"No Comment" is the New Doping

Aug 30 2012

Lance Armstrong looking grumpy at the start of a TT

Fine—I’ll just do non-ITU Triathlons / by Kevin Saunders, cc-by-nd

There’s an easy way to make a million people agree with you—present an argument that’s both simple and entirely compatible with their existing values.

An example: A man is suspected of burglary. He has left fingerprints near, but not at, a number of crime scenes, 11 friends are willing to testify against him, but the suspect has never been caught in the act of robbing a house. Should the state press charges?

It’s hardly a moral dilemma, and you’d certainly be hard-up to find many people who’d call it unjust. And yet, last Thursday a suspected burglar convicted doper effectively pled “no contest” after the authorities brought just such a charge, and in the process convinced millions that not only was this slam-dunk of a case a witch hunt, it was somehow “#unconstitutional” as well.

How, you ask, was this PR coup achieved? In part, because an obscure, faceless acronym came after a global celebrity and national hero with wonky, noodle-limp prose like “non-analytical positive”, and the global celebrity dictated the terms of the announcement (10pm EDT on a Thursday) to guaranteed he’d be the the primary source for anyone reporting on or looking for the story. The global celebrity’s website even crashed, prompting dozens of others to regurgitate his side of the story for him.

THEY are coming to take things away from YOU.

THEY are coming to take things away from YOU.


But that much was almost unavoidable. What could—and I think should—have at least mitigated the flood of criticism against the sanction would have been a united front among the People Who Know Things About Cycling. The sources that the few mainstream reporters who still care to get expert commentary and insight might turn to to flesh out their stories.

Instead, what did Bicycling have waiting on the front page? Bill Strickland’s hand-wringing meditations on “justice” and the utterly irrelevant topic of what would happen to the jerseys? Joe Lindsey—the same Joe Lindsey who just took mainstream sports columnists to task for their limp-wristed defense of Armstrong—not mentioning Armstrong’s name once in a full transcript of his interview on doping and US Postal with Jon Vaughters.

After Armstrong took his ball and went home, things hardly improved. Velonews certainly didn’t give a lot of push-back to Carmichael or Ochowitz or anyone in the AFP Armstrong reaction piece they ran. And My jaw is still on the floor that someone with as much alleged expertise as John Wilcockson would say something as flatly idiotic as “On an even field, where no one was enhancing his performance in any way, Armstrong would have likely won all seven of his Tour titles.”

No, as is the style in this sport these days, the actual calls for accountability and incisive questions were once again left to the amateurs—to frame builders, to scientists, to web developers and other people with zero access to cyclists or the mainstream press.

But as much as I like to excoriate the cycling media, it’s not their fault. The problem here starts with the riders and coaches who offer watery non-responses about the “best athlete” or “earning victories”, or who simply say “no comment”. If the people covering the sport didn’t have a reasonable expectation of being stonewalled—or worse, blacklisted—when they ask pertinent questions, a few more of them might be asked.

Furthermore, if the clean cyclists who benefit from a transparent sport can’t summon the chutzpah to state what they actually think about the Armstrong case, what good are the dope controls in the first place? There’s dangerously little space between a code of silence that hides your own doping, and a code of silence that protects the doping of others.


It was Johan Bruyneel who came the closest to the truth in his reaction to the Armstrong sanction, albeit completely unintentionally. He’s right that this development can’t erase history, or rewrite it, or correct its mistakes. While you can monkey about with results lists on Wikipedia pages, the races happened the way they did and nothing can change that.

Where Johan is wrong is that these investigations aren’t really about deletions or asterisks, or even “justice”—whatever you think that means. They’re about bringing facts to light, because people, whether they’re casual Armstrong supporters or 14 year-olds dreaming of future Tour de france glory, deserve to know.

After all, the thousands venting Internet Rage at USADA aren’t idioits—they’ve been presented with a jarring event—fall of a hero—and are totally uninformed about the facts behind it. The only talking point they’ve had reliable exposure to is “never failed a drug test”.

If no one professionally involved in cycling is willing to stand up with similarly uniform and retweetable rebuttal, what other reaction can you expect the public to have?

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18 Responses to “"No Comment" is the New Doping”

  1. Torben August 30, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    Let me fix that for you: “An example: A man is suspected of burglary. He has left fingerprints near, but not at, a number of crime scenes, 11 eye witnesses are willing to testify against him, but the suspect has never been caught in the act of robbing a house. Should the state press charges?”

