this one is going to go all the way.

Last year Floyd Landis got the ball rolling. Landis, who doped and was stripped of a Tour de France title, was easy to discredit. Armstrong and his PR strategist Mark Fabiani (insert your own comedy music here) planted the seed and Armstrong’s followers did the rest. It was the drinking, or the bitterness eating away at Floyd, or revenge, or a desperate need for money.

Like Greg LeMond and Betsy Andreu and others before and since them, Landis found that if you questioned the story, you had better brace yourself for some time in the stocks.

The supporters stuck by their man. Until someone close to Lance turns, this is all just BS, they said.

Tyler Hamilton, a man who rode himself into the ground for his buddy at the Tour de France in 1999, 2000 and 2001, alleged to the CBS News 60 Minutes programme that he and Armstrong used EPO, that he saw EPO in Armstrong’s fridge, that he saw Armstrong injecting it. Armstrong was quick to deny.

Tyler’s just desperate for a book deal, said Fabiani. And for a few hours some people bought that too. On Friday, I did half a dozen interviews with BBC Radio and in three of those interviews was asked by researchers or the presenter: “This is all to do with trying to sell a book, isn’t it?” Though we may look at Fabiani’s work as staggeringly unsophisticated, it works on the masses. It’s dog whistle PR.

Hamilton, who cheated and then lied about it for years, did have something to lose. His Olympic gold medal, won at Athens in 2004, shortly before he tested positive for a banned blood transfusion. Hamilton fought tooth and nail to keep that medal and he did so on a technicality. He had to reach next summer to pass the IOC’s eight-year statute of limitations and keep it for good. Now he will hand it back.

Armstrong Tweeted: “Congratulations to @eki_ekimov on his 3rd Olympic Gold Medal!!” That was a reference to his former US Postal Service team-mate, Vjatcheslav Ekimov, who was second to Hamilton in that Athens time trial. It appears Armstrong has no problem with titles being retrospectively stripped in such circumstances. Good to know.

You can question the wisdom of Hamilton choosing to speak to 60 Minutes and argue that it might have a detrimental effect on the outcome of the Food and Drug Administration’s investigation into doping in cycling, which centres on Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service team.

But to suggest that Hamilton decided to talk because he has a book in the offing is stretching things. He was called to testify before the grand jury, where lies can land you in jail. Surely that’s a more compelling reason?

Yesterday’s mantra was that Hamilton, like Landis, is a cheat and a liar. He was lying then, so how can he be telling the truth now, goes the twisted logic.

Call us when someone really close to Armstrong starts to talk. Someone like Big George.

Tick, tock, tick, tock. Just 12 hours passed.

CBS News has now reported that Hincapie has testified that both he and Armstrong supplied each other with EPO and discussed having used testosterone, another banned drug, to prepare for races. Et tu Brute? Then fall Caesar.

Hincapie’s rebuttal on Twitter was so absent of any denial as to be earth-shattering. “I can confirm to you I never spoke with 60 Minutes. I have no idea where they got their information.”

He also said: “As I’ve said in the past, I continue to be disappointed that people are talking about the past in cycling instead of the future.”

On the face of it, that is a reasonable point even if the ‘move on’ brigade is largely populated by apologists and those who find confronting difficult realities troubling. But Hincapie is wrong. Who wants a future based on decades of lies?

Now is the time for cycling to unhitch its wagon from Lance Armstrong once and for all.

The sport will never iron out all its flaws, the crevices run too deep for that, but real progress can be made. This could turn out to be an opportunity to run through the sport with a leafblower, expelling the dead wood and allowing those with drive, determination and vision to construct a bright new future from what is a beautiful, glorious and heroic pursuit.

But it has to be done without the shadow of Armstrong looming large. To all intents and purposes his legacy must be reduced to nought. It must be seen for what it was. An era where the doping contest was the equivalent of an arms race. Take a look again at the top tens from every Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana since the Festina Affair in 1998. Take a look at every stage winner. Strike through the name of every rider caught doping, or who has confessed, before or since. Then tell me I’m wrong.

The Festina Affair should have been our watershed. As laws were introduced across Europe and police forces woke up to the extent of the organised, criminal trade and traffic of drugs which were never intended to be used by athletes, cycling should have taken far greater heed.

Then, in 2006, came Operacion Puerto, the blood-doping scandal surrounding Dr Eufemiano Fuentes. Another chance for an amnesty, a truth and reconciliation session and a sensible, mature approach to the future offering athletes immunity for their past conduct as long as they embraced a completely clean future. Another chance was missed.

Now this should be the sport’s defining moment. But it will take courage and strong leadership and a desire from people who genuinely care for the sport’s future to make difficult decisions and stand by them.

Earlier this week Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, suggested that anyone who has been suspended or has confessed to doping be barred from running a cycling team. And on the face of it that sounds an extremely sensible suggestion. Let’s break the chain. Let’s prevent one generation of blatant cheats from becoming the encouragers and enablers of tomorrow.

