Questioning USADA’s Doping Allegations Against Lance Armstrong: A Fan Weighs In

Is he or isn't he?I follow cycling, not religiously, but almost. I follow the Tour de France in particular for a number of reasons, some of which can be traced back to Lance Armstrong. He won his first tour in 1999, but I didn’t know it. I was in France on vacation in the summer of 2000. Some friends who live there took us to the start of a stage. Lance was there. I didn’t know who he was. Our French hosts couldn’t believe it. They knew him all too well.

I soon found out who he–and a lot of other cyclists–were. I also discovered the most beautiful, terrifying, and addictive race in the world. Not only was Lance in the prime of his career, but the whole race had a melody all its own. The names of the riders rolled off the tongue: Mario Cipolini, Sylvan Chavanel, Alberto Contador, Fabian Cancellara. The names of the places are nearly as melodious: L’Alpe d’Huez, Le Col du Tourmalet, Pla d’Adet, and Le Champs-Élysées.

This has been a hard week for racing fans, particularly fans of Lance Armstrong. The United States Anti-doping Agency (USADA) released its findings against Lance to the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the sponsors of the Tour de France. Those 200 pages of damning evidence supposedly proved beyond doubt that Lance Armstrong was the kingpin of the world’s largest and most successful doping ring.

People who know me know that I am a huge Armstrong fan, and it’s not just his on-the-bike performance that I admire. His accomplishments in the area of cancer-fighting are to be applauded. He made the world sit up and take notice of pro cycling. He is responsible for half the adults who ride a bike today. His influence is huge.

Now, if I were a reasonable human being, I would believe all the “evidence” presented by USADA and admit that Lance isn’t a superhuman. He was a cheat and a liar. But for me, a few things are not adding up.

There were a lot of professional cyclists who were glad to hear that USADA had pressed charges against Lance Armstrong, but not for the reasons you might think. The USADA conviction rate–with their judge, jury, and executioner style of justice–is 100%. As a career cyclist, if your name was mentioned by USADA in connection with doping, you were going to be suspended for two years. Guilt or innocence had nothing to do with it. No one was ever able to successfully defend against USADA doping charges. Former and current cyclists were hoping Lance could change that. He had the money and the influence to either get fair shake or expose the flaws in the system. He could not. He tried initially, but he could see the writing on the wall and like any reasonable retiree, he opted out.  He had better things to do with his time and his money.

Now USADA’s 200-page report claims to expose the largest drug ring in the history of cycling. Or does it? Let’s look at some of the claims:

  • For seven years (1999-2005) and for two more years (2009-2011), Lance was the mastermind of a systematic doping of his teams (US Postal Service, Discovery, and Astana).
  • Team members have testified that they heard Lance admit to using performance enhancing drugs or saw him use them.
  • Lance was assisted in this system by his coach, Johan Bruyneel, and several medical doctors, the most prominent was the Italian physicist Dr. Michele Ferrari.

What USADA is asking us to believe is that not only did Lance dope for years, but all of his teammates doped, all of the “wags” (wives and girlfriends) were in on it, as were the ancillary support members of the various teams that Lance rode for. If I were trying to estimate how many people that entailed, it would be more than 100 people, multiplied by the nine years in question. In some ways, methinks USADA over-padded their story. There is almost too much evidence.

In addition, USADA has said Lance never had as many drug tests as he claims to have had and he was able to avoid them by:

  1. Not answering the door when they came to his house
  2. Running out the backdoor when they knocked on the front door
  3. In one instance, dropping out of a race when he had supposedly doped and then was warned by a teammate that the drug testers were at the door. (I’m not sure why he didn’t run out the back the way he usually did).

For me, this promotes a visual of a Keystone cops-like testing force that was obviously less than diligent.

I think it’s important to say a word about the average cyclist. Lance is not average. The majority of cyclists in the peloton are on par—-intelligence-wise—-with the average surfer dude. Like Rocky, most of them went into a profession where they used their body. There are exceptions of course, but the majority of them are just average guys, not moral icons or brainiacs.

As far as I’m concerned, USADA has some ‘splaining to do. How could 100+ people over a nine-year period of time get away with “rampant drug use” and not get caught. Not one questionable drug test, not one snitch.

When it comes to the riders confessions, those who rolled over and admitted doping with Lance and by Lance got a six-month suspension. If you know anything about USADA and their conviction rate, these guys would normally be facing a two-year suspension. This six-month suspension did not start until the end of the 2012 cycling season, and ends well before the big races of the 2013 season start. Here’s the drill. Cop to your drug use and Lance’s and you race next year. Don’t, and you won’t see the start line until 2015. Tough choice? Not really.

One more thing I don’t understand. Folks who use blood-doping and EPO usually have health problems. Enough blood-doping thickens your blood to sludge. It causes heart attacks. None of Lance’s team members had health problems. A lot of them, now close to 40 years old, are still participating some of the hardest racing in the world. Unlike the before-and-after doping pictures of Barry Bonds, these guys don’t look any different today (except for a few more wrinkles) than they did before they met Lance.

