Is Armstrong Guilty?

Sportswriter Stephen A. Smith argues it's certainly not proven.

There is no evidence of a positive test from 2004. Or 2003. Or 2002, 2001 and 2000, for that matter.

In an age when anything from a strand of hair to a footprint can land someone in jail for the rest of his life, a urine sample from 1999 is the best French critics can come up with to sully Lance Armstrong's reputation, to diminish the impact of his dominance in bicycle racing - a sport that is supposed to be their own. . . . .

Despite the fact that both "A" and "B" samples are needed to confirm the authenticity of the test, only the "B" samples are still purported to exist, preventing the Tour, USA Cycling or anyone else from snatching away any of Armstrong's Tour titles, including that 1999 championship.

But far be it for such things to stop a smear campaign from escalating to a point where polls are taken to gauge the amount of support Armstrong is receiving right here in America.

Jack S. (mail) (www):
If he is guilty, then the entire pro-tour peleton is guilty. He does not shatter the competition, and I hardly think he plays it to the point where he holds back to make it look like he's not on drugs.

While I'm a huge fan of The Tour, I am not of l'Equipe. What they are doing is purely for newspapers sales to fill their own pockets. It serves no public purpose because even if Lance were to go down, he would not take the peleton with him given the mafia-like code of silence among the riders. Drug use will continue, new tests will be designed, as will new drugs. There is a new competitor to EPO coming out that lasts for 1 month between doses and probably passes under the radar.

That said, what has l'Equipe done in the area of philanthropy? Nothing would be my guess.

Lance on the other hand has done more for U.S. cycling than anyone before and has caused bike sales and racing to explode in the U.S.. Of course this is all nothing compared to the LA Foundation which has been enormous for cancer research and giving people hope that they can beat this horrible disease. Just look at the number of people wearing LiveStrong bracelets and those who show up for his cancer benefit cycling events. Amazing.

Quite frankly, I don't care if LA took drugs or if some people think he is the cockiest person ever. The public service he has performed far outweighs any of the nonsense that l'Equipe has been spewing.

Finally, the Tour organization will have little if any interest in pursuing this farce. The organizers didn't hesitate to say what the Discovery Channel Team and LA have done to promote the Tour as well as keep French cycling alive. Jean-Marie LeBlanc speaks now because I believe he has retired from the organization. Just as well.

I'll stop myself there. I could go on for pages.
8.28.2005 11:49am
ggould (mail):
The entire anti-doping business is really a system of kangaroo courts. Many tests are deliberately performed using secret methods in prosecution-funded labs and in such a way as to prevent independent verification. They use tests rely on unpublished research, or published research with sample sizes in the low dozens and no independent confirmation. The tribunal in the one recent case (that of Tyler Hamilton -- read the dissent in particular) specifically declined to even _ask_ what the false-positive rate of the tests was, obviously the single most important factor for a court attempting to evaluate such evidence. There is, in short, no attempt to even create an appearance of impartiality, much less actual impartiality. The purpose of the court is to convict.

It is not surprising that in such an environment that authorities should just happen to discover an incriminating result against a famous, retired, and widely hated athlete. They have been moving up the sport of cycling, starting with smaller names and building up to bigger and bigger ones. It is simply an attempt to garner attention and press for WADA and its satellite organizations, quite unrelated to questions of truth, guilt, or innocence.
8.28.2005 12:30pm
Hiram Hover (www):

You leave out what Smith seems to see as the crux of his argument:

The Tour de France, which Armstrong, an American, has dominated for the last seven years, is, well, French.

If all of that isn't cause for reasonable doubt, somebody tell me what is.

There seems little chance that an official sanctioning body can revoke Armstrong's 1999 title on the basis of this test of the six-year-old B sample.

But as a lawyer ought to appreciate, the question of whether there exists sufficient and appropriate evidence to sanction Armstrong is different from the question of whether there's enough evidence for members of the public to think him guilty.

