Alex Massie

Is Lance Armstrong a Cheat?

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This is a question of faith and those who believe won't let anything change their mind, while those who can't believe in the Miracle of Lance won't be satisfied until the poor man does something impossible and proves a negative.

I'm divided: I think the believers deluded and the sceptics dangerously monomaniacal but I also have much more sympathy for the latter than the former and not just because I think Lance Armstrong a creep. Nevertheless...

He cannot ever demonstrate that he has never doped - but that doesn't mean one has to believe everything Armstrong says. 

As readers who are cycling fans and who possess long memories may recall, I am an Armstrong sceptic. We are asked to believe that because Landis lied when he said he didn't take performance-enhancing drugs he must now also be lying when he says he did and that everything he says about his then team-mates must be coloured by his previous fabrications. That neither follows nor makes sense.

But according to Armstrong and his coterie Floyd Landis is, like everyone else who has made allegations against Jesus-on-a-bike, "bitter". Granted, it is hard for Armstrong to disprove these allegations but it is nonetheless interesting that when they are made he chooses to concentrate upon discrediting the character or reliability of the person making the suggestion rather than confront the substance of the allegation itself.

And if the allegations are to be believed - and in cycling smoke tends to be produced by fire - doping was widespread in the US Postal team but, if we are to believe Armstrong, he knew nothing of any of this far less aided and abetted in other riders' doping or doped himself. If Landis and, previously, Frankie Andreu doped while with the Posties (and perhaps Tyler Hamilton too) then we are asked to believe that thier master - for cycling is a feudal enterprise - knew nothing about it? Please.

These men were working for Lance Armstrong, sharing a bus, an hotel and doctors with him and it is scarcely conceivable that they could be, if they were, doping without his knowledge. And if the rest of the team was doping then it wouldn't be super-strange if the team leader wasn't too. All this, obviously, is conjecture and I don't mean to allege that Armstrong took anything illegal.

Nevertheles such suspicions would be easier to avoid if Armtsrong didn't have a relationship with the Italian doctor Michele Ferrari. True nothing has been proved and I do not suggest anything to the contrary, but again it is a little odd that a physician who supplied illegal drugs to so many other riders didn't offer or give or sell them to his highest-profile client - a client who stuck with him through the doctor's own disgrace. And of course Armstrong did fail a drugs test in 1999 - aka The Year of the Heartwarming Miracle - only for that, perhaps, no presumably or at least quite properly, to be rescinded.

Even so, my argument has less to do with Armstrong than with his more myopic fans for whom he is the greatest cyclist ever. Full stop. To say that this is balderdash is not to say that Armstrong is not a great cyclist, merely to protest at his elevation above so many others and to object to a view of cycling that thinks there is only one truly important race a year. There is more to cycling than the Tour de France but it is a great shame that there is not more to Lance Armstrong than the Tour de France.

Oh, and just to be clear, I have no problem with Armstrong being an American - hell he has a good Borders name - since if that were some kind of disqualification then I'd never have been the big Greg Lemond fan I once was. But Lance Armstrong is like a tennis player who wins Wimbledon seven times but only once even attempted to win the French Open at Roland Garros and, unsurprisingly, never did win that bauble. You wouldn't call such a chap the greatest tennis player ever would you?

And I'm not upset by cylists taking drugs either. Given what we demand of them I'd be amazed they don't. That's the nature of the sport.The problem is with those who lie and, sure, there's little concrete evidence that Lance Armstrong is one of those liers but there's an increasing quantity of circumstantial evidence....

But of course Lance is about more than cycling now and low-information fans are always appalled at the cynicism shown by, well, the likes of me. So be it. Armstrong is a great cyclist regardless of his training techniques and injection history. A great story, for sure, but that doesn't mean one has to purchase shares in every element of it...

And to answer the headline question: no, I don;t think taking drugs amounts to cheating.Cycling is different to most sports and the aim of drug-taking is different too.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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