But let’s hold on a moment and not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s give those who are capable of change, those with the courage to publicly condemn cheats and cheating a chance. That means bringing an end to the weasely culture of silence. They must band together, stand up and impose their will on the peloton, not simply hold their honorable beliefs under their breath. What on earth good does that do?


I covered my first Tour de France in 1999. It was exhilarating. Seeing the sheer scale of the event from the inside was extraordinary. But one thing always stuck in my mind and that was a brief introduction to David Walsh, a journalist whose work I had long enjoyed. Eagerly, I asked him who he thought would win. His reply was stark: “I’m not interested in who wins but in how he does it.”

This was in the aftermath of Armstrong’s positive test for a corticosteroid early in the race. The storm had quietened down after Armstrong had provided a back-dated Therapeutic Use Exemption form to authorise the use of a cream to treat a saddle sore, he said. Nevertheless, it was a positive test, which puts a dent in Fabiani’s much loved ‘Never Tested Positive’ defence.

Later in that race Armstrong won at Sestrière with a blistering attack – one L’Equipe said put the rider Sur une autre planète. The headline, in huge letters, couldn’t have been more loaded with double meaning.

As time went on, my own scepticism grew. There were murmurs of dissent but they were swept away by the tide of overwhelming interest in this miracle story. It’s true that Armstrong was good copy. He sold newspapers and magazines, he drove up interest in the Tour de France. After Festina, the Tour de France needed a ‘good news’ story and, for many, Armstrong provided it.

On a purely sporting level, I did not enjoy the way US Postal Service and later Discovery Channel subtly altered the way the Tour de France was raced. Their strangulation tactics in the mountains were boring. Together, they set such a fierce pace on the climbs that his rivals had no hope of attacking. They kicked the life out of the race to set Armstrong up for the grandstand finish. To the uninitiated this was great, exciting, racing. Panache writ large. My argument was that Armstrong’s reliance on one devastating attack and the long time trial every year was formulaic and dull. I wrote an article putting forward the point of view and experienced a minor backlash.

At times it felt like criticising Armstrong was akin to arguing that all children should be rounded up and drowned.

And the hoopla that followed every Tour win took the sport further away from some of the things that I identified in it as appealing. This was no dignified show of strength. Armstrong appeared to seize on perceived slights, turned them into a festering need for revenge and then ground his rivals into the dirt. Some people love that kind of thing, and that’s absolutely their prerogative. But it was not attractive to watch. He did the same with his detractors and accusers too. And that was even uglier to see. They were isolated and bullied and their voices were ignored, partly because of the risks involved.

What about Livestrong?

The most compelling defence from Armstrong’s most stoic and determined supporters is that his charity work transcends sport and will suffer a terrible blow should he take an almighty fall from grace. Whatever he did on the bike evaporates when put up against the tremendous good his foundation has done, says the argument.


There are plenty of other cancer charities that do excellent work (just as there are superb charities for other causes). It’s time to cut up the little yellow wristbands and donate a few pounds to one of the other charities.

Of course, it must be stressed that so far, the case against Armstrong consists of allegations which he entirely denies. His PR machine is formidable. But federal investigations don’t take PR into account.

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  • Phil Edel

    That there were never moments when you thought of the possibility of Lance using banned substances would be an understatement. But there was always a larger cloud of suspicion on successful riders. And Anquetil himself once admitted that without some help there, there is no way he could have done so many races. But back to Armstrong. When he came back after three years of retirement in 2009, he had nothing to prove. Doping was definitely a subject now widely debated, and everybody was waiting for him to make a mistake. Instead, he finished third at 37 years old, and didn’t test positive. Knowing that he was much more in the spotlight from a doping standpoint that year than during his first wins, it always made me think. Would Armstrong have jeopardized his whole career for a comeback that most likely was not going to add anything to his record? Wasn’t it much safer to just stay home? This is the argument that always make me at peace with the official version of seven clean wins.

  • Tribesman

    “Fact 1 – Lance Armstrong is / was the most tested athlete on the planet.”

    During the period in question (99-05), I belive Marion Jones was the most tested athlete in sports.

    Remind me how many positives she had?

  • Owen

    Well put Jim. I was a big Lance supporter, I still think he was an awesome TdeF winner. But, he won against people who doped, he has twisted the truth, he has had positive tests, his arguement about being the most tested is rubbish and no positive does not equal never doped! And as Lionel has said heattempted to trample anyone who got in his way for years. Sorry, but as much as I want to believe it’s pretty well inconceivable that he did it without doping. Wil he admit it, never. Should he lose his tour wins,no! Let’s put this to bed once and for all and move on. Hopefully with more honesty and transparency than we’ve had to date!

  • Duane

    The author says we should forget Armstrong because it’s assumed he cheated but again provides no definitive proof. Isn’t this the same as the Lance-lovers that deny the existence of any inconvenient facts? Sounds like a case of pot vs. kettle with little or no added journalistic value.

