What to Wear on Your Wrist Now That Lance Armstrong is Being Stripped of His Tour de France Titles

Shortly after Floyd Landis briefly "won" the Tour de France, The Onion started hawking yellow "Cheat to Win" bracelets.

Alas, they are no longer available from The Nation's Finest News Source and likely to be rising in price all over eBay now that Lance Armstrong is about to be stripped of his record number of Tour titles. (For cave dwellers: the cancer-fighting Lance Armstrong Foundation sells today's ubiquitous yellow "Livestrong" bracelets as a way of raising money and awareness to fight cancer; Armstrong was also Landis' mentor.)

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is the august body doing the stripping and while Armstrong claims it doesn't have the authority to take away his titles, he has also declined the fight the decision. That's been taken as an admission of guilt by everyone involved. (Founded in 2000, USADA has jurisdiction over Olympic sports in the U.S. and works with other sports federations around the world.)

From ESPN:

"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, 'Enough is enough.' For me, that time is now," Armstrong said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. He called the USADA investigation an "unconstitutional witch hunt."

"I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999," he said. "The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today -- finished with this nonsense."

As with the acquittal of Roger Clemens on perjury charges stemming from testimony about steroid use, I'm of a mixed mind at this news. My disregard at the official actions are at odds with my distaste for the public sanctimony of the athletes in question. With Clemens, the most outrageous thing was not whether "the Rocket" had in fact used banned substances (few observers doubt that he did) but that Congress was investigating the matter in the first place. That Clemens volunteered to make sworn testimony in front on Congress - where he was asked such questions as, "Mr. Clemens, do you recall bleeding through your pants in 2001?" - didn't really change the fact that the government shouldn't have been involved in any way, shape, or form. 

Unlike Clemens, an always-unlikable figure who is further alienating whatever tiny fan base that still exists by mounting a pathetic comeback bid, Armstrong has raised huge amounts of money for cancer through this Livestrong Foundation (the group whose yellow bracelets gave rise to the Onion's parodic version). Yet his self-promoted legend of being perceived as the embodiment of a squeaky clean competitor pulled down by desperately jealous competitors is phonier than a three-dollar bill. The sanctimony of people such as Armstrong is especially tough to take in the face of cases where athletes really have been falsely accused of breaking rules by which they bound themselves (check out the sad tale of Olympian Butch Reynolds, for instance).

Of course, whether Armstrong is a jerk is unrelated to whether he was a doper. Armstrong had been plagued for most of his career by credible doping charges, which often sounded like sour grapes on the part of jealous competitors. Last year, he was not charged after a long federal anti-doping investigation into what ESPN says were charges similar to what the USADA was looking into. The evidence against Armstrong is both strong (lots of teammates ready to talk) and weak (at the time of relevant tests, he always came out clean).

USADA also said it had 10 former Armstrong teammates ready to testify against him. Other than suggesting they include Landis and Tyler Hamilton, both of whom have admitted to doping offenses, the agency has refused to say who they are or specifically what they would say.

"There is zero physical evidence to support (the) outlandish and heinous claims. The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of (doping) controls I have passed with flying colors," Armstrong said.

Whatever he thinks, his titles are gone. And the sporting public is still left with the same questions that arose in the early 2000s, as baseball started grappling in earnest with its drug policy. As I wrote for Tech Central Station back in the day:

The main argument against steroids and similar drugs is that they somehow screw with the "natural" abilities of players and disrupt the "level playing field." That is, they give "unfair" advantages to players willing to use them. That's why Commissioner Selig frets over the "integrity" of baseball. Steroids, goes this line of thought, turn an authentic competition into something less...real? But if any of that is true, why not ban, say, weight training or off-season workouts? Or special nutritional regimens that stop short of including certain banned supplements? What should be done about Lasik and other interventions that result in better than 20/20 vision? Or reconstructive surgeries that let pitchers throw faster than before undergoing the knife (just ask Chicago Cubs' hurler Kerry Wood)? All of these things muddy that wholly mythical level playing field....