    This is the last time I am going to say this: eye witness testimony is evidence that allows for conviction.

  2. Jason August 30, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    I think this needs to be added to your example: The police catch the man a couple of times but don’t arrest him. And later several officers, upon hearing about a wealthy homeowner with no security system, inform the burglar of the address and when the owner’s will not be home.
    Oh, and the eye witnesses are local thugs that have also committed crimes.
    This whole thing is ugly. And as much as it saddens me, Lance needed to go down for the future health of cycling. However, this is not just about Lance or Johan or the doctors (even though the mainstream media and observers could not care less about the other four) it is about a corrupt system badly in need of an overhaul.
    One last thing, a brief story if you will indulge me. Several years ago while attending the US Road Championship in Greenville, I stayed in the same hotel as Team Bissell. I had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with Ben Jacques Mayne in the lobby. I don’t need to tell you how staunchly anti-doping he is (though I didn’t know much about him at the time). We talked for 15 minutes. I am not a journalist or a blogger and posed no threat, but Ben had nothing but wonderful things to say about Mr. Armstrong…now I know there was fear of repercussions from LA and the “omerta” that kept people quiet but this would have been a perfect, off-the-record, opportunity to open my eyes. Alas, no, just the party line.

  3. Joe Lindsey August 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    Cosmo,

    My interview with Jonathan Vaughters was not, actually, on the topic of doping on Postal. It was about doping in general, his experiences as a racer struggling to decide whether to ride clean or not, and what the experience led him to believe are the ways to clean up the sport.

    Vaughters granted my interview request with the caveat that he would not discuss his time on Postal, citing a wish to respect the integrity of USADA’s investigation.

    It’s entirely fair to say that I should not have done the interview under those circumstances. I considered that myself. Ultimately, I decided that the benefits of exploring the subject of doping itself – which for Vaughters began before Postal and continued at least briefly after he left the team – outweighed the inability to address the Postal issues.

    I would like to think that the interview – the story it generated and the transcript – are of sufficient worth that it has merit with or without discussion of Postal. I’ll certainly be interested to discuss his time at Postal when he is willing to; until then, as with all other things regarding Armstrong, I can only write what I can get people to talk about – as you note above.

    I’ve been writing about doping in the sport since Festina. Others have written about it longer. But I would argue that my overall body of work the last 14 years on the subject is solid proof that I have asked – and continue to ask – worthwhile questions and seek to educate people about the subject.

  4. Cosmic Osmo August 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    [the thousands venting Internet Rage at USADA aren’t idioits—they’ve been presented with a jarring event—fall of a hero—and are totally uninformed about the facts behind it. The only talking point they’ve had reliable exposure to is “never failed a drug test”]

    this, for me, has been very hard to keep in mind. you would assume someone idolizing a cyclist would have a clue about the state of doping in the sport. And one would hope that after a little research the evidence would be clear. For these reasons and more, the most important thing right now is to hear LA say outloud “I cheated”

    now heres a strange question: what is actually better for american cycling and the cycling youth of the world? Thinking Lance was clean and having the idea that you can be the best without resorting to cheating OR Knowing he doped and thinking that if even Lance needed it….

    just a thought.

  5. Mandingo August 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    by the way…there are a few Women’s Cycling races going on right now that probably need some coverage.

  6. Cosmic Osmo August 31, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    @mandingo

    http://www.velonation.com/ has great coverage of most major women’s races like Bronzini’s great win in the tour of tuscany!

    but yea id be great to see cosmo pay a little more attention to female racing. cycling is one of those great equalizers of sport. a women’s race is just as exciting as a men’s race and often the times are not much different.

  7. Souleur August 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    Cosmo:
    USADA screwed this case up from the get go and Tygart et al are sophmores to say the least when it comes to doing the tasks they have at hand. Because of their mishandling of this, indeed, it has all the appearances of a witch hunt, you may disagree and to each his own opinion. Either way, whether you agree or disagree, we can all agree to this, USADA’s ruling and Lances foregoing of anything further has NOT changed anyones mind whether he doped nor whether justice was served. Thus in my mind, it has been a fruitless workup to date on USADA’s behalf.

    I personally think Lance did use, but so did most all during this era of cycling, however, USADA did not even prove this. I am sorry, but the evidence is lacking and nil. It may have a burden of conspiracy, and of coincidence, and even of circumstance, but this doesn’t prove itself.