And as a member of the public, I find the evidence of the B sample pretty strong, and certainly don't think it's controverted by bashing the French (fun as that may be for some).
8.28.2005 12:46pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Hiram Hover, the only problem with your analysis is this: chain of custody. Are you SURE those are the same samples these many years later? Are you sure they have not been contaminated since then? Considering how often Armstrong has been tested and has tested negative, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt, particularly on this sort of flimsy evidence. I don't think this even shows that it is more likely than not that Armstrong was taking performance enhancers. Unless it were presented to a hangman's jury, I don't think they would either.
8.28.2005 1:20pm
Alexandra von Maltzan (mail) (www):
There is so much I have to say on the subject, it's difficult to relay all. If you have time read my post I wrote on Friday about it on my site, I called it 'Le Tour de Lance'
As Armstrong says, "..there is too much at stake here, for too many.."
Isn't that a fact:
We have the Tour, and it's flagging popularity which needs resuscitating
We have L'Equipe ultimately selling papers, whose parent company actually organizes the Tour, and it's journalist who co-authored a damming book last year accusing Armstrong of foul play. Both need to be proven right.
We have the British Sunday Times journalist who co-authored the above book, whose paper is being sued for liable by Armstrong. The trial comes up in the London's High Court in November.
We have the head of Le Tour, who has direct affiliations with L'Equipe, through the parent company, who in an unprecedented outburst, condones the outright acceptance of the laboratory data, without questioning the 'chain of custody' of the samples, or the security measures at the laboratory in the last six years.
We have the head of WADA, who have the most stringent rules regarding the preservation, administration and safeguarding methods of the samples taken, including protocol during analysis of same, who now casually claim the samples will be looked at. Really? By that he condones and approves of the method and protocol used, and invites a publicly stated conclusion of the findings by WADA (lack of jurisdiction prevents any conviction ).
Last but not least is the Texas insurance company, whose client is refusing to pay Armstrong the $5mil it owes him for the 2004 win, until the company's officials are satisfied that the allegations made against him in the above-mentioned book are not true.

Now if this is not an Agatha Christie list of suspects, what is?
8.28.2005 1:35pm
Carol Anne:
Wouldn't it be more appropriate to vet the process by which Lance Armstrong's case will be reviewed, than to speculate with insufficient evidence on whether he is a priori innocent or guilty?

If the process the sound and fair, I have confidence that the outcome will be sound and fair. But, some postings above suggest (e.g., kangaroo court) it might not be.

I appreciate Lance Armstrong's accomplishments, and the small bit of xenophobe in me is proud he did it in France. But asking whether he's guilty or not is asking people without access to primary data to draw conclusions.
8.28.2005 1:38pm
Hiram Hover (www):
Chain of custody? Contaminated samples? Biased investigators? I'm sorry, are we talking about Lance Armstrong or OJ Simpson?
8.28.2005 1:39pm
erp (mail):
What do the French gain even if they can prove their accusations are true? American fans will never believe their hero whose amazing athletic skill as well as his amazing recovery from cancer brought the race into American consciousness and has done more for bicycling than any dozens of other tour winners.

Who buys the most oiutrageously priced bicycles and accessories? Americans of course.
8.28.2005 1:47pm
Alexandra von Maltzan (mail) (www):
Yes 'chain of custody', there are protocols to be followed prior, during, and after the analysis of the samples, none of which had been followed in this case.
The first to break the news of the so called results was L'Equipe, who claimed to have been able to confirm the identity (yet unconfirmed by the lab), of the batch of random anonymous samples, and atribute them to Armstrong.
And yes you are talking about Armstrong, and a huge amount of money at stake, including life reputations for some.
8.28.2005 1:58pm
RogerA (mail):
I honestly dont give a rip whether LA used APO or whatever in 1999--his athletic accomplishments, IMHO, establish him as the athlete of the century--and if those of you who havent ridden for 50 straight miles on a road bike dont believe that, try it. Miguel Indurain's comments were illustrative on the subject.
8.28.2005 1:59pm
articles editor:
"IMHO, establish him as the athlete of the century--and if those of you who havent ridden for 50 straight miles on a road bike dont believe that, try it."

