Photographer Graham Watson has defended Lance Armstrong, saying “Outright angels do not win a Tour de France. That is the domain of the most talented, hard, driven, ruthless and selfish riders. Lance did what he had to do to win, and he clearly did it very well.” Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in 2012 and was handed a life time ban.
Watson, who has long been associated with Armstrong, admitted on his blog that “I’m not likely to utter any bad words about a cyclist who helped so much to escalate my earnings way back then (....) Don’t go looking for criticism because it just won’t be there – if Lance did what he’s been accused of doing, then that’s his issue to deal with.
“All I do know is he’s not the manipulative ‘bully’ certain members of the media have tried to portray him as in their tabloid stories. He was ambitious, ruthless, highly talented, tough, he knew how to lead his teammates and intimidate his rivals to make sure he won. But is he any different from a President, an army General, a corporate leader of industry, a career politician, or any other sporting great?”
He continued, “If he cheated, he cheated the other cheats of that era, even if by doing so he also cheated an adoring public. He didn’t kill anyone along the way, and as a father of five, he’s no child molester either. For me, his punishment outweighs the alleged crimes, for a lifetime ban from all sports seems quite draconian in this day and age. I’m surprised USADA hasn’t also fixed an ankle-bracelet to Armstrong’s leg, just in case he tries to sneak into a triathlon or ultra-distance running event in disguise.”
Looking at the USADA action, Watson said that “I for one would have liked to had seen Armstrong appeal, if only to hear the other story that I am sure is out there. Like it, or not, USADA has done its work very well. It’s gone where no other national anti-drug agency has dared go, or could go without the millions of US$ afforded to its operations. Never mind that USADA has plunged a blunt knife through the heart of the sport – they got their man, after a ruthless hunt, and that’s all they care about. I have winced at their tactics, and at the paucity of any scientific evidence, and cringed at the scandalous sentences handed out to those who informed, willingly or otherwise, on Armstrong.”
Still, he said, “I think lot of good will arise from the USADA investigation, with even tighter drug controls, sharper administration of the sport, and a greater co-operation between all the national anti-drug agencies. Short-term agony but long-term bliss - how about that?”
In its Reasoned Decision, the USADA called the doping scheme around Armstrong “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” It accuses Armstrong of creating a culture of doping within his team and not only pressuring others to dope, but also intimidating those who spoke out or declined to dope. USADA based its decision, released in October, not only on the testimony of 26 individuals but also on "direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong".
Watson also defended the UCI, saying that it “has so publicly done its level best to keep pace with the drug-takers. No one is perfect, no-one is above criticism, and in hindsight the UCI perhaps should have done better – but only in hindsight.”