Last updated: October 12, 2012 7:21 pm

Cycle of questions surrounds Armstrong case

Lance Armstrong©AFP

What next for Armstrong, whose fight against cancer has made him far more famous than the sport he cheated?

It may look like the end of the road for Lance Armstrong’s reputation. But the charges that he doped, pushed others to do so and trafficked drugs as laid out in detail this week by US anti-doping authorities, are really only the beginning.

From the dossier will stem legal decisions with implications for all sports and, almost certainly, it will spur further investigations around the world as other sporting bodies and teams examine the wide claims made in the report. Then there is the matter of “what next” for Armstrong himself, whose fight against cancer has made him far more famous than the sport he cheated.

The case put forward by the US Anti-Doping Agency detailed more than a decade of doping and featured testimony and confessions from dozens of teammates and helpers, as well as emails, financial records, photos and video. Test results were part of the case, but not the central feature.

“The really important thing from this is that the general public can now see that testing is not the only way to tackle doping,” said Andy Parkinson, head of UK Anti-Doping. “USADA’s report shows that other information can be enough to ban an athlete for life. It helps people to understand we investigate as well as test.”

Much of the focus so far has been on the other riders who came forward. Several were confessing publicly for the first time and have received reduced bans for their co-operation. Their testimony included tales of breakdowns, panic attacks and poorly-stored drugs that caused health problems.

Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins spoke this week about the dangers of young cyclists being coerced into doping. He believed he only escaped because of the support he received from British cycling regardless of the team that employed him. “That probably saved me,” he said.

Jonathan Vaughters, one of USADA’s witnesses and confessees, is adamant that the sport has changed greatly since Armstrong dominated it with his seven Tour de France victories. Vaughters now runs the Garmin-Sharp team, known for its pioneering anti-doping ethos, and home also to another three USADA witnesses and former dopers.

“Read those affidavits. Doping was horrible, it’s just not worth it. No one wants to go through that,” he said. His focus has been on removing the pressure athletes feel if they fear everyone else is doping.

Garmin, his biggest sponsor, has taken Vaughter’s stance as a positive for their involvement. But the news seems likely to deter any would-be backers for the sport.

“My advice to any potential cycling sponsor right now is to sit and wait to see what happens next. There is more to come out of all this,” said Frank van den Wall Bake, a sports marketing expert.

Cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, is now in the spotlight. It has less than three weeks to decide whether to challenge USADA’s actions. But that involves tricky legal issues with the power to affect all sports.

It isn’t clear, say lawyers, that USADA has the power it claims to reach back further than its eight-year statute of limitations. There are also questions over who exactly can strip titles since many races are run by private groups. The owner of the Tour de France, the Amaury Sports Organisation, is a private company and has not yet commented.

The case has also raised bigger questions over whether a sport’s governing body is also the right group to supervise its anti-doping work.

“The UCI promotes the sport, and also promotes races for profit. How can that organisation also govern the anti-doping rules?” said Mr Vaughters. “I don’t want to throw the whole UCI under a bus – their anti-doping team has done great work. But there’s an inherent conflict of interest there.”

There are procedural questions too about the way in which USADA has handled the case which could affect future investigations. It handed down a lifetime ban in August after Armstrong chose not to contest the charges. But the rider affidavits cited extensively in the dossier released this week were all signed well after that, one as late as this week.

USADA was also criticised in August by the United States District Court in Austin, to whom Armstrong had appealed, for a charge sheet the court thought came close to being a violation of due process.

Anti-doping experts say the relatively vague charges are a normal part of the process. Usually anti-doping charges are to indicate the authorities believe they have a case. By arbitration, some months later, they would have all the material ready. Armstrong’s decision not to contest cut short that process.

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