Lance Armstrong reaction round-up: Conflicting views from cycling and beyond as Texan gets back in saddle despite ban
Meanwhile, senior official from France's anti-doping agency claims Armstrong was warned of doping controls
Stars of cycling and other sports as well as sponsors have been reacting to news of Lance Armstrong’s life ban from sport and disqualification from all results since August 1998. However, the man who won the Tour de France an unprecedented seven times is still riding, finishing second in a local mountain bike race in Colorado yesterday. Meanwhile, a senior official at France’s national anti-doping agency has claimed that Armstrong was able to evade doping controls after being forewarned of them.
"Nobody needs to cry for me. I'm going to be great," insisted Armstrong after being beaten by 16-year-old Keegan Swirbul at the Power of Four race in Aspen, Colorado, where he has a home.
He was riding in the event less than 48 hours after confirming that he did not intend to go to arbitration to fight the five separate doping counts he had been charged with by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
The agency confirmed on Friday that it had banned him from sport for life and was stripping him of all competitive results obtained dating back to 1 August 1998, including his seven Tour de France victories.
The 40-year-old was able to take part in yesterday’s mountain bike race because its organisers are not bound by the provisions of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC). He is banned from competing in any event organised by a signatory to the WADC, or any member of such an organisation.
Among those who have commented on Armstrong’s case are the three men still alive who have each won the Tour de France five times, a record only the Texan himself eclipsed.
Miguel Indurain, who won the race five consecutive times between 1991 and 1995, at the time an unprecedented sequence, wrote in the Spanish sports daily Marca that Armstrong was still entitled to his seven victories in the race until a universally recognised organisation took them away from him and also described the USADA investigation against him as “strange.”
Armstrong also received words of encouragement from Eddy Merckx, the second man to win the Tour five times after the late jacques Anquetil. Quoted in an AFP report, the Belgian said: "Lance Armstrong is disillusioned and is up against an unjust process.
"At a certain point there's a disenchantment that sets in. Lance is saying to USADA 'do what you want, now I don't care'.
"Lance was always very correct during his career. What more can he do? All the tests he's undertaken, more than 500 since 2000, have come back negative. So, either the tests don't count for anything, or Armstrong is 'legit'.”
Less sympathetic of Armstrong’s plight was the other man to have secured five Tour de France five times, Bernard Hinault, who now works on the race including organising the podium presentations at the end of stages.
“I really couldn’t give a damn," Hinault told the newspaper Ouest-France. "It’s his problem, not mine. This is an issue that should have been sorted out ten or fifteen years ago and it wasn’t.”
Sports stars outside cycling have also been giving their take on the case.
World number 2 tennis player Novak Djokovic, winner of three of the sport’s Grand Slam events, told AFP: “When I heard that story, and many others, I'm disappointed as an athlete, because I know how much it takes to get to where we are and on the top of our own sport, how much sacrifice, commitment, hard work.”
Although tennis is a sport that has consistently been singled out by anti-doping campaigners as having a looser attitude towards testing and enforcement than others such as cycling, the Serb insisted that it was clean.
"In the end we are all seeking to have pure sport. I'm happy that in tennis we do not have that many cases and we are trying to keep that going to keep tradition and to protect the integrity of the sport.
"That's something that sends a strong message about our sport also to young kids because they look up for heroes and they look for role models."
Marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe was more forthright, tweeting on Friday: “Waking to news on Lance. Sad to see fall of a hero to many but moral of all is keep sport clean #drugcheatsout” and adding: “doping cheats yourself and your competitors but this has cheated millions around the world too.”
Armstrong, like Muhamad Ali or Pele, is a man who transcended his sport to become a truly global personality, and news of the sanctions imposed on him provoked comment beyond the sporting world.
Entrepreneur and Palo Alto Software CEO Sabrina Parsons, blogging for Forbes.com, said that she had been inspired by Armstrong’s story of his comeback from cancer to dominate the Tour de France but his decision not to contest USADA’s charges had made her revise her opinion of him.
“I am so disappointed in Lance,” she wrote. “If he really didn’t dope, it doesn’t matter now. By not clearing his name the cloud above him has gotten so big and so dark that we can’t see that fearless, amazing, relentless, hard-working athlete anymore.
“I was looking forward to giving my eight year old son his book, ‘It’s Not About the Bike’ in the next year or so. I was so excited in sharing this book and giving my son the inspiration to work hard and achieve what you want by working harder than everyone else - just like Lance did. I remember how inspired I was when I read that book a decade ago.
“But now, I would have to have a discussion with my son about “doping” and drugs, and how Lance is embroiled in this scandal. Sadly, I will find other inspirational stories about athletes to share with my son.
“I will no longer hold Lance Armstrong up as a role model for my kids,” she added.
In what is seen as a show of support for the former cyclist, however, donations to his Lance Armstrong Foundation soared on Friday in the wake of USADA’s announcement, with $78,000 coming into the coffers via online donations, a 25-fold increase on the previous day according to its CEO, Doug Ulman.
Nike, which has sponsored Armstrong personally for a number of years as well as supplying clothing to the teams he rode for as well as those seven Tour de France maillot jaunes he won, has said that he will continue to receive its backing.
"Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position,” the sportswear firm said in a statement. “Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors."
A senior official with France’s national anti-doping agency, l'Agence française de lutte contre le dopage (AFLD), has claimed that Lance Armstrong was regularly warned that he was due to be subject to a doping control.
In an interview with French national newspaper Le Monde, Michel Rieu, scientific advisor to the AFLD, recounted an incident in 2009, as Armstrong prepared to make his Tour de France comeback with Astana, where a random doping control was forestalled by 20 minutes by delaying tactics employed by the rider and his entourage – enough time, he insisted, for a urine sample to be swapped.
He also claimed that the alleged protection afforded to him went beyond the UCI and International Olympic Committee, saying that Nicholas Sarkozy, the former French President who viewed himself as a friend of Armstrong, had pulled strings following a lunch with the former rider at the Elysee Palace in 2009 to ensure the departure from the AFLD of its former chairman, Pierre Bordry.