Lance Armstrong says conscience clear despite USADA sanctions
But doping expert Michael Ashenden says blood values from 2009 comeback Tour de France consistent with doping
Lance Armstrong insists that his conscience is clear despite the decision of the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) to ban him from sport for life and strip him of results including the seven Tour de France titles he won between 1999 and 2005. However, doping expert Dr Michael Ashenden has claimed that examination of Armstrong’s blood value data following his return to cycling in 2009 provide evidence of his having doped as he pursued an eighth Tour de France win that year.
Armstrong made his comments after winning last week’s SuperFrog triathlon in San Diego, an event that he was able to compete in since it isn’t endorsed by USA Triathlon, and is therefore not an event subject to the World Anti-Doping Code, the basis for the sanctions USADA has imposed on him.
The 41-year-old was speaking to the editor of Lava, the magazine of the World Triathlon Corporation, owner of the Ironman series. The former cyclist had been due to race in the Nice Ironman in June, but was forced to pull out when he was provisionally suspended after USADA formally charged him with doping offences.
Asked about the impact of the sanctions USADA imposed on him after his decision not to challenge its charges through arbitration, Armstrong said: “It’s their drama. Not mine.
“I was raised in a way, and maybe my mom was this way, and her life wasn’t perfect, it was complicated. But she always looked forward. She looked a day, and a month, and a year, and 10 years from now.
“Some people don’t do that. They sit around and talk about the past. You always get high-school friends who sit around and talk about “hey remember that time…” and I’m like ‘why are you asking me about that?’
“That’s the funny thing,” he went on. “What else do they want to strip? The Tour of Colorado? Tour of the Gila? It’s so dumb.
“I don’t care. Honestly. And I mean that. I wake up and my mind and my conscience and my view on my life and my world, my future and my kids’ future is perfectly clear.
“And I said it after my mountain bike race in Aspen when I raced [the day after USADA announced its sanctions]. Nobody needs to be shedding any tears for me; I’ll find stuff to do. My foundation’s gonna keep rockin’, and my kids are going to remain unaffected. Movin’ on.”
Armstrong also hit out at the reaction to USADA’s decision of his critics, whether they be cycling fans writing blogs, journalists or fellow competitors.
“Yeah, others won’t move on,” he stated. “It’s sad. I’m aware that it’s out there. It’s like, why are you continuing? You got what you wanted; Lance Armstrong never did anything in his life. Great. For some, it’s like, shouldn’t you be out training and focusing on what you’re doing? Fucking move on. So strange.”
Those detractors were thin on the ground at the SuperFrog race, however, with Armstrong supporters very much to the fore.
“I heard a lot of that support, riding and running today. It was great. Obviously there are detractors, but they don’t say anything—which is fine. And if they did say something, that’s fine too. Look, this is a polarizing subject. There are gonna be people strongly pulled to either side.
“But I’m always humbled and blown away by people’s responses. Today, and going to talk at the Leadville pre-race riding briefing, the support I get, it’s like, ‘whoa.’
“Some are true believers that nothing ever happened. Some are believers that something did happen, and some are believers that don’t give a shit what happened. They’re all over the place, but again, I don’t take it for granted. Every time I show up, I expect picketers. And when they don’t show up, I’m like, “cool.”
“So, we’re gonna just move along.”
Lava also asked Armstrong what the reaction of his sponsors had been to USADA’s action, putting it to him that they appeared “to remain largely in your corner.”
“I’m surprised by that,” admitted Armstrong. “You never assume. It certainly doesn’t hurt to do things like today [the SuperFrog triathlon and associated fundraising speeches]. Trek had someone here today, and they’ll report back about the support on the course, the atmosphere, which was amazing. When I first threw my leg over a Trek, they were at $100 million in sales. Today, they’re going to do a billion.
“Nike is more of a joint venture,” he added. “The Livestrong line continues to be successful, and sales there have been completely unaffected. They’ve been very supportive. All my sponsors have been great.”
While Armstrong continues to protest that he has been the victim of a vendetta by USADA and its CEO Travis Tygart, with his camp insisting that he never failed a drugs test – something that USADA, in its reasoned decision due to be sent to the UCI in the coming days will reportedly seek to disprove – the man who helped devise the governing body’s biological passport programme, doping expert Dr Michael Ashenden, believes that the rider's blood values were suspicious during the 2009 Tour de France.
Dr Ashenden told the website California Watch that blood value data from samples taken during the three week race, in which Armstrong finished third, showed there were fewer young cells than would be usual given the effect of a Grand Tour on an athlete's system, which in turn suggested that his body was assimilating reinfused blood.
“Suppressed red blood cell production is a classic signature associated with blood doping,” said Ashenden. “The body reacts to the presence of excess red cells in circulation by suppressing the bone marrow’s production of new cells.”
Armstrong’s lawyer Mark Fabiani, describing the blood analysis as representing “no evidence at all,” insisted there was a clear dividing line between those who dope and those who ride clean and that his client had never crossed it.