  • Duane Farnham

    I’ve never blogged before but felt compelled, having marveled at Lance’s accomplishments that help draw me into cycling 7 years ago.

    First off, great story and historical summary of a culture we should all be hoping vanishes for good. Be clear, history matters or we doomed to repeat it, so lets make sure it is accurate before closing the chapter.

    Which brings the second point, people are looking for publicly stated closure before moving on. Like learning a war hero was killed, it becomes unfinished business until the public tangibly morns via an internment or wake process. This still hasn’t happened, and no, innuendo isn’t a satisfactory proxy or we wouldn’t still be writing articles about it.

    Lastly, this sport, exercise and lifestyle is magnificent across all it’s dimensions. That said, it is struggling financially and will continue until it cleans itself up. Large multinational companies forgo sponsorships (like the one I work for) and will continue to distance themselves from the sport until it pervasively and systematically transforms itself. This sport deserves the stability and notoriety that comes with predicable sponsorship and advertising. Teams will stabilize and non-European countries will see a fan-based grow … all goodness for everyone!!!

    Baseball, football and other sports have moved beyond their historical low-points and cycling can to, but the world is craving public closure and New Age to dawn. With it will be prosperity for a sport so deserving.

  • Jim Couch

    “Fact 1 – Lance Armstrong is / was the most tested athlete on the planet.”

    Many other cyclists were tested as much as Armstrong. Some of them admitted to using doping products later, even though they never had a positive test.

    Fact 2 – Not one positive test (do not harp on about cortisoid)

    Why not? It is on the banned list and other cyclists have received positive sanctions for it’s use. But then, they were not Lance.

    “Fact 3 – a lot of his blood and urine tests are still held(frozen) by the french authorities! despite repeated investigations including the retesting of these samples there no evidence that Lance doped”

    In 2005, 6 urine samples taken from Armstrong during the 1999 Tour de France were retested by the LNDD as part of a research project and were found positive for EPO.

    “Fact 4 – Lance is the best cyclist this planet has ever seen”

    Not even close. Perhaps the best Tour de France cyclist, but many other riders have surpassed his overall record by a large margin.

    Armstrong won 7 TDF, and no other grand tour for a total of 7.

    Jacques Anquetil won 8 grand tours total, Bernard Hinault won a total of 10, and Merckx won 11. And this is just grand tours, not the one day monuments of which Armstrong never won any.

    Merckx won nearly every other race he entered in 1971, and overall in his career as a profesional cyclist he won roughly a third of all the races he entered. Merckx still holds the record for most grand tour wins, most tdf stage victories, most career victories, most victories in a single season, most days in yellow in the tdf, and most victories in the classics. Armstrong does not even come close!

  • Trifit50

    I was going to subscribe tonight, until I read this pathetic piece.

  • Harold Burdon

    What a pity that your magazine should be so desperate for readers that it can print such rubbish writing .

  • le sloog

    Fact 5 – Er, ever heard of Eddy Merckx?

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  • GlynnJenno

    Fact 1 – Lance Armstrong is / was the most tested athlete on the planet

    Fact 2 – Not one positive test (do not harp on about cortisoid)

    Fact 3 – a lot of his blood and urine tests are still held(frozen) by the french authorities! despite repeated investigations including the retesting of these samples there no evidence that Lance doped

    Fact 4 – Lance is the best cyclist this planet has ever seen

  • Stephen Krancevic

    It’s unlikely that Lance needed drugs. He had a strong team in a team sport. When he returned from retirement after 3 years, he finished third. Knowing he could do so well after his peak years, shows that he didn’t need drugs when he was in his prime.

  • tony woodcock

    :Lionel versus Lance! Lionel’s comments seem a pretty interpretation of the facts to me, but maybe I suffer the same “twisted” journalistic mind affliction. Lance’s impact on my sport seems to me to have huge similarities to Lehman’s on the banking industry, highly organised and hugely rewarding exploitation of all thats rotten in the system which all of us will have to pay for long term. I just hope that this time our governing body will have the guts to sort things out once and for all.

  • Brad Nichols

    I’ve subscribed to Cycle Sport Magazine for years, so I can say I like the magazine.
    At some point in time, for some reason, Armstrong apparently stopped talking to Cycle Sport, stopped granting interviews. Since then I’ve seen nothing positive about him in the magazine, especially from Ed Pickering. Jesus, the guy seems to HATE Armstrong!
    Here’s what I think about the whole Armstrong saga: I don’t give a sh*t! And I’m sure I’m not alone. It’s a waste of US taxpayer’s money and more bad than good will come from taking him down. The LiveStrong Foundation will go down the tubes along with all the jobs, and the inspiration he’s given people.
    Armstrong didn’t commit genocide or take down the economy. He rode a bike for crying out loud. A bike!
    Let it go…

  • Matt

    These journo’s are all the same. If a sportsman has come good and got to the top of his game . Then let’s knock him down . For me , lance has done wonders for the sport . He has made the tour de France mainstream . But let’s all speculate and bring the sport into disrepute, and hopefully one day all the sponsors will pull out of cycling and the tour de France because it’s full of journalists who want to demolish the athletes . Remember , this guy ain’t a defendant and until he is …. ? The last question I have is , will all the journo’s write about Armstrong being found not guilty if it should go to trial ?? Of course ! Because in their own twisted minds they still won’t believe . move on guys

  • Carl Boeger

    Lest we forget. In the American system of jusisprudence a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Lance is not even considered a defendant at this point. It’s interesting that Lance has not yet been charged with a crime despite all the months of investigation.

