Monday, August 29, 2005

Lance Armstrong, the French, EPO, here we go again.

This post is just a punched up version of a post I made last week. I was pleased enough with it to work on it some more and turn it in as my column this week in the OC Times-News. Enjoy, again.

So, it is a scientific fact that Lance Armstrong has tested positive for the banned substance EPO. Or is it? According to a French newspaper it is true and the head of the Tour de France, Jean-Marie Leblanc, is all ready to string Armstrong up.

A lab has apparently tested some urine samples of Armstrong and the tests prove he was using EPO. At least the tests proved that to the newspaper and Leblanc. The lab says it cannot confirm that the samples were Armstrong’s and would have no way of knowing whose they were. The samples were anonymous.

At the time that these samples were taken there was not a test for EPO. Now that there is, the French have tested some frozen urine they believe to be Armstrong’s from 1999. It tested positive for EPO. Sounds like it should be pretty cut and dry, huh, not when it comes to the French.

The French have been after Lance Armstrong for years because, basically, they do not think that a man can survive cancer and win the Tour de France seven times. Maybe they also do not like an American dominating their sport.

It IS pretty unbelievable, and if the French didn’t seem like such sore losers, maybe I buy into this allegation. The urine samples that have been tested are from the 1999 Tour de France. It has been frozen all this time and is just now tested for EPO. That’s not all. These samples are the B samples. When giving urine for drug tests, the cyclists give two samples because there are so many things that can happen to contaminate a sample. The more samples you have, the better it is to get an accurate answer.

So if one sample tests positive for a banned substance, there is another sample to test to make sure that it is an accurate reading. The samples tested in this case were from 6 years ago. Can we really be sure that these tests are accurate? Can we really be sure this is Armstrong’s urine? How do we know that these samples have not been tampered with in the six years they have been frozen? Who has been in charge and taking care of these samples? Why are we testing urine six years after the fact? We may never know the answers to these questions.

These samples are anonymous, the urine sample in question did not have Armstrong’s name on it. The French claim they matched up numbers that were on the sample to numbers on a sheet with the cyclists names and the numbers are a match to Armstrong’s name.

After writing this all out, I am more convinced the French are just really sore losers and can’t let go of the past. They should be celebrating the fact that anyone outside of France even cares about their stupid little bike race. Maybe they don’t care if anyone wants to see their race.

I bet next year’s race will bring a high level of interest. I am sure every news channel, every newspaper, and every tourist will be there to witness Frenchy von French ride to victory. Well, that’s not true because even when Armstrong doesn’t race, the French can’t win.

I am a cynical guy and it would not surprise me to find out that Armstrong used a banned substance. In fact, I heard on a radio show that Armstrong did indeed take EPO, but it was part of his recovery.

Assuming this is indeed Armstrong’s sample, could this be what is popping on the alleged test? The French have been after Armstrong for years. Armstrong was tested more than anyone on the Tour de France. He has been hounded by many French newspapers, who all believe he is cheating.

He has never failed a test and I am sure that just fuels the haters’ desire to try anything to sully Armstrong’s good name. What he has done in coming back from cancer and being able to just live is a much bigger accomplishment than any yellow jersey.

Cycling is commonly known to be a sport rife with cheating. Everyone is trying to get an edge, which is just how it is in any sport. I don’t endorse cheating; it is just a fact of life. Many of us who say that cheating is wrong and we would never cheat don’t know what is going through these athletes’ minds.

I know that I personally would have to think long and hard about whether or not to take something I knew would make me better at my job and give me a chance to make millions of dollars. Many people would have to take a while to think things through. We all hope we would make the right decisions, but when it comes down to it, when face to face with it, would we? I’m not sure.

What if he did take EPO in 1999? Do the last six races not count? Has he not been tested for every banned substance, including EPO, since there has been a test for it? He has passed every one since then. If the cycling community were not testing for EPO at the time this sample was taken, should he be punished? If he indeed was using EPO in 1999, and let me be clear, that would be disappointing to hear, he is still a great athlete and has accomplished more than many cyclists could ever dream, EPO or no EPO.

What he accomplished is almost supernatural. There have been questions and accusations from the beginning, but none as serious as these latest accusations. He does need to answer these accusations, but what can he do other than to deny them?

I do not believe that he should go before Congress and testify like some have said. We already have seen how much weight the threat of testifying before congress under oath carries. Ask Rafael Palmero if he would lie under oath to protect his career and his achievements.

Armstrong has already come out and blasted the French newspaper that started this and the Tour head official. That should be enough. If he wants to proceed with legal action that is another option he could take, and more power to him. Unless they can go back in time and test him, he is free and clear. The French just need to realize this and move on.

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