[Rules against performance enhancers] -- which have always been arbitrary and have often been pernicious -- shouldn't be mistaken for wisdom.

I think any sporting federation or league has the absolute right to set its own rules for behavior - and to toss people out who flout those rules. But in a lot of ways that doesn't get you very far, since athletes will always look for ways around existing strictures to gain a real or imagined edge. Maybe the best we should hope for is that the really smart or lucky ones don't get caught or that leagues open up the floodgates for all sorts of enhancements. And that when athletes do get caught, they make a positive case for why they did what they did and explain how it's all of a piece with trying to compete harder, better, longer, and faster.

Update: Nike stands by Lance Armstrong.

More Update: Outside magazine's excellent story, "LANCE ARMSTRONG: VICTIM?: The embattled cyclist says USADA is out to get him—using powers that it really shouldn’t have."

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  • Mike M.||

    I just hope that the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins, a.k.a. Greta van Susteren's uglier sister, is taking this OK and hasn't harmed herself or anything.

  • Ptah-Hotep||

    The evidence against Armstrong is both strong (lots of teammates ready to talk) and weak (at the time of relevant tests, he always came out clean).

    That in itself should have been enough to clear him. He has been fighting these charges for years and they have no evidence he did anything wrong. The french and the cycling world have always been butt hurt that the greatest cyclist of all time is an American.

    Fuck the Tour.

  • mr simple||

    It's also interesting that the people who would testify against him are the ones who cheated, were caught, and then offered deals to accuse Armstrong.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Yeah, why test if you're going to ignore the results? Testimony could be used to bolster the positive test results, but not really to counter negative ones.

    On the other hand, it's cycling so who gives a shit.

  • wareagle||

    this reeks of a bad tv cop drama - find a bunch of criminals willing to say anything to lessen their sentences, add a prosecutor with a particular hard-on for the suspect, and the suspect is fucked. Can't blame Armstrong for saying 'whatever.' You cannot spend your whole life battling an agency with limitless resources and you can't prove a negative.

  • Colonel Travis||

    That "strong/weak" sentence jumped out to me, too - NG has the evidence clout backwards.

  • Father Jack||

    Sometimes NG is an idiot. If this were the government doing this to a Private Citizen, his sanctimonious ass would be in an uproar. Feck! Drink! Arse! Girls!

  • Virginian||

    The evidence against Armstrong is both strong (lots of teammates ready to talk) and weak (at the time of relevant tests, he always came out clean).

    Show me some objective evidence please. I mean this guy allegedly spent a decade or so using performance enhancing substances at the same time that he was the most drug tested athlete in the world. If he was using something, surely it would have shown up.

    That's how it seems to this layman anyway. I haven't followed this very closely, please correct me if I'm wrong.

  • Mike M.||

    When it comes to stuff like doping, PEDs, HgH, etc, only the real dummies get caught.

    At least half of all high level professional athletes today are doing this, and the percentage is probably somewhat higher than that.

  • gaijin||

    As my high school son would say: "Assertion or Fact?"

  • aelhues||

    I'm really getting sick of hearing this. True or not, I find it extremely bad for to assert that so many people are cheating, without proof.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    73% of statistics on the interwebs are made up on the spot

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    Wait...now it's 87%....shit..now it's 43%.

  • Scarcity||

    Curse you Drax!

  • Scarcity||

    Bullshit. It's 84%.

  • Gray Ghost||

    I'll play. Go look at the careers of Bjarne Riis, Marco Pantani, and Jan Ullrich. You know, the guys Lance was duking it out with during all those Tours. None of them pissed hot during the Tour, and all of them eventually got implicated in doping.

    There wasn't even a good test for EPO---the primary thing these guys were using back then---until, IIRC, 2001. If there's no test for it, then of course you're going to appear clean. There still isn't a good one for autologous blood transfusions.

