In the latest development in the Lance Armstrong saga, four key members of his former cycling teams have suddenly opted out of next month’s Olympics, Jane Aubrey of CyclingNews reports.The obvious question is whether this has something to do with the formal doping charges that were filed against Armstrong last week.
In those charges, the US Anti-Doping Agency said that more than 10 of Armstrong’s former teammates and other cyclists had provided evidence against him.
USA Cycling, which runs the Olympic team, refused to discuss or speculate about the reasons why these men won’t be considered for the team.
The four cyclists are:
- George Hincapie, who most consider to be Lance Armstrong’s closest and most important former teammate and rode with him during all 7 Tour victories. Hincapie has competed in the last 5 Olympics and last year said he was excited about the possibility of competing in a 6th. Hincapie is said to have testified to a grand jury last year in the Armstrong doping probe, and many consider his testimony to be critical to Armstrong’s case (for or against).
- Levi Leipheimer, who competed in the last Olympics. Leipheimer was injured earlier this year, so he might have been a longshot in any case.
- Christian Vande Velde, who just missed a spot on the 2008 Olympic team and therefore was very excited about competing in 2012.
- David Zabriskie, who earlier this year said he was very eager to compete for a slot on the Olympic team.
All four cyclists may be riding in the Tour de France this month (unconfirmed). An amateur cyclist who passed this news onto us said that the Tour de France would leave these cyclists in perfect physical condition for the Olympics and, therefore, that he found the news even more odd.
(Our thought was that the Tour might actually leave them too tired to compete, and some cyclists have had to choose between the two events. So it’s possible that the juxtaposition of the two events is the reason the cyclists withdrew their names from consideration, though that hasn’t been a problem in the past.)
The USADA has not publicly revealed the names of the cyclists who provided evidence against Armstrong. But the case will likely now proceed to an arbitration phase in which Armstrong will have a chance to challenge that evidence. Armstrong’s response to the USADA charges is due on the 22nd of June, and the case will likely then proceed over the summer.
One obvious possibility, therefore, is that some or all of these cyclists are among those who have provided evidence against Armstrong and don’t want the distraction or bad publicity associated with the arbitration taking place at the same time as the Olympics–especially if they themselves admitted being involved in doping.
Another possibility, presumably, is that they want to be available to defend Armstrong.
UPDATE: Earlier this week, VeloNews wrote about this issue, saying that the USADA charges could impact the selection of the US Olympic team. Apparently, riders selected for the team must be in good standing with the USADA, which those who provided evidence against Armstrong may not be (because they themselves may also have doped.) According to VeloNews, Zabriskie and Hincapie were both expected by many to make the team.
The reader who sent us the VeloNews article provided some further context:
This must be an awful time for everyone involved in this mess.
What’s funny about USA Cycling’s announcement was that is really wasn’t necessary. [One of the riders selected for the Olympic team] Phinney was already in contention for the Time Trial slot. The other slots are chaotically and murkily decided anyway. There would not have been a story if they hadn’t brought it out.
Also, the Tour is a week earlier than usual, specifically to give the athletes enough time to recover for the Olympics.
NOTE: Almost everyone has strong feelings about the Armstrong case, both pro and con. Lance Armstrong’s supporters fiercely support him and don’t want to see his amazing accomplishments tarnished any more than they already have been (and, doped or not, the accomplishments are still amazing). They also point out that this is all very old news and that the country has better things to focus on. Others, meanwhile, simply want to know the truth. I’m in the latter camp. I followed Lance Armstrong’s Tour victories minute by minute, and those and his charitable work have always been hugely inspiring to me. Based on all that has come out about cycling in the past decade, I have come to assume that pretty much everyone in the sport doped and that you had to dope if you wanted to be competitive. Given this, I can certainly understand why Lance Armstrong would have doped, and if he did, I’m not going to get on some huge moral high horse about his “cheating.” (“Cheating” gives you an unfair advantage over the rest of the field. You don’t get that if everyone else in the field is doing the same thing.) If Lance Armstrong didn’t dope, meanwhile, and everyone else–including his teammates–did, his accomplishments are that much more staggering. And inasmuch as we’ve come this far, I want to know the truth.
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