French cycling scene welcomes USADA actions, but deplores late outcome
On Friday morning, Lance Armstrong's decision not to pursue the legal battle against USADA made headlines, and the immediate conclusion by the French media was that he will, in the near future, lose his seven Tour de France victories and be banned for life by the American Anti-Doping Agency. While the final outcome of the procedure still remains to be seen, the French cycling scene has reacted to the news, for the most part welcoming the new turn of events, but also regretting that it comes years after the American champion's most successful time.
"It's simply too late", Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, former pro rider from 1977 to 1995, told Europe 1 radio. "I'm not saying that he doped, or that he didn't, I'm just pointing out that his relegation comes too late. These doping affairs take too much time. It's a shame for cycling and for the Tour de France."
Active bike riders also reacted to the news, such as Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), who tweeted, "Armstrong will lose his seven Tour de France titles. Does it change anything? It's just damaging cycling, once again. Our palmarès, nothing: It's too late!"
Other people actively involved in the fight against doping in cycling welcomed the expected fall of the seven-time Tour winner, such as former French Anti-Doping Agency president Pierre Bordry. "The American Agency conducted a very long and efficient fight," Bordry told RMC Sport radio. "I salute its courage and determination. Armstrong had a lot of means to prevent those who wanted to control him, to do it correctly. Now, it seems that the case is settled. It was necessary."
Other well-known observers of the sport, such as doctor Jean-Pierre de Mondenard, specialised in the fight against doping, were less enthusiastic. "The real question is, what's the fight against doping doing?" the author of several anti-doping books said on BFM TV. "During the last years of his career, Armstrong said that he had passed 500 anti-doping tests, which all came out negative. Now, we discover with USADA that he has been doping throughout his career. In reality, the fight against doping is a fake. They proudly announce that during the 2012 Tour de France, there was only one positive control and that all is good. But no! It's the tree that hides the forest. The best weapon against doping is the police."
Cyrille Guimard, a famous French team director during his time, meanwhile reiterated that it was necessary to pursue doping cases until their resolution, even if it took anti-doping authorities several years. "USADA had the possibility of finalising its investigations. Is this going to be the final outcome? We don't know yet. Armstrong has still won his seven Tours. But everyone knows that they were tainted. It's hard to change past events. But there's no real possibility of fighting doping if we don't see the cases through until the very end.
"We thought that with Armstrong, it wouldn't go through. But it did. It means that nobody, even the one who won the Olympics three weeks ago, cannot be disqualified in two or three years. We have to go all the way in these affairs."
RMC Sport radio gathered another comment from Luc Leblanc, who during his time as a bike rider became 1994 world champion. Like many observers, Leblanc was concerned that the fight against doping in sport seemed to focus largely on cycling. "The American Anti-Doping Agency has enough evidence to jeopardise Lance Armstrong. OK. But if this is so, why is this not done in other sports? In American Football, there are a lot of athletes who should get their titles taken away from them," Leblanc deplored.
Another French cycling celebrity, Bernard Hinault, gave his very pesonal view: "I don't f***ing care. It's his problem not mine. It's a problem that should have been solved 10 or 15 years ago and that wasn't."
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has not yet commented on the possibility of having seven Tour podiums since 1999 altered.