  • Steven East

    I wear a yellow bracelet having lost relatives to a cruel cruel disease long before their time was due, I marvel at a man who has helped to raise not only millions of dollars but raise awareness of that disease.I rediscovered my previous lost love of cycling in 1999. I am certain I am not the only one.
    Evidence is one thing, speculation is another. The only evidence that will count is any admission from Lance, there is no other evidence that would not be ripped apart in Court, even if big George has made his own admissions, and that is a big if. Misappropriation of US taxpayers money is one thing but that wouldn’t justify the amount of money spent on the inquiry thus far.
    Lance won the TDF 7 years running that is a fact that can’t be denied, whether there is ever an admission or not.

  • Simon Crisp

    Have to say, the thing that puts me off the whole ‘Did Lance dope’ story is the utter bile that seems to be the default setting for those arguing the case. It’s like watching children bicker, it’s quite pathetic. It’s never going to end anyway – if he’s proved guilty, the ‘haters’ (nothing sums the whole thing up as the quite pathetic attribution of supposedly insulting nicknames to one another by each side) will suddenly retract all the ‘we love uncle Jeff’ stuff and claim he’s been bought by the PR machine, the ‘fan-boys’ will say justice is done, and if he’s the guilty, then the opposite will happen.

    Cycling Weekly and Cycle Sport’s articles on Armstrong recently have been pathetic, seemingly more interested in an egotisitical need to try and make out that some how Armstrong is scared of their journalists and that this is somehow all their own doing then bothering to do any real journalism.

    It’s never going to end, and frankly, most of us are pretty bored of it anyway and beyond the point of caring.

  • Jim Watson

    Shades of Festina. They all admitted it except Richard Verenque who finally confessed in court. When will the FDA guy get Lance under oath?

  • David

    Cycling has been run by Chemists for decades, what is used in most other sports as doping probably was used by cyclists 10 years prior.

    But ask yourself, when your kid says ” Dad I want to become a professional cyclist” will you encourage?

    Bottom line is remove cycling from the Olympics in all its forms. Remove the Tour de France for 5 years. Wait until this generation are gone and try and bring in a new breed. But without the amputations it won’t change

  • Jack Wanquetil

    Sat Sandhu, Livestrong,

    No offence guys, you’re actually touchingly naive in a way, but I think I’ll trust the word of anti-doping expert Michael Ashenden instead of you.

    Even Lance isn’t bothering to deny it now. Check out the NY Times story which quotes him as saying he’s not bothered by “news from the last century”.

    Pretty much conclusive, I’d say.

    But carry on in your bubble.

  • Pete Walker

    I thought the article started out promising, but soon turned into the familiar ‘no smoke without fire’ speculative rant of much anti-Armstrong journalism. I’m not a confirmed Lance supporter, but let’s wait and see what happens re. the legal process. But I can’t let the criticism of USPS / Discovery’s team tactics pass without comment. Lionel must have a very short memory – doesn’t he remember the ‘negative / formulaic’ tactics which gave Indurain five consecutive Tour de France wins in the years just prior to Armstrong?! That’s what tactics are all about, and if such a strategy is an effective way to win an event then please don’t blame teams for using it.

  • stephen fox

    cycle sport and eurosport seems to like double standards when it comes to doping they hound armstrong with a passion, maybe he has doped just like the rest of the peleton but there are many other legends in the same boat. they already publicized coppi’s transgressions but it’s glossed over with his success, and what can we say about tom simpson died doping on a mountain but he can do know wrong. the commentators criticise vino but never a bad word about our tom. if people want to put houses in order in cycling time to stop being selectivly hypocritical.

  • Livestrong

    This is very much opinionated anti-Lance journalism. It offers no more fact to readers than the pro-Lance offerings it tries to discredit. I am a Lance fan as long as I live and I am sure that he did not dope. Two prosecuted dopers have come forward to shoot Lance down and those that are bitter about Lance’s victories are jumping on it. I wonder if the writer would say that cycling was ‘boring’ in the days when Eddy won everything going?

  • Alvin Stardust

    Guys, there is no book… That was just PR invented by Mark Fabiani, Armstrong’s spin doctor.

    Hamilton has not got a book deal. He isn’t writing a book. Don’t be so stupid as to fall for it.

    The ONLY reason Tyler talked was because he was FORCED TO by the US Grand Jury. As he explained to CBS, he refused to speak to the feds, so they issued him with a subpoena, compelling him to tell the truth. Lie and he risks prison.

