POSTED: February 7th 2012

JOHN GOODBODY: As one door opens for cycling, another slams the sport in the face

Seven time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong free at last
Seven time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong free at last

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON: Cycling breathed a sigh of relief last Friday when it was announced that the federal inquiry into its most famous champion, American Lance Armstrong, had been abandoned. The seven-time Tour de France winner has  never been found positive for drugs, although this investigation was not about whether he had ever taken them, something that he has always denied, but whether sponsorship money provided by a US Government organisation had been used to subsidise a doping programme by his US Postal team.

In the United States, taking performance enhancing drugs in sport is not a crime. If it were, jails would be bursting with people, whose bodies have bulged with anabolic steroids. Instead, the federal case rested on whether there was sufficient evidence to bring a prosecution into whether there had been any fraudulent use of public money.

Even the employment of Jeff Novitsky, the investigator, whose work on the Balco scandal brought the court cases against baseball star Barry Bonds and sprinter Marion Jones, could not discover whether there was any, let alone sufficient, evidence to bring a law suit.

It is true that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) is eager to find out what Novitsky and his team discovered and, therefore, the issue may not yet be over from a purely sporting point of view. However, this may depend on whether Novitsky’s team  is allowed to pass on any details.

Still, it was salutary that three days later, Albert Contandor of Spain, whose rise to finish first in a hat-trick of Tour de France races, coincided with Armstrong’s decline, was banned for two years after a long-running series of inquiries.

It was the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, whose definitive judgement, finally decided that Contador’s adverse finding in 2010 in the Tour for the anabolic agent clenbuterol, known as ‘doper’s delight’ because it is both a stimulant and also has muscle-building properties.

Contador is therefore stripped of his Tour de France victory that year (his third in a row) and other titles such as the 2011 Giro d’Italia, in which he was allowed to compete because the case was pending. The Spanish cyclist will also be banned from this year’s Tour and the Olympics because the sentence expires in August 2012. He had claimed that the clenbuterol in his system derived from eating meat taken from Spanish cattle, which had been reared on the drug.

 The CAS could not find sufficient evidence for verification and, even if it had, there is always the key factor that competitors are responsible for what they consume. 

So, once again, cycling has found itself besmirched with a scandal involving one of its most famous figures. The Spanish Federation had originally cleared Contador only for the the UCI, the world governing body, to take the case to the CAS.

As Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, said of the result:”It shows that whatever the cost, whoever is involved, the ruling bodies are ready to go all the way.” Still the vexation of the sport’s authorities as yet another champion is disgraced is evident.

Pat McQuaid, the UCI President, admitted:”This is a sad day for our sport. Some may think of it as a victory but that is not all the case. There are no winners when it comes to the issue of doping. Every case, irrespective of its characteristics is a case too many.”

He knows that the public, TV companies and sponsors are all repelled by the constant flow of positive cases. How much longer will it continue ?

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · John Goodbody · cycling · anti-doping · Lance Armstrong

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