    Cycling was dirty as hell during Lance's run. (Festina, among others.) It beggars belief that Lance was kicking all of their asses, at the same time being the only yellow jersey contender who wasn't cheating.

    Which brings up the question: if you strip Lance of his titles, just who do you give them to? How do you know that guy was clean, especially if he wasn't winning stages/leading the GC, and therefore wasn't getting tested like LA?

  • Brett L||

    He didn't dope any more (or, perhaps, less) than they guys who finished 2nd or 22nd in those TdF races, stripping him of the titles doesn't mean anything to me except these guys were willing to cheat all of their own rules to be the guys who got the legend. On the plus side for the USADA guys, they'll probably never buy another meal in France.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Imagine Armstrong were being accused of murder. Every DNA test cleared him, but the DA has some known criminals, over which the DA can exert his power, who are supposedly willing to implicate him. Somehow, I think that Reason article has a different tone.

  • RBS||

    Yeah, Nick's obvious dislike of Armstrong sort of blinds him to the fact that the USADA is stripping the titles based on accusations from former teammates who got caught and absolutely no physical evidence.

  • Drake||

    I was wondering what I was reading. A bunch of hearsay about a man who never failed a test, and Nick is writing his epitaph instead of getting righteous;y indignant.

    What is Nick's beef?

  • Incredulous||

    Yes, it's bizarre - much like the headlines in the mainstream media on this case ("Armstrong to lose Tour de France titles").

    There's no evidence against Armstrong. He hasn't been convicted of anything and will still be the winner of 7 Tour de Frances.

  • Tepid||

    Also, this being Reason, I'd think a bit more moral outrage at the USADA being a taxpayer funded "private" organization that side-steps due process would be in order.

  • ||

    Meh. Never thought banning drugs in sport rested on firm foundations. Doping is only cheating because it's banned. Protecting the athlete from harm is odd, considering that dedicating yourself to professional sports entails a lot of sacrifices, including physical damage and the curtailment of social development such as education. They're prepared to trash themselves in a whole bunch of ways, and that is sanctioned by their sport, but this one way is wrong.

    Also, legalising drugs in sport might give Switzerland something apart from Roger Federer to be proud of.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Wait, being a pro athlete means sacrificing education?

  • ||

    In your country no, because of the whole college sports thing. Most other places, yes. Our elite athletes get talent-spotted and end up at the Australian Institute of Sports or similar state programs, so formal education sputters and dies pretty early

  • Raven Nation||

    Speaking of which (AIS), is the media still going bat-crazy over the "failure" of Australian athletes in London; demanding reform of the AIS, etc?

  • Gray Ghost||

    In your country no, because of the whole college sports thing.

    O.k., this made me laugh this morning.

    I still agree with IFH's point, especially after watching the Olympics. So, let me get this straight: it's O.K. to take 7 year old girls, stick them in a Spartan training program so rigorous that it jacks with when they start puberty, as well as obliterates most chances at a normal childhood, all for a ~5% shot of making an Olympic team. But it's not O.K. for a physically mature athlete to take HGH or other PEDs, even under a M.D.'s supervision? It doesn't make any sense. Hell, if you believe this guy, and he seems to make sense, they're doing it anyway.

    Get these PEDs out in the light, where we can do good, long term studies on what they bring the athlete, as well as the side effects, and let the athlete decide whether the tradeoffs are acceptable.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Get these PEDs out in the light, where we can do good, long term studies on what they bring the athlete, as well as the side effects, and let the athlete decide whether the tradeoffs are acceptable.

    I'd be really interested to see some long-term studies on the impacts of whatever PEDs athletes use actually have on their long-term health. Especially in sports like football, where these guys finish their careers with the bodies of men 20 years older due to all the pounding they take.

  • Mo||

    I don't see banning substances as any different than banning specific equipment. If MLB doesn't want their players using steroids or aluminium bats, that's their business. My beef is with the government getting involved beyond adjucating contractual disputes.

