Lance Armstrong: Le Tour de Farce


On July 24, 2009, near Bourgoin-Jallieu, France, a fan holds a sign accusing Lance Armstong, seven-time Tour de France winner, of taking performance enhancing drugs.


Joel Saget

Lance Armstrong beat testicular cancer and the world's best cyclists, but in the end it was the anti-doping agency, the USADA, that finally broke the seven-time Tour de France champion.

For more than a decade Armstrong fought allegations of performance-enhancing drug use, but yesterday the cyclist said, "enough is enough."

Armstrong, resolved not to fight the case any longer, on Thursday called the USADA investigation "an unconstitutional witch hunt,” and refused to recognize "USADA's authority to sanction him," USA Today reported.

A day later the USADA banned Armstrong from professional cycling for "his numerous anti-doping rule violations, including his involvement in trafficking and administering doping products to others." His unprecedented seven Tour de France victories have been disallowed, as well as the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Olympics.

Armstrong has been revered in America and around the world as an inspirational hero who triumphed over cancer and in the cycling world. But he was not without his critics. France had always been his most vociferous detractor, and had long cried foul against his repeated triumphs.

A scan of French media on Friday revealed a collective sense of vindication, sadness and anger.

From L'Expansion: "Armstrong personified impunity. He was seen as too well protected to fall. So the big message today is that impunity is over. What is a shame is that by saying he accepts the decision, Armstrong will avoid a public debate so we'll never know exactly what happened and how he was able to cheat for so long."

Jean-Rene Bernaudeau of France's bicycle racing team told Reuters, "The rotten years of cycling have been identified and Lance Armstrong is out. We are working as hard as we did then and we have better results. French cycling has regained its standing."

The Christian Science Monitor quoted an editorial in a French daily newspaper that read: "Saint Armstrong, pierced with arrows, has finally succumbed. This illustrates anew that this sport is poisoned by doping."

Laurent Jalabert, a French cyclist, told RTL radio he was angered and saddened that Armstrong's doping scandal had cast aspersion on the Tour de France.

"The axe fell," wrote the French newspaper Le Figaro. "Some people will be furious but others will see justice being done."

Lise Blanchet, a French citizen (who happens to live with this article's author) said of Armstrong:

"I admired his tenacity against cancer. But many French doubted his ability to win the tour so many times. We had so many doping scandals in the Tour de France, including French cyclists. We already knew a lot of the best were doping. It's not a surprise. A lot of French view this as an admission of guilt."

America's first Tour de France victor, Greg LeMond, captured the scope of possible outcomes that makes the Armstrong case so evocative.

“If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud,” he said.

Unfortunately, it looks like we may never know.