L’Equipe Just Can’t Quit!

August 24, 2005


For the past seven years, the French sports magazine L’Equipe has hounded Lance Armstrong. After the doping scandals of 1998, L’Equipe couldn’t believe that an American athlete could win its beloved Tour de France without resorting to artificial means. So for the last seven years, individuals and groups within French cycling have assumed that Lance was guilty. And these groups have continually sought evidence of Lance’s guilt. So much for the “innocent until proven guilty” hallmark of American justice. L’Equipe has resorted to the Napoleonic code and assumed that Lance was guilty until he proved himself innocent.

Well, L’Equipe has attacked Lance once again. Yesterday, L’Equipe unleashed one of the most dastardly attacks ever. And today, Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour de France, has joined in on the criticism. They have chosen to thaw out urine samples from 1999. And they have used these samples to “prove” that Lance was guilty of doping. But rather than jump to conclusions, let’s start with the facts.

  • These samples are over seven years old. No one knows if blood samples stored this long deteriorate over time or not. Indeed, there is no empirical proof that urine frozen for seven years could prove anything.
  • Dr. Christiane Ayotte, the director of Canada’s official anti-doping lab has publicly criticized the scientific methods employed by the LNDD (the French national doping lab). She stated, ““We are extremely surprised that urine samples could have been tested in 2004 and have revealed the presence of EPO,” Ayotte said in an interview with VeloNews on Tuesday. “EPO – in its natural state or the synthesized version – is not stable in urine, even if stored at minus 20 degrees.” [Note: A detailed discussion of Dr. Ayotte’s comments can be read at VeloNews.]
  • There is no evidence to ensure that the samples were even from Lance Armstrong.
  • Each of these samples is one half of the samples taken at race time. The normal procedure is to take the first half (the “A” sample) and test it for doping. In 1999, nothing was found in Mr. Amrstrong’s “A” sample. Of course, it is important to note that there was no good test for EPO at that time. So this is an interesting effort to test whether new EPO tests work well. But back to the process… If the first “A” sample finds anomalies, then the second sample (the “B” sample) is tested to confirm the results. In this case, L’Equipe has used only the “B” sample. So there is no way to validate or invalidate the results of the test. Using today’s testing techniques, this “evidence” is completely specious because there is no “control” in the test – and there is no way to double-check the results. Indeed, if the sample had been taken from a current race, it could never prove guilt (or innocense) as the result could never be confirmed.

Miguel Indurain, former five-time TdF champion had this to say: “That seems bizarre, and I don’t know who would have the authorization to do it,…. I don’t even know if it’s legal to keep these samples.” The French Sports Minister (Jean-Francois Lamour) had this to say about the L’Equipe story: “I do not confirm it,” he told RTL radio. But he added: “If what L’Equipe says is true, I can tell you that it’s a serious blow for cycling.” Indeed, this is a horrible accusation for the entire sport.

So why would L’Equipe use these samples? No one will ever know for sure. They contend that they were searching for samples to test as part of a process to verify the success of new EPO screening techniques. But many other “samples” (including recent blood samples from countless atheletes) could have been used to test new EPO detection techniques. And why would they perform these results now? Good EPO tests have existed since 2001. So if they had doubts about Lance’s blood content, why did they wait an additional four years to lodge these complaints.

In truth, the only reason that they would specifically choose these samples and specifically break all testing protocols would be to continue their vendetta against Mr. Armstrong. Why do this? Who knows. I’m sure it sells newspapers. And I’m sure it heartens some people to think that the only reason that an American succeeded at the Tour was by exploiting illict means.

But what they have done is far worse than simple slander. They are fundamentally challenging the proposition that people are innocent until proven guilty. And they are fundamentally assailing the notion that grit and determination can make heroes from everyday people. Lance has been a hero to millions of people suffering from illness. He is seen as the personification of the willpower needed to conquer deadly challenges. It’s too bad that a number of bitter and cynical people feel compelled to vandalize a great story by hurling unsubstantiated, malicious and libelous accusations.




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One Comment on “L’Equipe Just Can’t Quit!”

  1. Scott Says:

    I agree wholehartedly. French journalists, and L’Equipe in particular, just can’t stand an American walking away with victory after victory in a traditionally European sport. I’ve linked to your blog post on my site.


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