    If you don’t get that, I’m afraid you are rather hard of thinking.

  • Sat Sandhu

    This is the worst piece of journalism I have read in a long time…devoid of fact and integrity throughout.

    Innocent until proven guilty!

    Guilt is not confirmed by the say so of some dodgy cyclist who’s trying to sell a book. Until we know the FACTS of what Hincapie has actually said NO-ONE is in a position to comment.

    Sheesh I can’t believe I just renewed my Cycle Sport subscription…

  • Miso Kuropka

    I already posted similar comment on, but I also want to make it here as I believe it is crucial for the success of the fight against doping. I watched the Hamilton interview and I found it too Armstrong oriented. The same applies to the above article. Although it is an excellent piece of work, it should go deeper and concentrate not only Armstrong but rather on his era, i.e. his rivals. Because these people still play major roles in pro cycling. We do not need another fallen hero sacrificed so that the system/culture/status quo remains the same. The rule of silence needs to be broken and we need to know the whole truth. Following this logic, we need to what happened during Mr Hamilton’s CSC and Phonak era!!! Did he doped also under Riis supervision? Did Bjarne Riis know and encouraged doping it the similar matter as US Postal/Discovery management? And what about Phonak and people behind this team. Because remember, it is the same Riis who admitted that he was doping and now is telling us to believe in Contador.

  • Micky Wood

    Mr. Birnie, you are a stone cold idiot. David Walsh is your hero? A journalist who uses transcripts of illegally recorded phone conversations made by Greg “I’m not jealous” Lemond in his “Let’s Tear Down Lance” books? Hmm, seems it’s ok to throw out the rules in one chosen profession but not another. I’m so sick of this Lance-bashing. Get a clue. Cyclists do what it takes to win races. Who on this forum has done a fraction of what Armstrong has to fight cancer and help its victims? Not one person. Not me, not you, not Jeff Novitsky, and not David Saint Walsh. You all must be really fond of the taste of sour grapes. Pathetic.

  • Micky S

    Excellent analysis. The federal inquiry will probably end up with Lance emotionally blackmailing/plea bargaining on the court steps a la Marion Jones – “I only did what I did to raise awareness of cancer; after going through what I did, I realised that it was only on the world’s biggest sporting stage, the great, the legendary Tour de France, that I could bring the full message to the world’s audience. The message was – and still is – absolutely critical, the messenger and how he made his journey are secondary and not important. And if you condemn me, you condemn all the cancer sufferers in the world and rid them of hope. You imprison me, you rid he world’s cancer sufferers of their flag bearer, their stalwart. I am still a saint etc etc, I have never been declared by the relevant authority as having tested positive etc etc…”

    As an cancer survivor, I couldn’t agree more with Birnie’s proposal to give donations, if you are minded to do so, to charities other than Livestrong – so many unnamed, unlauded and unheralded (and not seeking publicity) folk do far more important work than it does. Lance is a sporting busted flush, cycling is better without him.

  • JAB

    great article lionel.
    I have been a Lance fan for years and will be so disappointed, sad and hurt if he too turns out to be dirty. I could not believe that anyone having so many tests could not have been caught out and that if there were real evidience it would be highlighted. I have defended Lance against the vengeful French media, against a cheating Landis and would never believe Hamilton ‘s word against Lance, but now (its seems) that Hincapie is also casting doubts – please George make it clear : did Lance or didn’t Lance take EPO or anything illegal ?
    I love riding my bike, but at the moment, I dont seem to be in the mood.
    If lance is dirty, then is everyone in the current scene dirty also? is anyone clean ? and how can we know ?

  • readie


    “It says it all when you say you enjoy David walsh’s work. He has made a living off the back of doping in cycling. I have yet to hear him once talk about cycling that is not related to doping.”

    Try reading “Inside the Tour de France” (, which David Walsh wrote back in 1994. It sings the praises of cycling beautifully and, interestingly enough, contains a chapter about Lance Armstrong who was then riding his first ever Tour. There’s not one mention of doping in the whole book. Walsh did once talk about cycling without mentioning doping, but then realised that it’s very hard to do so.


    Well said. Armstrong was my inspiration for taking up cycling after I lost my mother to cancer. I was a true die hard fan for may years, but after watching Armstrong’s attitude to anyone questioning him and his ex-team mates nearly all test positive, my opinion has changed. (His victimisation of Simeoni was truly appalling. Bullying at its worst).

    Admittedly most of the evidence is circumstancial, but I think the weight of testimony taken by the Grand Jury may well tip the balance.

    I am no fan of Floyd Landis, but as he once said “at some point, you have to stop believing in Santa Claus”. I think an awful lot of Lance lovers need to wake up and smell the coffee.

  • big jonnny

    Well said, well written piece. I do find it entertaining that the article forecast the criticisms that would follow with stunning accuracy. The End of Lance is Nigh.