    Jason’s analogy is congruent with yours, in that your analogy of the burglar leaving prints around and ‘innocent’ witness’s are suffecient testimony to convict, but alas, it isn’t as Jason mentions when they are culpable themselves, dirty or open to corrupt testimony.

    THIS brings us to the big friggin question. WHY does USADA want Lance now?? 12 years later. Why, when clearly outside the statute of limitations (which is overlooked) does USADA continue to pursue this? Why not during his reign?? Why not as an active rider?? Why did it take this long to get testimony, even if you accept testimony as being the ENTIRITY of the case??

    And here we still are…in diagreement
    you (i respect) see Lance as not having paid pentance, nor paid for his wrongs, nor reconciled for anything.

    I get that
    I just chose to let go, & move on, and I accept the fact that we have a better peloton today than we did then.

    move up the others in the podium spots those 7 years did not clean up the sport, and nothing will for those years.

    and nothing will

  8. Jason August 31, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    Souleur- You ask why now? The answer is simple- and I think you know it- thank Floyd. About 2 years ago he dropped a bomb, and that got the ball rolling. And agencies talking, and witnesses testifying and evidence being gathered. All of this lead to several people- not just Lance- being charged with a variety of crimes. Each one of the charged- all of whom are still actively connected to cycling- choose how to react to thier alleged crimes. How did Lance react? Well he did his best to try to neuter the USADA, which would have ultimately paved the way for more drug use in US sports. Pretty telling huh? Well thankfully, despite all of his PR non-sense and his attempts to use his pollitical connections, the process was allowed to continue. So he still had to make a tough decision. What did he do? Well the big bully on the street, finally unable to stack the deck in his favor, quit. He quit. That was his decision. What a chump and loser. Don’t tell me it was about your family or it was about the money, and then walk away proclaiming you still won 7 tours. Stand up and prove your innocence or sit down and take your freaking medicine.

    Yes, this is bad for the sport. But it’s not bad because the past, present and future of cycling are not being hidden behind closed doors. It’s bad because some people care more about themselves than the sport that has “given” so much to them.

    Thank you Floyd.

  9. velomonkey September 1, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    As someone who has an MS in Forensic Science and tested urine for drugs and has also been racing and a fan of pro-racing for 20 years I’d like to think I can offer something a bit unique to this discusion.

    First, there really is no such thing as a passed drug test. There are only failed drug tests. It’s like a car fax report, a clean one means you still need to do your homework on the car – a failed one means stay the hell away. When I tested urine of 2-bit criminals with little to no money we caught them, at times, trying to cheat the system. If those guys are cheating, and getting away with it, I can’t image a pro team with doctors on the payroll.

    Second, your analogy is close and better than most (I love how people suddenly became evidence experts). Look, a smoking gun is literally circumstantial evidence. Blood values by themselves can be acceptable, but coupled with direct eye witness testimony they can and should be deemed evidence. It’s more like someone who beat the hell out of someone else and killed them. This person has blood stains on their shirt, but the blood has been bleached so no DNA can be lifted. However, there are ten direct eyewitnesses who will testify they saw the guy beat the crap out of the victim and they can tell how he hit them and this is blacked up by blood spatter. Again, the blood by itself has no little evidentiary value, but coupled with testimony it is damning evidence. This is why WADA has 60% non failed tests sanctions. There is ZERO reason this should change – it’s fair, it’s legit and mind you – it’s something Lance’s agent Bill Stapleton helped to craft in 2000. Lance agreed to follow the rules, he tried to challenge it and in the end he was rebuked by two courts – fairly harshly, too.

    And while we’re at it, I will bet you dollars to donuts that the reason USADA has so many witnesses it due to FDA investigation. Martha Stewart didn’t go to prison for insider trading – she went for lying to an investigator. Lance had power within cycling no doubt, but if you’re Hincapie et al, you’re lawyer is going to say “who cares what Lance will do, you lie to this guy and they prove it, you will go to prison.” Bars and the threat of sodomy quickly entice people to tell the truth – trust me, I worked as an investigator for a year. FDA couldn’t prove fraud with US Postal funds, but they could certainly prove doping and that’s not their domain, but it is USADA and FDA just gave them the relevant info and this was all quickly put together and it was rock solid. There is a reason George et al didn’t even try to go to olympics – they already took their deal with USADA (Lance even said witnesses were still riding).

    Here is the thing Lance and Lance fans don’t see. This is bigger than Lance, and we should all hope that in that regard USADA and WADA succeed. Cause the “doping EPO” years of cycling – are a total bore in a grand tour.

