Friday, August 26, 2005

Armstrong EPO update

Here's Armstrong responding to some of the EPO doping allegations.
"A guy in a Parisian laboratory opens up your sample, you know, Jean Francois so-and-so, and he tests it -- nobody's there to observe, no protocol was followed -- and then you get a call from a newspaper that says 'We found you to be positive six times for EPO.' Well, since when did newspapers start governing sports?"...

"For the head of the agency to say he actually doesn't believe in the code... if your career is riding on the line, wouldn't you want a B sample?" Armstrong told the AP. "The French have been after (me) forever, and 'Whoops!' there's no B sample? The stakes are too high."
Armstrong has been trying to get French cycling fans to warm up to him over the past seven years. He has done so by living in France at times, praising the country and its quality of life, and writing off those who don't like him as exceptions to the rule and common to any sport. But now he's going back into "The French are out to get me" mode, which surely appeals to an American audience that loves to ridicule French people and France whether they have any basis to or not.

I think Armstrong is a great cyclist. As I've said before, I don't think he's the greatest ever -- that's largely an American media conceit. If anyone is the greatest, it's Eddy Merckx. But you have to know cycling to understand that. Armstrong, as a media star, can play off a much larger audience, many of whom will have never heard of Merckx. And what he does when he plays off that larger audience is appeal to its simple biases when he needs to make a point. The guy is not an angel. He's a great rider, but he's no angel at all.

So now we're getting this "The French..." conspiracy defense again, uncannily similar to Bush's and Fox's own smoke-and-mirrors show against the French, one that much of the American public stupidly fell for in that ugly kind of patriotic paroxysm that doesn't function unless there's someone to hate by way of contrast. When you can't make your case any other way, count on the public's capacity for hate-based nationalism.

There's a point here, and it's one to watch. From what I know of this case, the identity of the positive EPO tests is in question and the laboratory itself has not made the claim that they are Armstrong's. L'Equipe has made those claims and says it has evidence. It's not clear what this evidence is at this point. But Armstrong and his defenders have gone into character-assassination mode (of an entire people -- "The French") and we now know from long experience that, while many fall for such tactics, this usually speaks to a much weaker case behind it. In this situation, it could be that Armstrong doesn't have a good way to defend himself technically-speaking. But it could also be the case that he can't defend himself, period. If we truly care about the issue of doping in sports, we ought not let generic American anti-Frenchism come into the mix.

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