The headline in The Australian on 30 December 2009 above a piece by Peter Kogoy screamed “Doping ban cloud over Tour Down Under rider“.
The first two words in the body of the piece were “Lance Armstrong” – aka the “Texan”.
Most people with even the smallest finger on the pulse of the world and Australian pro-cycling would have at that point assumed that Kogoy would go on to tell us about the most recent news on Lance Armstrong’s previous Astana team and that elephant-in-the-room of pro-cycling, doping and unlawful performance enhancement.
That news was broken by the French daily Le Monde on 23 December, in an article headed “Astana aurait commis une infraction pénale pendant le Tour 2009” that spread rapidly in the mainstream & cycling media.
Le Monde revealed that a French prosecutor was investigating whether members of the Astana cycling team committed may have doping violations at the 2009 Tour de France.
As Juliet Macur reported in the New York Times later that day:
French officials said in October that they had found syringes and other suspicious medical equipment used in infusions among medical waste at the 2009 Tour. Le Monde said that those officials now believe that the items belonged to Astana, which had three riders in the top 10 — including the winner, Alberto Contador, and the third-place finisher, Lance Armstrong, a seven-time Tour winner. Armstrong, who has been dogged by doping allegations for most of his career, now rides for the United States-based RadioShack team. Intravenous infusions are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency in all instances except for surgical procedures, medical emergencies or clinical investigations. But athletes could receive those infusions if they have a therapeutic exemption, which means the procedure is medically necessary and has been authorized by a doctor. At first, prosecutors said several teams were being looked at in the investigation of the medical waste. The suspicious items were sent for analysis to find traces of banned substances or DNA that could be linked to riders. Citing unnamed sources, Le Monde reported Wednesday that scientists doing the analysis have not found any banned substances, but were still conducting tests.
The Australian media appears to have run with brief references from the wire services. The Australian ran this brief piece from AFP.
And what did Peter Kogoy have to say in his piece in The Australian a week later?
Well, there was no mention of the new investigation in France into Armstrong’s old team Astana and the suspicious medical waste but Kogoy did recycle some news that had broken on 16 December, a week before Le Monde broke the story on Astana and the suspicious medical waste.
The only part of Kogoy’s piece that related to the header referred to Alejandro Valverde, who rides for the Caisse d’Epargne team and who has achieved far greater success than Armstrong in the last two years.
Kogoy told us that Valverde is:
…still battling to clear his name, despite finally winning a big stage race, the Tour of Spain, this year. The Madrid blood-doping probe saw him hit with a two-year ban from competing in Italy, stopping him from competing in the Tour de France this year, and he continues to face scrutiny. Just days before he is scheduled to line up alongside Armstrong and world champion Cadel Evans for the start of the Tour Down Under in South Australia on January 17, the Spaniard will be challenging the Italian Olympic Committee’s ban in court. Meanwhile, the World Anti-Doping Authority and cycling’s governing body, the UCI, have lodged a joint appeal against the Spanish cycling federation’s decision not to pursue Valverde over the Puerto affair. This second hearing is set down for the middle of March.
Should that hearing go against him, he potentially faces a worldwide two-year ban.
A pretty logical next step would have been to then include even the briefest of references to the French investigation revealed by Le Monde the week before. Or to the dubious jurisdictional basis for the Italian Olympic Committee’s ban on Valverde. Or that Australian cyclist Alan Davis was long ago cleared by the Operation Puerto investigation on substantially similar evidence currently being led against Alejandro Valverde.
Not a peep about any of that from Kogoy.
As the recent fall from grace of the ‘world’s greatest golfer’ Tiger Woods has illustrated, there are very real risks associated with the deification of sportsmen. When they are inevitably proved human both they and their sport suffer.
For cycling, if any of the allegations of Armstrong’s links to the nether world of performance enhancement are proven true – and it needs to be stressed that he has vigorously denied all and none have been proven to date – then the fallout would be catastrophic.
But there are some in the Australian media that would rather gouge their eyes out with a pen than write a negative word about the demi-god that is Lance Armstrong.
No dates have been set for the release of further information on the French investigation. I’ll keep you posted as further news comes to hand. You might not read about it in The Australian.
Lance Armstrong and 184 other riders will compete in the 2010 Tour Down Under starting on January 17.