Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Lance Armstrong Misses Opportunity to Clear His Name

The seven times winner of the Tour de France, the 37 year old Texan Lance Armstrong, announced recently - to the great surprise of the cycling world - that he was returning to compete in the 2009 Tour, after an absence of more than three years. Doubts still remain, however, over whether or not he had taken performance enhancing drugs and, in particular, EPO - a blood-boosting hormone that enhances endurance (and that is what the Tour de France is all about) - in order to achieve his spectacular performances in cycling’s premier international competition.

Unfortunately for Armstrong, cycling in general (and the Tour de France in particular) has been dogged over the years by various individual and team drugs scandals – not least, the nine Festina team cyclists involved in doping during the 1998 Tour de France. Armstrong has offered to undergo independent doping tests throughout the 2009 Tour to prove that he is ‘clean’.

Notwithstanding, the head of the French Anti Doping Agency, Pierre Bordry, has offered Armstrong the opportunity of having samples taken from him during the 1998 and 1999 Tour de France retested. But he has refused to consent to these new tests.

Bordry is disappointed and has told the media:

“If the analysis is clean it would have been very good for him. But he doesn't want to do it and that's his problem”.

Bordry added:

“It was a good opportunity for him to answer positively to my proposition, because if he is clean, as he says, I am ready to follow him”.

Under the rules of the World Anti Doping Code (WADC), there is a limitation period of eight years on testing for possible doping offences and that is why Armstrong’s consent is needed to undertake these new tests, which otherwise would be out of time – in other words, ‘statute-barred’. Article 17 of the WADC, headed ‘Statute of Limitations’, provides as follows:

‘No action may be commenced against an Athlete or other Person for an anti-doping rule violation contained in the Code unless such action is commenced within eight (8) years from the date the violation is asserted to have occurred’.

Armstrong gave the following rather terse response to Bordry's invitation to prove that he had “never cheated in his brilliant career”.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Bordry is new to these issues and his proposal is based on a fundamental failure to understand the facts”, he said in a statement. “In 2005, some research was conducted on urine samples left over from the 1998 and 1999 Tours. That research was the subject of an independent investigation [the Emile Vrijman Report of 31 May, 2006], and the conclusions were the samples have not been maintained properly, have been compromised in many ways, and even three years ago could not be tested to provide any meaningful results. There is simply nothing I can agree to that would provide any relevant evidence about 1999.”
The urine samples in question have been the subject of speculation ever since the French newspaper L'Equipe reported in 2005 that six ‘B’ samples taken from Armstrong contained the banned substance EPO. Of course, this assertion has never been proved nor disproved.

In response to Armstrong’s claim that the samples concerned have not been properly stored, Bordry has asserted that:

“Scientifically there is no problem to analyse these samples – everything is correct”.

That is where the matter rests. In other words, the uncertainty over Armstrong’s past remains. In my view, he has lost a golden opportunity of proving his innocence - once and for all. For, if he had nothing to hide, he would be expected to agree to the retesting of these samples. He not only owes this to himself and his fellow competitors, but also to the Tour de France and the sport of cycling itself.

It will be interesting to see how this saga eventually unfolds during the staging of the 2009 Tour de France and how Armstrong fares in it.

Ian Blackshaw



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