Since my good friend Dr. J is a fiendish, unrepentant cyclist, he both identifies with, and reviles another fiendish, unrepentant cyclist: Lance Armstrong.  We’ve had a running joke going for over 2 years now, that a media whore like Lance would be back on tour despite his advancing age in a sport as demanding as cycling.  True to form, Lance would ride again, to both of our disappointment.  But we said, as astute sports fans, if not in my case, an actual cycling fan, that there was “no way” that Armstrong could pull off a 2009 TDF victory.  That it would be “impossible” and that if he did, we would have to give him his due.  Yes and no.

He did not win, as Lance finished the TDF in 3rd place this past year, but he won a few stages and had the lead at various points which was enough for us to marvel at how he could do so well.  The Tour De France is like no other sporting event I know of, in terms of the endurance required.  It’s downright cruel to make these guys ride so many miles over so many days, through so many mountains, and I just don’t comprehend how it wouldn’t send people over the edge, pardon the pun, and how a guy like Lance could be mentally or physically ready for it after being away from competition for 3-4 years.

And then I started to read some articles about Lance Armstrong and doping.  Did he dope?  Yes he did.  Was it illegal?  It is now, but it wasn’t then.  Could some of the doping have been in response to cancer?  Steroids and hormones for cancer treatments?  Yes, they were.  Was steroids and hormones the root cause of the cancer in the first place?  Very possibly. 

Especially in light of the following comments from the articles excepted below:  “Ex Friends Say Armstrong Admitted Drug Use”

In 1996, as Armstrong was undergoing treatment for cancer, he was surrounded by friends in his hospital room, when a doctor came in to speak to him.  Here is the sworn testimony of Betsy Andreu on what she heard that day:

I said, I think we should leave to give you your privacy. I said that to Lance. And Lance said, that’s OK. You can stay. And I turned to Frankie and I said, I think we should leave. And Frankie said, no, Lance said it’s OK. We can stay. And so the doctor asked him a few questions, not many, and then one of the questions he asked was… have you ever used any performance-enhancing drugs? And Lance said yes. And the doctor asked, what were they? And Lance said, growth hormone, cortisone, EPO, steroids and testosterone.

When asked last week about her testimony, Betsy Andreu said, “I answered every question truthfully and honestly. It is 100 percent truthful.”

Then Betsy’s husband Frankie was deposed, a long time Armstrong friend and teammate, who also lived and trained with Armstrong in the early 90’s.  Before we get to his sworn testimony, let’s talk a bit about EPO.  EPO, Erithropoietin, as I understand it, is a protein naturally produced in the kidneys which stimulates bone marrow to produce more red blood cells, increasing the blood’s oxygenated carrying capacity.

EPO would explain how an athlete in a distance sport could go so hard for so long, physically.  EPO was conclusively found in Armstrong’s urine in 2006–urine collected 7 years earlier, at the 1999 TDF–when EPO was not yet a banned substance, and there were no tests that could detect it.  Had Lance Armstrong then cheated in 1999?  Not technically.  The same way that Alex Rodriguez didn’t technically cheat by taking Human Growth Hormone, because it wasn’t yet illegal in Major League Baseball.  While they now have the ability to test for certain substances that they didn’t have the ability to test for in the past, there are still many drugs that remain ahead of the curve, slight variations or different structures to hormones and steroids that will go undetected until someone actually knows what to test for, as in the case of Baalco, Marion Jones, and “the clear,” a substance that was on nobody’s radar except opposing coaches who heard rumors and vigilantly pursued extra testing on Jones’ samples, knowing that she was dirty.  So it is not odd at all that Armstrong has only been found to have been a positive for EPO, and that Armstrong could not be stripped of his 1999 TDF victory for testing positive, after the fact, for a time when no regulation prohibited Erithropoietin.

But unlike Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, the public hasn’t come to villify Armstrong, and though he is unpopular among fellow cyclists, he has not yet been ostracized.  Here’s part of it: the public just doesn’t care enough about a fringe sport like cycling to be all up in arms over Armstrong’s PED use, as Armstrong has maintained a solid public image, and is quick to point out that he has been cleared of every doping allegation charge ever put to him.  But not having enough evidence to prove something conclusively doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  And then you have those players like Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez who have been found dirty, but who the public still like for whatever reason.  Lance is still in the good graces of the fickle public and perhaps it has something to do with him being a cancer survivor, even if he did, perhaps contract the disease in some part do to his use of PEDs.  Though one person, an Oakley Sunglasses Representative named Stephanie McIlvain, has privately told people that she is miffed that Armstrong has used PEDs (she was also present in the Indiana hospital room with the Andreus).  McIlvain has a child with cancer and has told friends that Armstrong did admit to using growth hormone, cortisone, steroids, other hormones, and EPO, and that she is miffed at the image he is presenting to the cancer community–the propogation of a myth that she is personally affected by.  But under oath, she refuted the Andreus testimony and her own privately made comments.  There could be a number of factors that explain why McIlvain will not publicly speak on Armstrong’s use of PEDs.

Before getting to Frankie Andreu, I’d like to fast forward to 2009, when Armstrong passed his 24th out of competition urine test, but did not comply with the testing rules–a very curious incident indeed which nearly kept him from competing in last year’s tour.

Armstrong initially refused to urinate for the tester, saying that he needed a shower first.  He then went and privately showered.  The rules say that a testee must submit at the exact direction of the tester, and that the testee may never be out of the sight of the tester or else test results will be compromised.  By the letter of the law then, this test result was compromised, even though Armstrong came up clean.  But there are some drugs that do not remain in the system very long, and that extra 20 minutes that Armstrong took to shower may have bought him enough time to pass the test.  Does that sound preposterous?  It is not.  Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski once passed out in a California nightclub after assaulting someone.  GHB (Gamma Hydroxy Butol) was found on his person and we all know he used it, but it was not found in his system when he was tested.  Another drug that passes through one’s system very quickly is Ketamine, which is an anesthetic, a disassociative, and which has been recently found to be a potent pain killer.  Someone who had gone through cancer and who has been doping for years at the highest level, like Lance Armstrong, would conceivably have doctors administer his PEDs and in such doses so that they could pass through his system quickly, so that he could be confident in giving himself an extra 20 minute window.  And Ketamine would also give Armstrong something to think about when he is making that torturous climb through the Pyrenees.  Also, Ketamine, as an anesthetic, is not a tested for substance or even a banned substance, which would keep the heavily scrutinized Armstrong clean, even if the doping authorities knew what they were looking for, as from the tale of Armstrong and EPO, we can certainly conclude that his samples will be perpetually stored and screened for obvious PEDs and new PEDs, as the “legitimate” science world catches up to the underground science world.  I leave you with some of Frankie Andreu’s testimony, who also said that Armstrong called him out of the blue after 2 years to tell him that he had a different recollection from the Andreus as far as what went on in that hospital room in 1996:

QUESTION: And what is it Mr. Armstrong said in response to the doctor asking him about use of performance-enhancing drugs?

ANDREU: I don’t know how the doctor phrased the question, but Lance’s response was that he had taken EPO and testosterone and growth hormone and cortisone.

QUESTION: Did he say when he had taken these drugs?

ANDREU: ….when the doctor proposed the question, he said, ‘Have you taken anything in the past or previous?’ So obviously, it was sometime before that point.

QUESTION: Were you surprised when Mr. Armstrong said he had taken those various performance-enhancing drugs?

ANDREU: Yeah. I was surprised.

Formula 411?  Not so much.  We’ll be keeping a close watch on this for you.