Believing in Lance

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(Host) For years, the Tour de France has been plagued by rumors about the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs, and as Lance Armstrong aims for an unprecedented sixth consecutive victory this weekend, commentator John Morton reflects on the latest charges.

(Morton) Recently, the French authorities decided the doping had become intolerable, so they began cracking down. Over the past few years prominent teams and famous cyclists have been caught red handed and forced to withdraw. Through it all, Lance Armstrong, the confident Texan, and his team of international riders sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, continue to dominate the Tour. This must be especially grating for the French national pride considering the recent political rift between our countries regarding the war in Iraq.

Quite simply, the French press and devoted, European cycling fans have difficulty believing that Lance Armstrong can so dominate their premier event without the aid of performance enhancing drugs. His invincibility seems even more phenomenal considering that less than a decade ago he was literally fighting for his life against cancer. Even though it is widely acknowledged that he trains harder than most of the cyclists on the Tour, Armstrong has admitted that nothing was more grueling than regaining his strength following chemotherapy.

So I desperately want to believe that Lance is clean. America could use an honest to goodness, old fashioned hero right now. But I must admit to some nagging doubts. For starters, the Tour has been plagued by rumors of doping for so long, that it seems illogical that one rider could be so dominant without the use of drugs, and an American rider at that.

Then there is the recent book, L.A. Confidential, in which Emma O’Reilly, Armstrong’s former masseuse, suggests he used the blood booster, EPO prior to the 99 Tour.

And it certainly doesn’t help Armstrong’s credibility that his longtime training advisor, Italian physician, Michele Ferrari is under investigation for advising pro cyclist Filipo Simeoni and other athletes in the use of EPO.

Although it was subtle, Armstrong’s response in a press conference was unsettling. When asked whether he, or any of his Postal Service team used performance enhancing drugs, Armstrong answered, “We have done nothing illegal.” That statement speaks volumes since unethical athletes, coaches and team doctors are constantly developing innovative, new methods of boosting performance, which are not yet specifically banned.

I sincerely hope that Lance Armstrong is racing drug free. If reputable evidence surfaces that in earlier Tours he used EPO or something similar, I’d like to believe it was related to his cancer treatment rather than for performance enhancement. Even if Armstrong is beating the Europeans at their own game, both on his bike and at the pharmacy, six consecutive Tour de France victories is an incredible accomplishment. It’s just that the victories would be much sweeter if he is winning drug free.

This is John Morton in Thetford.

John Morton designs trails and writes about sports. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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