    Now if anyone wants to give the “they were all doing it” I’ll happily address that one, too – cause it’s not a legit argument either.

  10. Anthony B September 2, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    “What could—and I think should—have at least mitigated the flood of criticism against the sanction would have been a united front among the People Who Know Things About Cycling.”

    Cosmo, I’ll gladly fess up to being a casual road racer and casual fan who falls outside of this category. 95% of what I know about bike racing outside of what I’ve learned in rinky-dink Cat 4 and 5 crits comes from reading your blog over the past 7 years. When I think about the “People Who Know Things About Cycling,” Cosmo 2012 comes immediately to mind at the top of my list:

    http://cyclocosm.com/2012/07/the-new-reality/
    (bottom third, covering the need for Wiggins to maintain a more steady public persona regarding responding to doping questions)

    Followed closely by Cosmo 2005 and Cosmo 2006:

    http://cyclocosm.com/2006/06/the-puerto-purge-continues/
    http://cyclocosm.com/2006/06/the-operation-puerto-space-opera/
    http://cyclocosm.com/2005/10/pound-dont-be-a-dick-rant/

    So what happened? I thought “People Who Know Things About Cycling” fell into two camps, either the obnoxious crusading “DOEPRS SUCK” evangelists who seem to love self-righteousness more than bike racing, or the obnoxious defenders of the doping-accused who hide behind every little niggling technicality and byzantine process requirement.

    When (and why) did you jump ship from the latter camp and try to chart some third way this year?

    I’m not at all surprised that the “in-the-know” cycling community hasn’t stepped forward to provide some objective analysis, contextualize analysis. I’m only surprised you think they should have.

  11. cosmo September 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    @Anthony B: That is a good question, and one I thought about posting on. I touched on it a little during the end of the Contador case. I don’t think I was ever in “the latter camp”; my beef was always that there are rules for doping sanctions and they cut both ways. You can’t enforce them if you don’t follow them.

    The Puerto exclusions did a disservice to the sport, and despite the eventual sanction of almost all the names, my view on that hasn’t changed. The ASO and team managers went outside the rules to try and look “clean” and still ended up with the first post-race results adjustment in a century. Implicit message: anything goes, might as well cheat and win while you can.

    Unlike a lot of people, I’m at peace with a race where the winner is caught & sanctioned afterwards. The ’03 Tour was a great race and will always be a great race. I enjoyed watching, and I enjoy looking back at it. At the same time, I’m glad that the eventual winner was stripped of his title, and I hope that more people come to realize his triumph was as much logistical as athletic.

  12. cosmo September 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    @velomonkey: Thanks for the testing breaking down, and a definite +1 the FDA investigation. A lot of the “sudden experts” use the non-prosecution in that case as “evidence” that Lance didn’t dope. What they should be seeing is that that under penalty of perjury—not, I emphasize add, to get a deal to avoid prosecution—everyone rolled over.

  13. Larry T. September 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    +1 Velomonkey! BigTex could be in prison, still shouting “I passed 500 tests!” and his fans will still proclaim him a victim, a martyr, unjustly accused or say the good he supposedly has done overcomes that fact that he cheated.
    In the end people believe what makes them feel good, facts and proof have zero effect. Pro cycling will ONLY benefit from this mess if all the corrupt helpers in BigTex’ fraud are identified and removed from the sport. Otherwise it’s World Wrestling Entertainment.

  14. Erik September 3, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Thanks for another great read, and especially for all of the great links lately. So many good articles linked by the links. It’s addictive.

  15. Cosmic Osmo September 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/12792/Emma-Pooley-takes-aim-at-the-UCI-over-its-treatment-of-womens-cycling.aspx

    maybe it is time for a womens cycling revolution

  16. James September 5, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    Thankyou Joe Lindsey for that brilliant article on JV.

    Cosmo, Joe is entitled to interview on whatever he wants – I actually was astounded at the degree of disclosure and frankness he got out JV. It was a brilliantly revealing piece by itself with the need for a “Lance angle” to make it more current or appealing or anything else.

  17. Evan Darling September 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Ok this is stupid. Just like car racing (or any motorsport) they need to catch the person during or just after the race. Not years later. Once the awards are given out and the pee has been tested and blood given, if you pass you win if you fail you lose end of story. This makes our sport look like a bunch of winers and finger pointers. Over complicating sports like this ruins them for everyone. Who won the race 5 years ago should remain. All the benefits of the win are pretty much gone absorbed by the one who walked off with the trophy and checks. If testing for doping isn’t up to par then instead of spending stupid amounts of money chasing people from many years ago on lawyers, get better tests.