  • Voros McCracken||

    The problem is that MLB had made it clear that it didn't really care that its players were on steroids, and the media and then congress stepped in and made it clear that if they didn't start caring, they'd be forced to.

    Drug regimen's designed to help professional athletes perform longer at a high level with lessened long term physical damage I think is the future of professional sport. The biggest obstacle to getting there are organizations like the IOC and WADA.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    And one who wasn't accused of cheating will always have 409 football victories no matter what the NCAA says.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Another meaningless record.

  • wareagle||

    why is it meaningless? He was the head coach when the team won. That is the only calculus used with those marks.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    National championships: important record. Regular season victories? Who cares. In JoePa's case, it merely indicates he was a pretty good coach for a loooooooong career.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    I believe JoePa won four - two acknowledged, one taken away by Nixon, and another given to Ohio State instead of shared ("Any time, any place.")

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Taken away by Nixon, my ass. They played a crap schedule and ran to the Orange Bowl instead of playing Texas.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    This is why they should have gotten the death penalty.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I do give credit to JoePa for the NC's. But regular season wins? Who cares? Going 27-0 over Temple in his career is really nothing to brag about.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Without a playoff national championships barely mean anything.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Especially considering JoePa, from a football standpoint, was really nothing more than a highly-paid recruiter the last ten to fifteen years of his career.

    Penn State kept him in just long enough for him to get the wins record, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he earned it. Those last few years, his involvement regarding the weekly game plans was practically nil.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Thank goodness America's favorite sport - football - is doping-free.

  • wareagle||

    it has a different problem - a pack of do-gooder nannies from George Will to anyone who can spell "doctor" proclaiming it as inherently dangerous to anyone, probably even to fans. The rules change by the season and split-second plays are analyzed under superslow motion for possible penalties. I would hate to play today.

    By comparison, take a look at film from decades ago. The game was far more violent in terms of cheap shots and blatant aiming at guys' heads and necks. More than one player was popularized for the clothesline.

  • RBS||

    By comparison, take a look at film from decades ago. The game was far more violent in terms of cheap shots and blatant aiming at guys' heads and necks. More than one player was popularized for the clothesline.

    I love watching old NFL Films stuff for that very reason. Those guys played fucking hard and nasty.

  • Invisible Finger||

    I think today's football has gotten nastier but less hard.

    Old football LOOKS hard and nasty because the run was used so much more and there was actual tackling and face masks were nothing compared to the cages used today. Now it's a passing-oriented game and the offensive line isn't pushing forward as often anymore, and defenses are hitting more than tackling.

    There's more head shots today than years ago, I don't know what wareagle looks at. Clotheslining is actually a safer play than yanking someone by the face mask.

    My issue with big-time football is the game has become soft-core violence. I blame the roster sizes. Get that down to a 36-man game roster and a 10-man taxi-squad and the game will be played harder, nastier, and less violently.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    My issue with big-time football is the game has become soft-core violence.

    It's probably my imagination, but it seems like guys are getting hurt far more frequently (not counting the increased attention on concussions) for things like muscle and ligament tears.

    It used to be in the old days that coaches would actually fine players for lifting weights. Guys are bigger and stronger than ever today since those rules relaxed, but part of me wonders if these dudes aren't putting, say, 250 pounds of muscle on a body that wasn't meant physiologically to carry more than 210 for an extended period of time, and all that body armor is putting extra strain on them.

  • wareagle||

    just makes you wonder the depth of hatred the USADA has for Armstrong. He passed a billion drug tests, there was never a Barry Bonds-like transformation in his physique to raise eyebrows, and he even used his money and fame to do some good through the foundation. So, what racing team is the USADA bankrolling that kept losing to Armstrong?

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I heavily suspect that he was juicing, but considering he passed all of their tests and they haven't offered any hard evidence, striping him of his titles is ridiculous.

