Armstrong downfall ‘big blow for cycling’
Lance Armstrong’s decision to stop fighting doping charges made against him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was the right thing to do, former professional cyclist and Grand Junction resident Scott Mercier said.
“It’s closure,” Mercier told The Daily Sentinel on Friday. “It was the right thing for him to do to accept the sanctions and move on. It’s not great (news) short-time for cycling, but it’s been coming down the pipe for a while.
“The Tour winners, even the top 20, one after another have gone down. Hopefully it will send a message that no one is above the rules of fair play.”
Former Mesa State College and Team Exergy cyclist Kevin Mullervy wasn’t surprised when he heard the news.
“We saw it coming for quite a while,” Mullervy said. “He’s been on the chopping block for a few years. Several of his ex-teammates have come out and said something or were caught themselves.
“It’s a big blow for cycling in general. It goes to show you: No matter who you are, you can’t get away with cheating.”
On the other hand, Mullervy pointed out, it’s not like Armstrong to give up a fight.
“He’s fought cancer, so you know he doesn’t throw in the towel,” Mullervy said. “Still, he did great things for the sport.”
Armstrong’s announcement Thursday was followed by an announcement from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which stripped him of his seven Tour de France victories and barred him for life from competing in or coaching any Olympic sport.
Mercier, 44, was teammates with Armstrong in the 1992 Olympics and was on the U.S. Postal Service team. He left in 1997, saying he chose not to resort to illegal means to compete, and Armstrong took his place on the U.S. Postal Service team.
“I can’t discount the fact he worked harder than anyone I knew,” Mercier said. “He won those tours against a bunch of other dopers.
“For me, it’s closure as well. Athletes back then were faced with a choice. I didn’t want to compromise my ethics, but it was a hard choice. You want to compete at the highest level. It was a tough time. I would love to be 22 again.”
The USADA announced it had more than a dozen witnesses who agreed to testify and provide evidence about their first-hand experience or knowledge of the doping activity of those involved in the U.S. Postal Service team conspiracy.
The USADA said witnesses provided evidence to the agency either through direct observation of doping activity by Armstrong or through Armstrong’s admissions of doping to them that Armstrong used erythropoietin, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone during the period from 1998 through 2005.
Armstrong won the Tour de France a record seven straight times from 1999 to 2005.
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, “Enough is enough,’ ” Armstrong said in a statement Thursday. “The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today — finished with this nonsense.”
Armstrong has strong ties to Colorado. He has a home in Aspen, where the USA Pro Challenge started Thursday morning, and the race stage coincided with the deadline for Armstrong to contest the USADA’s evidence. Armstrong also won the Leadville 100 mountain bike race in 2009 and recently won a marathon in Steamboat Springs.
Armstrong, who retired from professional cycling in February 2010, responded to the USADA’s charges against him by trying to have the charges dismissed by a federal court in Austin, Texas. Before dropping the suit this week, Armstrong could have requested a hearing before neutral arbitrators to contest the USADA’s evidence and sanctions, but he chose not to do so.
“He’ll never admit it,” Mercier said. “He said it’s a witch hunt. (USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart’s) job is to catch cheaters and doping. This was (Armstrong’s) only way out: I just want it over.
“Hopefully the young kids coming up understand this.”
It was disappointing news for young Bontrager-Livestrong team cyclist Connor O’Leary, who is a cancer survivor like Armstrong.
“It’s unfortunate what’s been happening,” O’Leary said. “We really appreciate all Lance has done for our sport and our team. He’s a great advocate for cancer. He helped me out personally. He’s done amazing things for everyone in the cancer foundation.”
O’Leary participated in the USA Pro Challenge this week but pulled out Thursday after falling out of contention.
Mercier, who has attended several stages of the Pro Challenge this week, doesn’t believe Armstrong’s ban will hurt the race or its future.
“I think people have moved on,” Mercier said. “It seems like there is a lot of energy. (The Pro Challenge) seems open and fun.
“When I was there (competing) it was institutionalized. I’m not naive enough to say nobody is doing it today.”
Mullervy said professional cyclists are still getting tested for performance-enhancing drugs.
“We go to races and you can be picked randomly,” Mullervy said. “The whole team is tested at the start of the year.”
With the USADA’s actions against Armstrong and the prevalence of testing as deterrents, Mullervy believes the sport of cycling is cleaner and more fair. “We have a better chance,” he said.