  • Bettercycling

    What a waste of my time. It says it all when you say you enjoy David walsh’s work. He has made a living off the back of doping in cycling. I have yet to hear him once talk about cycling that is not related to doping. So if that’s your standpoint I’m out. By the way, I don’t beleive that lance rode the tour on bread and water. But he has raised an enormous amount of money and lifted the profile of cancer for many years.

  • Marco

    Using sick little childs to cover your ass, now that is tactics.
    Contador for president!!!!!!!!!!!!hahahahahahahahahah

  • SlapshotJC

    Superb piece, Hogwash Irony,wit or sarcasm I love, so looking forward to saying Congratulations Jeff Novitsky

  • grc

    Whatever happened to innocent till proven guilty? This is the usual drivel that i’ve come to expect from CW and CS. Give it a rest – You’ve made it perfectly clear for years your feeling for Armstrong. I for one won’t be buying the comics anymore

  • phil tregear

    LA won 7 tours when everyone was doping too. Just like many revered former champions, I wont be surprised if LA is eventually found to be a doper.
    However, I cannot agree with your comments about his tactics or strategy. His team played to his strengths and won 7 times in a row. That is an amazing feat.I accept he didnt consider trying to win other tours so cant be properly compared to Coppi, Merkxs etc.The commercial consequences for LA are profound and best explain his behaviour in the face of the stengthening case against him. He remains a great champion in my opinion.

  • gavin c

    forgot to say- whatever happened to innocent till proven guilty.

  • gavin c

    usual cycling weekly and cyclesport anti armstrong rubbish as always. last straw for me, i wont be buying your rubbish mags anymore

  • Tony

    Two words. Paul Kimmage.

  • sim1

    Why don’t we just let them all do drugs, have one dirty and one clean race? it’s either that or you have to ban everyone for life if they are caught for any positive test and ban them from ever playing a part in any team.

    It’s either 100% clean or it’s all dirty.

  • James R

    I hope when they re-assign Lance’s TDF victory(s) they can verify another rider in the top 20 of the GC that wasn’t “enhancing” as the recipient.

  • John Siv

    I have little faith in anything Pat McQuaid says. Currently many of the DS fit his stated profile…why has PM/UCI not yet taken any action on these individuals? The UCI/Pat/ Hein V appear to be complicit/enablers in the doping saga. Pat is also very prone to offering placating words only to reverse them when the situation “warrants”.

    To conclude, I don’t disagree with the sentiment however there will be many departing the “peloton” with the institution of this rule. Unfortunately there will remain those that did dope but did not either confess or were suspended…

    “Earlier this week Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, suggested that anyone who has been suspended or has confessed to doping be barred from running a cycling team. And on the face of it that sounds an extremely sensible suggestion. Let’s break the chain. Let’s prevent one generation of blatant cheats from becoming the encouragers and enablers of tomorrow.”

  • Twisted Spoke

    Lionel, when I jumped into the Cyclesport car for stage 3 of the TDF I really had no idea how many rockstars were in the car. Thanks for laying it all out in depth and giving the story the true perspective. So far nobody else has been skilled enough to wrap this whole long sirdid mess up. Chapeau.

  • joe76

    maybe cycling is too hard? lower race lengths, restrict gear sizes….possible alternatives?
    We do time trials on maximum 81inch gears. that levels the playing field.

    Cap the distance to 100ks, 50/34 – 13-29, 10 or 11 speed.

  • Martin Larner

    It’s true as some have pointed out that Cycling magazines, not to mention the whole industry, have benefited enormously from what Author Daniel Coyle described as a “River of Money” provided by the Armstrong juggernaut.

    For those who still won’t accept that Lance doped, ask yourself the simple question that since EPO improves performance by up to 20%, how could it be possible that Lance beat all his doped contemporaries clean? Virtually everyone around Lance, as mentioned in a comment above, has either tested positive, confessed or been implicated in a doping scandal such as Operation Puerto.

    As for tests, there wasn’t one for EPO until at least 2003, and microdosing made it pretty ineffective. A rider and his doctor had to make a mistake in order to test positive. Remember Bernard Kohl and his detailing of how many times he cheated the tests. By the time the EPO test became enough of a threat, Lance and other top riders had moved onto blood doping techniques. There is still no test to prove doping with your own blood, although Hamilton, Vino and Santiago Perez tested positive for someone elses blood. Armstrong can spin out that bit of “500” test PR as much as he wants, but since the methods he is accused of using were largely undetectable during this period, such statistics are worthless.

    On the other hand, who can blame Armstrong for doing this? He wasn’t the first rider to take PEDs or the instigator of this arms race. Armstrong’s (now obvious) guilt must be seen in the context of an entirely corrupt sport where the riders were mere guinea pigs and cash cows for corporate sponsors, team owners, not to mention the evidentially proven existence of some major trafficking, dealing and “treatment” Cartels that represent a “Mafia” which a few riders have indicated their fear in speaking out against.

    I have come around to thinking that – to quote Jeremy Whittle I think – that blaming riders for doping during the mid 90’s to the mid 00s is equivalent to blaming factory chickens for getting fat.

