Comment: Don’t get too excited about an Armstrong confession

Late on Friday night I made the mistake of logging on to Twitter. It was far too late to be on there, but there was nothing on TV so I thought I’d check to see if anything was going on. It was then I saw a few tweets about an imminent confession from Lance Armstrong.

It caught my interest so I clicked around a bit to see what I could find. There was nothing out there. I waited several minutes to see if anything else was tweeted then realised nothing was going to happen, turned off my computer and went to bed.

I logged back on Saturday morning to read Juliet Macur’s piece on the New York Times website which broke the story that Armstrong is speaking with anti-doping officials in America about making a confession.

Armstrong’s lawyers wouldn’t confirm it and he has much to lose if he does admit to doping during his cycling career, but it has caught everyone’s interest, not just mine. There are four subjects that are guaranteed to cause a storm in the cycling community: Mandatory helmet use, riders not waving back once they’ve been waved at, the cost of Rapha clothing, and Lance Armstrong.  

This latest Armstrong development was always going to get the cycling world in a fluster. My advice is not to get too excited just yet.

Confessions aren’t always of much use. Take Steven de Jongh’s for example. Last year the Dutchman admitted to taking EPO during his career and had to leave Team Sky because of it. I met de Jongh on several occasions, even went for a couple of early morning rides with him on a Team Sky training camp, and always found him to be friendly, approachable and honest.

His confession however, was worthless. Worse in fact, it strengthened the omerta. In his open letter, de Jongh said that he acted alone when he took EPO “on a few occasions” between 1998 and 2000. This simply doesn’t hold true. He’s saying as a 25-year-old bike rider he bought and administered a medical product without any help from anyone? Where did he hear about it? Where did he buy it from? How did he know when and how to take it, how much to take and what to take with it? And are we to believe he did all this alone while riding for a team that was arrested en mass and booted out of the 1998 Tour for drug use.

The danger of his half confession is that it protects the people who enabled, or even encouraged him to do it. People who may still be working in the sport somewhere, who may still be pushing doping products on riders. De Jongh didn’t have to out these people in his confession when he left Sky, but why not offer to speak to anti-doping authorities behind closed doors and give them an honest account of what happened, leaving them to decide what to do next?

I fear that any confession from Armstrong would be similarly pointless, very carefully managed and 100 per cent self-serving – the risks to him are too great not to be.

In her piece, Macur suggests Armstrong’s primary desire is to resume his athletic career – most likely in triathlon – by bargaining with anti-doping officials over his lifetime ban. His latest tweets show how hard he is training in the pool (swimming multiple 100m sets on 1:15min is high quality swimming), too intense to just be keeping fit, especially for a 41 year old.

But why should USADA or anyone else now believe what he has to say? This was his line of attack against Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton after they bared their souls to the American anti-doping authorities. Armstrong said that as they had cheated during their cycling career and subsequently lied, why should anyone believe a word they now say? It was a perfectly reasonable question. So, right back at you Lance.

Armstrong will go down in history as the biggest sporting fraud the world has ever seen, and has kept his lies going for longer than anyone else, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

While Landis, Hamilton and many others were defamed, rubbished, insulted and bullied for telling the truth, Armstrong has continued to lie to his family, his fans, his friends, his sponsors, the cancer community…… the list goes on. He has even lied while under oath (which may prove to be his biggest problem should he confess, either that, the Whistleblower case or the two pending lawsuits that he would no doubt lose should he admit to prolonged drug use throughout his career) but now wants everyone to accept a confession.

His former team mate Jonathan Vaughters, and David Walsh the author of Seven Deadly Sins, have both said on Twitter that they would respect

Armstrong if a confession came and was the truth, the whole truth and

nothing but the truth.

Not everyone will be so open minded. Not just because he cheated and lied for so long, many did that, but because of the way he attacked and attempted to destroy anyone who spoke out against him.

No matter what, his lifetime ban must remain. To lie and cheat for years to such a degree (don’t forget, at one point American congressmen were getting involved on his behalf, trying to stop USADA from doing their job – how’s that for taking it too far?) only to be able to compete again in an Olympic sport just because you admitted your wrongdoings would undermine the anti-doping effort.

Armstrong had his chance to come clean when USADA approached him, and he turned it down. The case is done and dusted, the result decided, the sanction imposed and the record books altered. That should be the end of it, no come backs, no second chances.

After all, cycling is a far better sport without Lance Armstrong around.

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