What silly logic. I'll ride for 50 straight miles on a road bike right after you knock out George Forman in eight rounds.
8.28.2005 2:05pm
RogerA (mail):
Articles Editor: It was a rhetorical point, not a logical argument; and for the apparently logical purists like yourself, I do know the difference--I could go into the physiology, tactics, and overall athletic ability required for the tour de france, but I wasnt interested in wasting a lot of band width. And ultimately I expressed it as a value judgment, and if you understand the difference between facts and values you should have no problem.
8.28.2005 2:14pm
ElamBend (mail):
I do have a problem is LA used EPO, particularly given his strong proclamations of not using anything in the last seven years. I'd like to believe him, but I'll keep an open mind. I think the 'evidence' so far presented is less than clear (for reasons laid out by others). Also, LA is one of the most studied athletes in history. We already know that he benefits from an abnormally long femur, larger than usual lung capacity and his body's ability to bring oxygen into his bloodstream; conditions all found in laboratory conditions. Added to that is the documented fact that he simply trains more and harder than anyone else on the tour, outside of his team.

I can't help but feel that there is a certain amount of grasping at straws by those who want to bring him down a notch. (In a recent editorial in L'Equip it was written that no champions retirement was more anticipated or more disliked, especially for his supposed 'arrogance.')
Unfortunately, LA now has to prove a negative.
I'll keep an open mind, but cannot dismiss the circumstances.
8.28.2005 2:28pm
Alexandra von Maltzan (mail) (www):
Elam, it is not for Armstrong to prove he is innocent, it is for the accusers to prove he is guilty.

It is impossible for Armstrong to prove he is innocent, without sample A in existance, and not just any sample A, but one which has been kept under strict guard and under strict conditions for six years. Such a sample does not exist.

In any event, he did take the drug (EPO) last time in 1996, by his own admission, without which he would have died. It was a part of a chemotherapy treatment for testicular cancer, to boost the production of oxygen-rich blood cells.

The last thing he would ever do, would be to risk a possible adverse effect of the drug, having fought the cancer which had spread throughout his body, reaching the brain. To take it again, in order to win a race he knows how to win without it? It would be playing Russian roulette, according to some.

Even if you don't wish to consider hundreds of samples taken previously (he is the most tested athlete in his sport), which have all been negative, look at the human issue. I believe he would never do it. You don't stare death in the face like he has, and then stick your middle finger up, as soon as it's back is turned.
8.28.2005 2:56pm
Zaoem (mail):
1) They investigated samples from all participants in the 1999 Tour. There were 12 positive samples, 6 were allegedly from Armstrong. This is not evidence that "if Armstrong did it, then everybody did it."

2) It is extremely rare that a B sample contradicts an A sample. The probability that 6 samples are accidently positive is near nil.

3) There is circumstantial evidence: Armstrong's doctor at the time, Ferrari, was convicted for applying EPO and several of his former clients admitted to using it on the doctor's advice.

Some of the previous stories were indeed a witchhunt, as there was no proof. But if it is confirmed that the tests indeed show what l'Equipe says they show, there should be very little doubt that Armstrong did indeed cheat, as much as I'd like to believe otherwise.
8.28.2005 3:54pm
Zach (mail):
An interesting article on the scientific and ethical qualms of this case can be found at