  • Drake||

    So a retired athlete declining the opportunity to pay millions to lawyers to fight an endless string of baseless charges is an admission of guilt?

    It is the USADA that comes off looking like cheaters. They could never catch Armstrong, but hey, let's screw him anyhow.

  • fried wylie||

    "Because Fuck You, That's Why."

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Sounds like bullshit to me. If it's so easy to fool the tests, why did all those other people get caught? And with this standard of "proof" from the USADA, it is literally impossible for Armstrong to prove his innocence. No wonder he's saying "fuck it" and not bothering any more. He can't win.

  • KevinP||

    What a bullshit article by Nick Gillespie.

    This is a witch hunt which will end only when its crusaders can find Armstrong guilty. I applaud Lance for refusing to participate in this kangaroo court whose bias was evident when it immediately declared him to be a doper for refusing to participate. Lance has a strong argument that his constitutional rights to due process and a civil trial in the court system have been denied. And I say this as someone who has little interest in Lance or bicycling.

    We are watching the right to due process and the presumption of innocence being diminished in front of us, and we should all support these rights.

    When the police next ask Gillespie to search his car or stop and frisk him for weapons on the streets of NYC - he should consent. After all, he has nothing to hide, right?

  • R C Dean||

    I wouldn't give much credence to the testimony against him until I find out exactly how it was obtained: what threats were made, what deals were cut, etc. It comes off as so much jailhouse snitch stuff.

    Did he dope? Who knows? He passed all the tests, which ought to count for something. And if he was beating the tests, why did all those teammates get caught? Didn't they have access to the same undetectable stuff he did?

    Either his team had access to the good stuff that wouldn't show on tests, or it didn't. Looks to me like it didn't, making the test results pretty dispositive.

  • Incredulous||

    The USADA's actions against Armstrong are totally unethical and ridiculously inappropriate. There is ZERO objective evidence against him but mountains of objective evidence in his favor. All real evidence completely and overwhelmingly supports his innocence in this matter.

    Ultimately, their actions are irrelevant. Armstrong is still innocent until actually proven guilty (which is impossible unless new evidence comes to light) and still the 7-time winner of the Tour de France. The USADA has no authority (moral or legal) to convict him of anything or strip him of anything. Ideally, the media would just ignore this farce perpetrated by an illegitimate agency.

  • fried wylie||

    Ideally, the media would just ignore this farce perpetrated by an illegitimate agency.

    Only works that way for the DEA.

  • Adam330||

    What is the basis of their claim of authority to strip his Tour de France titles? Wouldn't that rest with the organizers of the Tour de France? The USADA's actions seem about as meaningful as Hit and Run commenters deciding that the USADA is illegimate and declaring it disbanded.

  • fried wylie||

    I hereby declare the USADA disbanded.

    (I honestly didn't know that was an option, thanks adam!)

  • Adam330||

    After some googling, it appears that the Union Cycliste Internationale actually has authority over drug testing for the Tour de France. UCI's position is that the USADA has no authority in the matter. USADA claims that UCI isn't doing a good enough job, so it's going to take over.

  • ||

    Armstrong has raised huge amounts of money for cancer through this Livestrong Foundation...

    I honestly don't know enough about the details of his testing to say whether he's a doper (though observing his career from afar makes me think he did), but when it comes to his foundation he can go shove one of those bracelets up his ass. After Armstrong started the not-for-profit Livestrong.org, they partnered with Demand Media to create the very for-profit Livestrong.com. It's bad enough that I have to sift through hundreds of their bullshit user-created webpages every time I Google anything remotely health-related, but tricking people into thinking it's not-for-profit when it's anything but is pretty despicable in my book.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Not-for-profit does NOT mean "charitable". Someday people will wake up to that fact.

