Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace was likely the biggest scandal the world of cycling has ever seen. Armstrong’s cycling career began in the early 1990’s, but it appeared his career would be cut short in 1996 when he was diagnosed with cancer. Despite a grim prognosis at the outset, Armstrong not only survived, he went on to win cycling’s biggest race, the Tour de France, a record seven consecutive times from 1999-2005.

Allegations of doping followed Armstrong throughout his career, but nothing was confirmed until 2012. That year, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) conducted an investigation that determined Armstrong had, in fact, used illegal performance enhancing drugs. For some, this destroyed Armstrong’s hero image. Others still revered him as an athlete who overcame incredible odds to become the greatest cyclist in the world.

Those who call Armstrong a hero point to his courage in overcoming cancer to return to cycling. Though he later used performance enhancing drugs, there was nothing fake about his fight against cancer. Armstrong showed tremendous resolve in not only facing his illness but in pushing himself to continue to follow his cycling dreams.

There is also the issue of doping across cycling. Lance Armstrong was hardly the only athlete who used performance enhancing drugs in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Take a look at his seven Tour de France wins from 1999-2005. In nearly every case, the second and third place finishers have also been involved in doping scandals. Doping was so prevalent in cycling during this time that cycling’s international governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), decided that no new winner would be declared when Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France wins.

Nevertheless, Armstrong took doping to a new level. He didn’t just use performance enhancing drugs, he was at the center of a massive doping ring. In the USADA’s 2012 report, the agency claimed that there was “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that not only had Armstrong himself been involved in doping, but that he also forced his teammates to use performance enhancing drugs.

This makes the allegations against Armstrong far more serious. Lance Armstrong is more than just a cyclist who chose to use illegal substances to improve his own performance. He contributed to a culture in which cyclists felt they had to resort to doping in order to win.

Not only did Armstrong encourage or force others to use performance enhancing drugs, he also went to great lengths to hide his actions. While some cyclists came forward and admitted the truth, Armstrong and his team continued to deny any wrongdoing. Even when he was given the chance to come clean, Lance Armstrong chose to remain silent. According to the USADA report, Armstrong “engaged in a massive and long-running scheme to use drugs, cover their tracks, intimidate witnesses, tarnish reputations, lie to hearing panels and the press and do whatever was necessary to conceal the truth.”

It wasn’t until January of 2013 that Armstrong finally came clean. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, he admitted to doping. For some, this admission of guilt may be enough to restore his hero status. But it took years of investigations and the testimony of nearly a dozen other cyclists to get Armstrong to admit what he had done. Armstrong fought every step of the way to hide his doping. Only when it was impossible to do so did he finally come clean.

The story of Lance Armstrong coming back from a nearly fatal battle with cancer to win the Tour de Force seven times was inspirational. The truth behind that story is anything but, and Armstrong can hardly call himself a hero.


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