    My main beefs with Armstrong are not his doping specifically, but firstly the fact that he took it to extremes until his entire team was beating up the peloton in the Tour, killing the race in the mountains as described in this article. They seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else in this “arms race”. Secondly, Armstrong was a bully and a control freak, so obsessed with grinding everyone into submission that at times he was his own worst PR – the Simeoni incident was one such example.

    I do agree that it is time to move on, but we should clean all the skeletons out of the cupboard first and Armstrong should admit how the sport really was and in part still is. He still has enough influence to help change the mentality that still clings to cycling with a vice-like grip, and to paraphrase Paul Kimmage is a “cancer” in our sport. If Armstrong were to confess as Landis, Hamilton and others have done, and help cure this cancer, it would be a real legacy to leave for cycling, more important than his 7 Tour record.

  • DJD

    Wow, and you’re not jealous at all are you?

  • Robert

    Well written article Mr. Birnie. For those us of who’ve followed your work we know where you stand on Armstrong. And you certainly know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of he and his acolytes wrath.

    As for those wanting a smoking gun you needn’t look any further than Armstong’s positive test for EPO of his B samples at the 1999 TdF. This from the 2005 L’Equipe investigation. It’s on the record and you can choose to believe it or not. Do the research and decide for yourself.

    It’s also been repored that the French authorities have provided the FDA investigation with samples. The truth will be revealed in due time.

    As for the whole cancer thing all I have to say to that is the image of the great man who overcame cancer and rose to the top of the cycling world and inspired millions as a clean champion among dirty cheats is based on a lie. To say he’s financially benefited from other people’s suffering is an understatement.

    Armstrong is after all human and subject to the same temptations as us all. He would do well to take the advice being offered here to come clean and ask for forgiveness. After all he has his own conscience (and demons) to live with. But somehow with all he has at stake financially by admitting he doped I somehow doubt we’ll ever hear it from his own lips but I do hope I’m wrong.

    I couldn’t agree more that now is the time for cycling to unhitch itself from the Armstrong legacy.

    As for you Mr. Birnie I trust that in time your bitterness toward the way Armstrong and his followers have treated you will subside and you may reconcile with each other.

  • Ricardo Barcellos

    I’m a cancer patient. With very slim chances of survival, so the doctors say. At the same time I have been a cycling fan since the 70’s and couldn’t watch the Tour between 2000 and 2005. I simply didn’t buy that super hero that beat cancer BS. It’s all about the money, and if Lance wasn’t born in the almighty U.S.A. with its phenomenal potential cycling market, he would have been dethroned long ago. This article is absolutely fantastic in explaining this side of the story.
    And for the other cancer patients out there who believed in this self made god (in lower case, yes), stay strong is all I can say right now. And you know what I mean about being REALLY strong… We can beat this!

  • Stavros

    And STILL the ridiculous deniers come out in force. STILL they don’t understand how worthless drug test results are, especially for EPO.

    I despair.

  • James

    ” cut up the little yellow wristbands” really? the article might have been considered okay before you got to that disrespectful comment.

  • Andrew Lindsay

    Finally an end to cheatstrong!

  • HarryB

    Chapeau. One of the best pieces of comment on pro cycling I’ve ever read. Only when Saint Lance is slain can cycling hope to move on. I’ve thought Lance a dopey for many years and have had to put up with so much sh1t from the Lance fanboys. Very soon I’ll be able to say I told you so.

    Fantastic piece. Thanks.

  • JB

    Hypocrisy. How many covers has your magazine featured Lance? How much did your number if ad pages rise from 2000 to 2005? And then surge again in 2009 when he returned to the sport? Revisionist historians are the saddest type. Especially when they’ve benefitted financially. You’re as complicit as those whom you criticize.

  • JB

    All critics of the sport growing during the “Lance Era” kindly refund the money you made had he and his “story” never happened. You clowns complain now but you’re as complicit as anyone. Go revisit how many covers of your magazine featured Lance. Examine your ad rates from 1999 to now — and number of sold ad pages when he returned to the sport in 2009. This is hypocrisy of the highest order. The person in the mirror is you. Time to own some responsibility and quit writing revisionist history.

  • Billy Kettle

    pure samsara

  • Jesse Hall

    So where is the evidence?? Lance has been tested more than any other athlete in history.. with no “true” positive results.
    Now we here testimony from team mates who are interrogated to the 9th degree because some suit in Washington needs an ego boost and wants a head to hang.. This is NOT what cycling needs.. there are two tours going on with heroic performances. If you really want to expose a corrupt sport investigate football players.

  • Ben

    @Yvette — then stop reading! I love these folks who take the time to read all of these articles and then feign disinterest, “nothing new”, “heard it all before”, etc.

  • Mike K

    I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a Lance fan. In his prime, he was amazing on a bicycle.

    My question has always been, if Lance did dope, why didn’t the test show it? Landis got caught. Hamilton got caught. Numerous other guys got caught. Yet Lance has been tested 500 times and never came up positive.