The most important point addressed is that EPO really shouldn't be stable in urine long enough for a test done today to detect doping done in 1999. To me, this raises the question of whether the test is accurately testing for what the lab thinks it's testing for, or indeed the question of post-1999 contamination of the samples. 12 positive samples from the 1999 tour seems incredibly low, for what it's worth. Wasn't there a tremendous, multi-team EPO scandal in the 1998 Tour?
8.28.2005 4:12pm
Zach (mail):
The link can be found at
8.28.2005 4:14pm
Alexandra von Maltzan (mail) (www):
I don't think there is any doubt that the samples now produced do indeed contain EPO.
The question is how can you prove that these samples have not been tampered with in six years.
It doesn't make any sense to keep on saying that if the samples indeed show that they contain EPO, there should be little doubt of Armstrong's guilt. They do contain EPO now, nobody doubts that. The real question is: Did they contain EPO in 1999?
You cannot deal with sensitive issues such as protocol in safeguarding and testing the samples, as irrelevant.
None of the standards of protocol were followed here, and it is non-sensical to keep on treating the L'Equipe as some kind of governing body whose evidence can be taken into consideration.
The Ferrari issue is circumstantial, and to think that after the so called 'stories', you now have proof, is simply incorrect, no matter how much atmosphere the French would like to give the present accusation. There is no proof available that would not be successfully shot down by any attorney in any court of law.
8.28.2005 4:14pm
Alexandra von Maltzan (mail) (www):
Zach, that is the point.
Armstrong claims that the presence of EPO cannot be safely detected after a few days. He last took the drug in 1996. He therefore questions the validity of the freezing process. There is no conclusive evidence as to how long after the test was taken the freezing process took place.
8.28.2005 4:18pm
Zaoem (mail):
The velonews piece is not really internally consistent. It quotes the Canadian scientist as argueing that she though EPO should degrade 2 or 3 months after the samples were taken AND that they should have retested in 2001, 2 years after the samples were taken.

I agree though that safeguarding the samples is an issue and that the findings will not stand up in court, should they be tested there.
8.28.2005 4:45pm
Goober (mail):
Somewhat off-topic, is "guilty" really the correct term? It was my understanding, perhaps rudimentary, that one can be "guilty" only of violating a penal statute (excepting concepts of moral responsibility, etc., "guilty of reductive reasoning" and so forth). While simple "liability" doesn't seem to reflect Armstrong's status, if he did (as I find myself deeply reluctant to contemplate) violate the prohibition of forbidden substances, I wonder what the correct word would be.
8.28.2005 7:30pm
Like Goober, I wonder if "guilty" is the correct question in this context. So let's examine that for a second.

Given the multiple violations commited by the French laboratory in the testing protocol relative to the "officially accepted" protocol, it would appear that a test of guilt or innocence would never survive a "fruit of the poisonous tree" argument, at least in U.S. law.

In addition, we have only the laboratory's word about how the test was conducted, and a somewhat tenouous connection of the actual samples to Armstrong. Given all this, "guilt" would seem to be an inappropriate question.

On the other hand, did Armstrong dope himself in 1999? This seems to me to be a valid question, and the objective answer appears to be "who knows?" The test could never survive any reasonable evidentiary scrutiny, if the facts are truly as I understand them. Given the fact that no other samples of Armstrong's urine from 1999 still exist, confirmation of the test would appear to be impossible even if we assume a flawless test, a valid result and an unimpeachable connection of the urine in question to Armstrong (all very much not proven at this point).

My question is, how does Armstrong defend this accusation? It seems a perfect situation for partisans on one side of the issue to permanently stain Armstrong's reputation without any real fear of their "findings" being disproven - after all, the only real means to refute it (more contemporaneous urine samples) apparently no longer exist. Given the zeal with which L'equipe and French cycling have accused Armstrong of doping throughout the years without any substantive proof, nefarious motives seem to be easy to ascribe.

It is an interesting problem in public relations, that is for sure.
8.28.2005 8:40pm
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):
The most important point addressed is that EPO really shouldn't be stable in urine long enough for a test done today to detect doping done in 1999. To me, this raises the question of whether the test is accurately testing for what the lab thinks it's testing for, or indeed the question of post-1999 contamination of the samples. 12 positive samples from the 1999 tour seems incredibly low, for what it's worth. Wasn't there a tremendous, multi-team EPO scandal in the 1998 Tour?

Nicely said.

We already know that he benefits from an abnormally long femur, larger than usual lung capacity and his body's ability to bring oxygen into his bloodstream; conditions all found in laboratory conditions. Added to that is the documented fact that he simply trains more and harder than anyone else on the tour, outside of his team.

