Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong is positioning himself for return to cycling with his participation in Geoff Thomas’ charity ride for Cure Leukaemia over the route of the Tour de France.
Armstrong’s track record raising money for cancer victims is probably unsurpassed by any other individual and remains as a stark contrast to his behaviour as a cyclist. But do not be surprised if he seeks to the leverage this charity ride into a bid to return to professional cycling.
Armstrong’s case will always be deeply divisive and he claims, rightly, that he was singled out for punishment for doping during the Tour de France.
Of the cyclists who finished on the podium in the era in which Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times (1999–2005), Fernando Escartín is the sole rider not to be implicated in a doping scandal. With “20 of the 21 podium finishers in the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005 directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations or exceeding the UCI hematocrit (a blood test to discover EPO use) threshold”, Escartin’s third-place finish in the 1999 Tour de France stands as the lone of the 21 podium finishes that was untainted, during the years (1999–2005) in which Lance Armstrong finished the Tour de France in first place.
But the ” everybody else was doing it” excuse won’t wash. When everybody else is doing it, then making an example of the worst offender is probably the best strategy. Perhaps this would clean up the sport up banning Armstrong gives the impression that the sport is serious about doping.
And it’s also important to remember that Armstrong is completely unrepentant.
Earlier this year, Armstrong told the BBC he would cheat again if he had the chance, but added he thought he should be forgiven, and he reiterated that stance in interviews with the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph.
He feels he has been unjustly treated. But his punishment was exactly appropriate for the crime. Allowing him to compete again sends exactly the wrong message to the competitors and, more importantly, the sporting public.
Armstrong has been banned and he must remain banned. Anything else will plunge cycling into even deeper disrepute.