Cycling and Compliance

During the summer of 2001, Mrs. Doug was stuck on the couch recovering from knee surgery. She stumbled across the coverage of the Tour de France, and especially Lance Armstrong, on the Outdoor Life Network. We were hooked, and ever since have been glued to the television during July to watch the beauty and competition of the Tour de France.

The US Postal Service team was a well run dynamo helping to support Lance Armstrong during his dominance of the race for seven years. It was clear that Mr. Armstrong trained harder and was more focused on winning than any of his competitors. Unfortunately, the evidence has become almost overwhelming that the US Postal Service team was involved in doping, including Mr. Armstrong.

Any fan of professional cycling knows that there is long history of drug abuse in the peleton. Many Tour de France riders had been subject to disciplinary action for doping. Only three of the podium finishers in the Tour de France from 1996 through 2005 have not been directly tied to likely doping through admission, sanctions, public investigation or exceeding the UCI hematocrit threshold.  The sole exceptions were Bobby Julich – third place in 1998, Fernando Escartin – third place in 1999, and Mr. Armstrong.

I always thought Mr. Armstrong was above this. After all, he fought cancer. He looked death in the eye and said he was not ready yet. There were rumors that Mr. Armstrong was doping. Most of those came from other rides with a grudge against him or were otherwise relatively unreliable.

The US Anti-Doping Agency released its report implicating the riders of the US Postal Service Team in wide spread doping. My heart was broken when two of my favorite riders George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer admitted to doping.

Because of my love for the sport, the contributions I feel I have made to it, and the amount the sport of cycling has given to me over the years, it is extremely difficult today to acknowledge that during a part of my career I used banned substances. Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them. I deeply regret that choice and sincerely apologize to my family, teammates and fans.

George Hincapie

The cycling team had a culture of doping, set with tone from the top to push your body with medical treatment to improve performance. I’m still sorting through the extensive material to find direct evidence of Mr. Armstrong’s doping. So far the evidence is fairly light about his use. However, the evidence of the USPS team’s acceptance of doping is overwhelming.

It seems that doping was widespread, but has since decreased since 2008. Jonathan Vaughters, a former USPS rider and self-admitted doper, offers decreased riding times as evidence of doping.

  • L’Alpe D’Huez
    • Fastest: 22.43 kph, 1,900 vertical meters per hour by Marco Pantani in 1997
    • Fastest since 2008: 19.98 kph, 1,670 vertical meters per hour by Carlos Sastre in 2008
  • Plateau De Beille
    • Fastest: 22 kph, 1,812 vertical meters per hour by Marco Pantani in 1998
    • Fastest since 2008: 20.57 kph, 1,678 vertical meters per hour by Jelle Vandenert in 2011
  • Fastest Grand Tour Climbing Rate
    • Fastest: 1,769 vertical meters per hour by Roberto Heras in 2004’s Vuelta a Espana
    • Fastest since 2008: 1,682 vertical meters per hour by Bradley Wiggins in 2012’s Tour de France

The data shows a 10% drop in average fastest times. This correlates to the 10% drop in hemoglobin rates reported by UCI doctors from 2007 until 2010.

Perhaps that still leaves us with Mr. Armstrong as the greatest rider of his time. He was competing against dopers, while probably doping himself. The playing field was level for the elite riders. It was just a medically elevated playing field.