  • ||

    True, but Livestrong.org IS a charitable organization. Livestrong.com is not. If Armstrong wants to exploit his image as some cancer-fighting hero for profit, that's his business. My problem is with the fact that it uses the same Livestrong brand, thereby tricking people into thinking it's part of a charity when it's not.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    I don't think this is such a big deal. Armstrong's tied to the Livestrong brand, regardless of whether it is for-profit or not. Just because he using it for both purposes doesn't illegitimize the brand, and if people aren't educated enough or too lazy to discern which is which, that's their fault, not his.

  • ||

    Huge pile of bullshit here, Gillespie. You win the Tulpa Award for Disingenuous Asshole of the Day. Congrats!

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    Sorry, Nick - bad call. This is beyond a ridiculous waste of time. Tests at the time found nothing. But 7 years after the fact, some sinners decide to pull down another crab into the basket, and that's proof?

    Fuck everyone involved in this colossal waste of time and effort.

  • Greg Gauthier||

    "...And that when athletes do get caught, they make a positive case for why they did what they did..."

    Can someone please, please, tell me WHAT, exactly, Lance Armstrong got "caught" doing wrong? I have yet to hear anything except a bunch of accusations, conjecture, and outright slander.

    "...CREDIBLE doping charges..."? Where's the credibility in making accusations? Someone help me understand how a charge is credible just because its shocking.

    I don't know the man personally. He may indeed be a sanctimonious douchebag. But so what? How does that give anyone a free pass to club the man relentlessly over the head?

    As for sanctimony, well: pot, kettle... You get the picture.

  • Father Jack||

    The FEDS have finally gotten to Nick, apparently. He is now a proud member of the Gubmint's "We're gonna fuck ya just because we can" squad. Or is it OK when semi-orivate groups fuck people with no real evidence but only bad when the Gubmint does it?

    Have your cake and eat it too, much Nick?

  • GlenchristLaw||

    It would be interesting to know the regulatory trends for chariot-racing and gladitorial combat in Ancient Rome (i.e., did faux scandals like this add to the "bread and circuses" function of distracting the populace from the real issues facing their society, as is the case in our American "Rome 2.0"?).

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    My bracelet says "KEEP DOPE ALIVE".

  • Father Jack||

    Mine did too, but then I smoked it.

  • Kaerie||

    Nick also neglected to mention that the body that actually governs the TdF was backing Armstrong's challenge to the USADA investigation, on the basis that they already did the testing and found nothing. Normally NG is right on, but this time he's WAAAY off the mark.

  • Father Jack||

    Feck NG up his doped ass on this one. His hard-on for sports/Armstrong is showing, and he wants someone to suck it off.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Fuck the tax funded fraudulent fuckers at the condescendingly named United States Anti-Doping Agency.

  • Father Jack||

    Feck the bastards. The USADA are a bunch of Nazis who behave much like our government...hound people who have done nothing wrong and screw them into the ground based upon no real evidence whatsoever (except what known guilty turds say they know).

    The ICU says it may step in and defend Armstrong. I hope they do. Maybe they can dope the gonads of the scum in the USADA with a heavy, steel-toed boot.

  • johnl||

    The Clemens pathetic comeback attempt is the most likable thing he's ever done.

  • CPBrown||

    Nick, the USADA is a creature of government funding. After passing every drug test, only a government sponsored entity would have the funding and incentive to continue to pursue the case against Armstrong.

    Yes, leagues and teams have the right to set their own rules, but this is a separate organization which undoubtably pursued this for even *more* federal funding.

    Who else really benefits from this ?

  • Nikolai Schwarze||

    James Taggart (Main Antagonist from Atlas Shrugged): Worked his tail off to destroy successful, productive individuals out of jealousy and spite. Fought against the success of his sister with the backing of the government.

    Travis Tygart (Prosecutor, Judge, Jury and Executioner in the Lance Armstrong case): Worked his tail off to destroy the career and reputation of one of the most successful and inspiring athletes of our time with the backing of the government.

    Funny coincidence, or prophecy?

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