    Until a positive test shows up, it is just he-said, she-said and usually the “he said” folks have a lot to gain and little to lose in throwing accusations.

  • KeithB

    I’m so glad I dont buy your magazine – seems you’re unaware of unbiased journalism. Maybe you should call your magazine Cycling Inquirer until you can tell both sides of a story.

  • CyclingJames

    Yvette, are you 12 years old? What a pointless and childish comment. This is an excellent piece, well written, well structured and well argued.

    If, like you say, you have heard it all before, then you don’t need to read it. But good luck finding something out there on Armstrong that you haven’t at least partly heard before.

    Well done Mr Birnie I suspect you had to hold back while writing this as you’ve never been a Lance fan. Not an easy thing to do!

  • Jonathan Hebert

    This is the best piece of journalism I have read on the sad and sordid affair. It is well balanced and an accurate accounting of the facts before us.

    Lance is without a doubt a remarkable human specimen both physically and mentally. He did and continues to do great things with Livestrong and cancer victims.

    It’s time to come clean and let everyone know you are human, just like the rest of us. In doing so you will salvage some self-respect and the respect of others. You will stand as a good example to those who have been inspired by your accomplishments if you reveal in the end you are human and you made mistakes and are big enough to admit your failures.

    Lance the list is long: Landis, Hamilton, Basso, Contador, Ulrich, Virenque, Kohl, Vinokourov, Pantani, Riis…etc. Almost everyone in your era that made the podium was a confessed, suspected, or proven doper.

    Now your list is growing longer: Mike Anderson, Frankie and Betsy Andreau, Emma O’Reilly, Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, and these are just the ones from your “inner circle”.

    Time to do the honorable thing and admit your faults and ask for forgiveness from those you attacked and tried to destroy, and those inspired by your accomplishments.

  • Yvette

    Bla bla bla we’ve heard it all before!!!!

  • Frank

    Though I’ve been an Armstrong fan since he was coming back from cancer (he was diagnosed around the same time my dad was and he won his first TdF just before my dad died of cancer), I have to credit the author with being fairly even-handed in his criticism. It was clear that this story was meant as opinion, yet it was leavened with the appropriate nod to what the Armstrong camp has said and to other denials. I might not agree with the point of view, I appreciate the author’s take. I’m not one who thinks it’s impossible that Lance doped, I just don’t see a smoking gun. Cortisone cream is a far cry from EPO. Maybe the author wouldn’t mind doing a story on exactly how to beat the drug testing system. My only real criticism of the story is the (maybe accidental?) way in which ASO is kind of smeared with guilt by somehow supporting or hiding Lance’s alleged doping. That is, after all, what’s implied. That, too, is hard to believe since ASO has been pretty open with its animosity toward Lance. Further, I think it’s unfair to say that cycling’s leadership would just turn a blind eye because Lance did so much good for the sport. If they really thought he was doping, wouldn’t that be horrendous for the sport and something they’d want to stop? I’m just saying.. I don’t think only cycling journalists have the sport’s best interest in mind… Otherwise, well-done. I am eager to hear what happened in the grand jury room as the investigation continues.

  • Andy

    If Doping was so prevalent then the drugs were not performance enhancing more like levelling the playing field.

  • Vanessa Ress

    People just love it dont they detailing in miniscule the problems of others…especially if those people are in the public eye….whole article just threaded with dislike and an enjoyment of the spectacle of someones difficulties…

  • Danielle

    Good piece until you got to the Livestrong part. The organization has done amazing work for cancer patients, survivors, and their families. It grew off of lance’s success but should not perish in his demise. The yellow wristbands are a symbol of something much larger than Lance.

  • No ta Doctor

    Very good article. I stopped watching cycling between Festina and Floyd’s letter. Festina should have been the turning point, but it was a wasted opportunity. Time and time again cycling has tried to sweep its dirt under the carpet, hoping that change will eventually happen of its own accord. This is the opportunity to clean cycling properly at last.

  • Big Ring

    Lanternerouge, haven’t they printed what they know? Or at least what’s been reported by CBS…

    Tyler Hamilton said that he and Armstrong took EPO.

    CBS says that Hincapie has also testified to the feds against Armstrong.

  • Cobblemonster

    Nice bit, Lionel. It’s like watching a slow-mo train wreck. It will perhaps only be the hordes of uninformed Lance-devotees that will be shocked by these developments. But, in the same way that he drew them towards the sport, will his downfall repel them in the same way? Debatable as to whether it’s entirely positive for the sport. Re: Retrospective Tour titles once you’ve cleared out convicted dopers. Wow. That will be interesting..

  • Lanternerouge

    I’m not an Armstrong supporter or hater. But I must ask, “why do you guys hate him so much”. If you are absolutely certain he is a doper then print your evidence. The number of “Armstrong is a w***er” stories I have read here is getting silly. At the same time we have Contador still rising after the beast he can come up with is a dodgy steak. Report what you know or give it a rest. It’s getting boring.