  18. Skippy September 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Tomorrow the ” UCI MANAGEMENT Meeting ” starts in holland , here is what i sent to another blog about the ” So called Amnesty that is proposed “!

    All very well to tell us what took place over the years WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE THESE PAST WEEKS is to tell ” Delegates to the UCI Management Meeting in Holland ” the steps that they could take to STOP this recurring FARCE !

    You are read by many , and i am sure they respect your POV , whereas i would be regarded as a ” KNow nothing ” blowing hard !

    Until WDA together with the IOC contact ALL Governments and Establish an ” AMNESTY PERIOD for ALL Sports ” , nothing will change ! Certainly we will see the ” SOL ” pass for many of the near current racers , and they will then write their memoirs , to cash in on the latest craze of outdoing each other with their exposes !

    Had you and other ” Sports Journos ” set out a set of circumstances regarding an ” Amnesty ” ,for the Public to put to their ” Delegates ” , then those people would have had to go into this coming UCI Management Meeting with ” Proposals ” and then their failure to act would cause action by their National bodies ! Currently they can sit back and enjoy the ” Gravy Train ” that they are ” elected ” and let the whole matter pass them by !

    Hein & Fatpat have a record of doing things , their way , for so long that it appears ” Complacency ” , is the operative description , for what is the current situation !

    Today is the eve of a revisit to the ” Festina Affair ” that UCI thought would never reoccur ! Sorry folks , it’s back , and bigger and more dangerous than before !

    Years ago i suggested one of the Aussie Women Team Managers could do a better job than fatpat , but i can see that Schrenk , Ashenden , le clerc and perhaps those like me , could do a better job ! None could make a worse job of the current situation that the UCI finds itself !

    The past is over , All Governments should cooperate and waive their legislative procedures for an ” AMNESTY PERIOD ” , a ONCE ONLY Op.for those who used PEDs ! Criminal suppliers will be named , no doubt , and they had better depart the scene PRONTO since they will have no client base , once the Amnesty ends !

    Those not declaring their past will face LIFETIME BANS when their co conspirators find that they are ar risk of a LifeTime Ban also for not disclosing their involvement !

    The ” Amnesty period ” should start 1st October 2012 and be for two months , during this period , each week those declaring themselves to the ” Clearing House appointed ” , will be listed on the website with brief details of the periods involved . Those who were their coworkers or support staff should pay attention , since IF , the Athlete does not declare their wrongdoings and they do not act to declare themselves , then they will almost certainly find on the 1st Jan 2013 that they are also subject to LIFETIME BANS !

    On the 1st December 2012 there will be NO FURTHER OPPORTUNITY for Athletes to disclose their past ! THe Website will be published and any Athlete NOT THERE will be subject to the severest penalties ! During December only , Co workers , Team Managers/Owners , Team Doctors/Soigneurs , DS & Mechanics associated with an Athlete that failed to disclose their wrongdoing will have the right to declare themselves for investigation thus avoiding the consequences created by their athletes non compliance !

    1st Jan 2013 , the Sporting World will enter a new Regime where 4 year bans and confiscation of Accrued Salaries will be the minimum for a first Offence ! Team Staff will be subject to penalties if during a 3 month period more than one Athlete is Suspended . Third Athlete in Six Months and the team serves a three month suspension ! Fourth Athlete in a twelve month period will mean that the Team is suspended until the next season when they will rejoin two steps lower for a season !

    An Athlete on completion of the 4 year Ban will be allowed to rejoin at ” Steps below the level that they left their sport !

    Athletes receiving a ” LIFETIME BAN ” will find that they and their family will not be allowed to attend ” Sporting Events ” , booking ” online tickets ” will be impossible and those choosing to circumvent the system will enjoy the same ban . Of course they may be able to buy tickets at the turnstile , but would they want to be asked to leave when discovered ?

    NO DOUBT THERE ARE THOSE WHO THINK THE ABOVE IDEAS ARE UNWORKABLE !

    You can do better ?

    WELL GET TO YOUR DELEGATE TODAY AND TELL THEM HOW THEY CAN SAVE OUR SPORT !

    Thursday in Holland could be a START to make a difference but those there will be busy trying to stay in the ” Gravy Train ” , not seeking the solutions so obviously needed !

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