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In Refusing to Cooperate, Armstrong Faces Cycling Ban, Financial Consequences

August 24, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency pursued examination of Lance Armstrong after a federal inquiry ended, citing testimony and blood tests. Not admitting guilt, the cyclist decided to stop fighting the charges. Jeffrey Brown discusses consequences for the sport as well as Armstrong's reputation with David Epstein of Sports Illustrated.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: We get more now from David Epstein, a senior writer for “Sports Illustrated.”

David, this — this has gone on for a very long time, but fill in what is known now about the evidence that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency seems to have on Armstrong.

DAVID EPSTEIN, “Sports Illustrated”: Well, so the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, of course, was paying very close attention to a federal Department of Justice investigation that was sort of spurred in the spring of 2010 when Lance Armstrong’s former teammate, Floyd Landis, who was also — who was stripped of a Tour de France win, sent an e-mail to cycling observations saying, look, here’s how we were doping. Here is how the program and the systems worked.

And that launched a federal law enforcement investigation that was eventually dropped. But through that, teammates and associates of Lance Armstrong testified before a grand jury. And when that was dropped, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency continued ahead, some of the people — now having known that some of Lance Armstrong’s associates and teammates had testified against him under oath.

And so U.S. Anti-Doping Agency pursued his teammates and associates who were willing to testify, some of whom had not had their reputations impugned before. And in addition to that, they have blood tests from 2009 and 2010, when he returned to cycling, that they say show fluctuations of blood parameters consistent with blood doping.

So the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is saying, look, we have testimony. We also have analytical findings.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so he of course has denied it before. He denies it still, and yet he’s announced he is not going to fight it. So what are people you talk to make of this? What is going on?

DAVID EPSTEIN: So, first of all, I think this, for the decade or more that he’s been facing allegations, people have had a lot of time to get in either camp, so, I think where some people have said, hey, look, we don’t believe this guy, you know, finally, and other people have said, this has been a witch-hunt, even if he was doping, so was everybody else.

And then, there are sort of the swing voters. And I think for people who are on the fence, this will look like an admission of guilt for those people on the fence, because procedurally speaking, that’s what it is. It is kind of akin to a no-contest plea in a court of law.

JEFFREY BROWN: We mentioned USADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency. Then there are various other cycling agencies and other sporting authorities.

It’s a complicated system, but the — but is this over? Are there — is there room for appeal or is this where it ends?

DAVID EPSTEIN: Well, it’s sort of over in one sense, in the sense that since the International Cycling Union, which was, you know, trying to sort of assert its power to handle this case, is a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Agency code, and given that the Cycling Union is a voluntary signatory, they sort of have to follow through the process of now stripping him of his Tour de France titles, and he forfeits his winnings and things like that.

That said, there are still other officials from the Postal Service cycling team have decided to go forward with the arbitration process.

So there is still going to be a hearing, so there still could be presentation of evidence that sort of less directly reflects Lance Armstrong, and not to mention there may be ex-sponsors now who will look to do what they call claw back sponsorship money, particularly an insurance company that had once tried before to deny him money based on the suggestion that he was doping.

And not to mention other things that might come into the public sector, like a book that’s coming out with more information from Lance’s former teammate Tyler Hamilton.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that is what I was wondering about, the future consequences and implications for him.

So , it’s stripped of title, it’s non-competing, but there are financial issues involved. And, of course, there’s his reputation.

DAVID EPSTEIN: Absolutely.

So it is going to affect — even just his retirement from cycling the first time around affected the revenues of his foundation, so you would have to assume his forced retirement here — so this not only bans him from cycling. He was competing as a professional triathlete. So he was still even separately as a triathlete under the purview of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

And now he is banned from that as well. So for all intents and purposes, his career as a professional athlete, which he said he was continuing in order to draw attention to his foundation, is over.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, David, in our last minute here, just think about the consequences for the sport itself. I mean, there have been a lot of other cases, nobody quite as high-profile as Armstrong, but what is thought to be the state of doping and drug use in the sport today?

DAVID EPSTEIN: Well, so, still, I would say the reputation of anti-doping technology still sort of far exceeds its capabilities. There’s a lot of room to dope without testing positive.

At the same time, cycling in the last two years has adopted the biological passport, which is this system where there are numerous blood tests taken, and parameters, blood markers are — the fluctuations are tracked. So you don’t have to directly detect a drug.

And since that has been implemented, the power outputs of cyclists on mountain stages has gone way down, which is highly suggestive that cycling has sort of turned a corner in its efforts. And either the cyclists are not trying as hard anymore, or it is a little bit more difficult for them to dope in the ways they have in the past.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, David Epstein of “Sports Illustrated,” thanks so much.

And one more note: Earlier today, I talked about Armstrong and the sport with our own resident cycling expert, Ray Suarez. You will find our conversation on our website.