Not to mention, the positive effects of the cancer and replacement hormones.
8.28.2005 8:52pm
Alexandra von Maltzan (mail) (www):
You have summed up the present situation perfectly.
Given the above, these are extraordinary accusations, requiring extraordinary proof.
The only winners here are the 'smear campaign team', and as the accusations cannot be disproved, I am afraid it's another nail in the Armstong coffin.
His choice remains only to carry on litigating, as he is doing at present. However, this is a slippery slope to financial ruin, and by no means assures him PR resuscitation. It would cost him upwards of $2mil, but more importantly a year or two at least, of his life. He may decide life is just too precious to him now, and the stress could easily bring the cancer right back.
8.28.2005 9:02pm
Alexandra von Maltzan (mail) (www):
You have summed up the present situation perfectly Glen.
8.28.2005 9:05pm
Alexandra von Maltzan (mail) (www):
"Not to mention, the positive effects of the cancer and replacement hormones."

Wow, that's a tough one Stephen! Where do I begin?

You must be delusional if you truly believe that chemotherapy drugs such as EPO (which he had to take in '96 to survive), enhanced his future performance, with the presence of testicular cancer eventually ravaging his entire body, and reaching the brain, as in Armstrong's case.
8.28.2005 9:30pm
jcp (mail):
This is a terrible smear campaign which will only damage the reputation of LA in France, and that of France in the USA. Both entertaining but pointless objectives -- kind of like doing a dance after scoring a goal.

The questing is not whether LA did anything that was illegal in 1999, but whether he did anything that was detectably illegal in 1999. Any other standard is quixotic.

Lets not waste time arguing whether LA did anything illegal (it doesn't matter,) or whether the this new accusation is legitimate or ethical (it isn't.)
8.28.2005 10:34pm
Is Armstrong not in litigation with his insurance company?
8.28.2005 10:40pm
Richard Blaine (mail):
French accusations of cheating? Sounds like they're skating on thin ice!
8.28.2005 11:24pm
Adam (mail) (www):
Whatever people say here, it shouldn't be based on any analysis by Mr. Smith, who is a basketball gossip columnist with a large mouth, and no great analyst of any sport.
8.29.2005 12:56am
Rough Justice (mail):
I've got a great idea, if I do say so myself. I propose that Superman Lance be cloned with the goal of having his duplicates be raised to be ubercyclists. Let's see how well they perform without performance enhancing substances like steroids. We can try the same for all the top baseball players who've doped and lied before congress about it. They've turned professional baseball into a charade and spectacle like professional wrestling is. All those win-at-all-cost multimillionaire jocks are a disgrace and a fraud, a legal term most of you lawyers are well-acquainted with. Also, wouldn't it be the scandal of all sport's scandals if his "famous" testicular cancer could be traced back to his use of banned, dangerous substances?
8.29.2005 2:06am
Another area of inquiry is the test itself. In 2004, a triathlete named Rutger Beke was found to have taken EPO and was suspended for 2 years. Beke enlisted the aid of independent scientists, who conducted a series of tests that proved that Beke, because of is natural physiology, would produce a false positive on the test, i.e., a positive result without having taken any EPO.

Furthermore, these alleged positive results come, apparently, under a NEW testing protocol - one which is meant to be more sensitive then the old protocol, and which is based on a qualitative assesment of data, rather than a hard-cutoff quantitative assessment. A test that may routinely produce false positives for certain types of people, tinkered with to be more sensitive, and based on non-peer-reviewed qualitative assessments of data, ought to be scrutinized very carefully.
8.29.2005 1:20pm
For more on the Beke saga, see here.
8.29.2005 1:24pm
And here.
8.29.2005 1:26pm
ElamBend (mail):
When I stated that LA must now prove a negative, it was a lament. He shouldn't have to, but in the court of public opinion, those who wish to smear him have only to make their accusations for them to stick. It's the old, "So when did you stop beating your wife?" trick.
8.29.2005 5:53pm
Alexandra von Maltzan (mail) (www):

I know what you mean!!
It works though doesn't it, only too well.
What is it about our society that we have to knock everyone off their pedestal if they are extraordinary achievers?
Is it because we consider ourselves so ordinary?
8.30.2005 3:52pm