The sharks that have tracked cycling legend and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong may finally have some real bleeding on which to focus their energies, if a recent 60 Minutes report is to believed.
At issue is whether Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs after his recovery from cancer and during the record-setting seven consecutive years he won the Tour de France, biking’s most prestigious prize.
The Texan steadfastly denies any claims about having taken any illegal substances, saying repeatedly that he has been the most tested athlete in history who has never tested positive.
But a growing group of former United States Postal Service teammates say that is not true, and that, in fact, they and Armstrong doped together.
Frankie Andreu was the first one to raise the call in 2006. More recently, Floyd Landis, who rode with Armstrong for three of his victories before winning the Tour in 2006 before his title was later stripped.
Now it’s Massachusetts native and former Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton, another three-time Lance lieutenant, who alleged that he and Armstrong both took drugs.
Unsurprisingly, Armstrong has lashed out against the credibility of each of these men. And, to be fair to him, the whole liar turned truth teller angle can be a bit much to believe. While protesting his innocence at one part, for instance, Hamilton offered a bizarre explanation that his had a twin that died in his mother’s womb had something to do with his positive drug test.
Hamilton and Landis are only part of a long list of people, a number of whom are in the French biking establishment, to say Armstrong doped. The French had a urine sample of Armstrong’s from the middle part of last decade that contained a positive test, but was deemed contaminated, and thus unusable. The shadowy presence of Michele Ferrari, with whom Armstrong worked and who has been associated with other known drug users, also lurks throughout this spectacle.
Yet a more potentially damaging part of the 60 Minutes report lies in a section of the report that says that George Hincapie told prosecutors that he and Armstrong used illegal substances together.
If true, this would be a substantial blow across the bow of Armstrong’s defense, as Hincapie was the Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote, the Scottie Pippen to his Michael Jordan. Hincapie not only was the only cyclist to ride with Armstrong for all seven Tours, he was a very close friend who perhaps best epitomized the camaraderie previously associated with the Postal Service team.
More to the point, thus far his name has not been raised in any public implication of wrongdoing. As a result, he is a more sympathetic, credible, and, for Armstrong, troubling character.
Rather than attack Hincapie, Armstrong and his backer have gone after the media, saying the report is based on inaccurate and unsubstantiated information.
This has happened with the network before=anyone remember the end of Dan Rather’s career-and thus one cannot dismiss Armstrong’s defense out of hand.
For a large number of Armstrong’s supporters, the drama means little. They see him as an inspirational cancer survivor who has given them hope while raising public awareness of, and millions of dollars to fight, the pernicious disease.
In an article on ESPN, one fan pointed to the facts that he had cancer, he came back to win seven Tours, and never tested positive, all the while doing an immense service for people living with cancer and their families.
Yet for cycling enthusiasts and some who believe that the integrity of the messenger matters as much as the message, this latest in a series of allegations is not unlike when former President Bill Clinton was confronted yet again with evidence of personal wrongdoing against women. While the individual instance could be explained away, at some point one has to ask if everybody is simply against the protagonist for personal gain.
Whatever one believes, the drama of Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour winner, cancer survivor, inspiration to millions, and, one senses with increasing certainty, probable cheat, is likely to continue.
Did Armstrong dope, or is everyone, including the media, former teammates and prosecutors, out to get him? Does it matter? What’s going to happen next?