Lastly, let me propose my theory to you, which is completely without proof, but comes from the eye of a beyond-casual observer of cycling and Lance Armstrong.

I watched how Lance won. It wasn’t just pedaling really hard and hoping for the best. He was a math wiz and a supreme strategist. If you believe the doping allegations, they would even prove he had to be of above-average intelligence to coordinate all those riders, team members, and medical personnel for all those years without ever getting caught.

Over the years, through different races, I have seen Lance pull off some pretty impressive maneuvers–mostly psychological warfare–in his attempts to defeat his opponents. I’ve seen him pretend to bonk (be tired). I’ve seen him get in front of the media and deride his teammates to convince his competition his teammates weren’t working for him. I’ve seen him pull in the front of the peloton in time for a turn, catch the wind, and leave his opponents behind. He wasn’t just fast, he was cagey. Maybe you think that proves he doped.

However, Lance was coming into the Tour de France at a time when the use of performance-enhancing drugs was starting to be questioned. Long before he started racing, it was a given. All the riders were doing it and, frankly, it was considered part of the sport. Lance re-entered the sport (post-cancer) during the “clean up” transition. Doping was out and inspectors were (supposedly) becoming more zealous. The conviction rate for using was on the rise. Still, some cyclists were old school and didn’t believe you couldn’t win without it.

It is my theory that Lance pretended that he and his whole team were doping, right down to the “blood in the fridge” and the EPO next to the butter dish. This would have worked to the team captain’s advantage in several ways. His team members gained power from the placebo effect. His competitors would believe he was doping and be at a psychological disadvantage. This belief may have prompted some of them to dope (and get caught) and be eliminated from the race. Perhaps the best part, is that all the drug tests came back negative. For me, this is easier to believe, in some ways easier, than USADA’s scenario for all those years.

Until USADA explains why they were unable to detect this huge drug ring year after year when “everyone knew” about it, I am sticking to my theory. Long after this doping scandal fades into history, the Tour de France will remain the ever colorful race it has always been. In its beginning, riders didn’t carry water or food . They didn’t ride fancy bikes or have team cars following them. They raced across the French countryside, grabbing wine from the tables of outdoor cafes for hydration and smoking cigarettes as they went. They stopped at blacksmith shops to repair their bikes. This is the history of this multi-faceted race. It will always be legendary and beyond the rules. That is what makes “Le Tour” the great race that it is. And I will always be a fan.

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing

Woman reading and relaxing

To feel the wind in my feet

Here I am at the intersection of rest & relaxation. Why did it take three days, a six-hour flight, and two packages of peanut M&Ms to get here? In Silicon Valley, you are always somewhere between the Next Big Thing (NBT) and NBT v2.0. There’s the side of town where you are and the side where you need to be. Between the rat and the race, there’s Fry’s, the grocery store, and the 24-hour a day job.

Here I am, wandering through a hotel lobby in the wee hours of the morning, searching for wifi. And I am realizing I came to a spa halfway across the country because a spa in Silicon Valley is like a stop sign in vortex. I had to walk away and consciously do nothing. And believe it or not, it’s not as easy as you might think.

An object in motion tends to stay in motion and a mind in motion hankers for continuous distraction. You may feel like sitting still and doing nothing, but you catch a shiny shape out of the corner of your eye and you are drawn to it, and the next and the next. It isn’t easy to put on the mental brakes, but it’s necessary.

Call it a rebooting of the mind. A hard shutdown that is needed to clear the path for fresh thoughts. A way to think clearer, to write again. To take it all in and find out how to observe and enjoy and desire to participate again.

Excuse me while I leave this deserted hotel lobby and go photograph the sunrise over Lake Opechee. I should go back to bed, but this is another of those shiny shapes I can’t resist. I guess that explains why I came to Silicon Valley in the first place. You can leave, but if there’s wifi,you are always connected.

Faith, Courage, and My Mother’s Voice

Suitcase of Courage

Suitcase of Courage

I am just driving home from work, like 100 other times. I have the green light at the intersection ahead. Just as I enter the intersection, I catch a flash from the corner of my eye. A van is crossing from left to right in front of me. I remember shouting in my head at the other driver. “You are running a red light.” Now the side of the van is in front of me. The driver’s profile tells me she doesn’t see me. I scream.

Later, I remember a mountain stage of the Tour de France. It’s in the Haute Pyrenees, the range separating Spain and France. It’s near the top of Col de Tourmalet or maybe the Col d’Aubisque, or another mountain top with a musical name. Two riders are making their way up the incline with the others in the race trailing behind them. I hear the announcer describe their battle and the pain in their legs. He says, “They are in the red zone now. They will have to dig deep into their suitcase of courage.”

That van is in front of me and I know the inevitable is about to happen. For some instinctive reason, I swerve right. I did it before I could think about it. That move alone kept me from colliding head on into the person who ran the light.

And now, two weeks later, I am wondering how I can deal with the fallout. No witnesses. The police refused to write a report at the scene. The other driver lied and said I ran the red light. My car is totalled. In an instant, through no fault of my own, I lost my car. Her insurance won’t replace it. That seems important and frustrating until I remember that I almost lost my life. Somehow the car becomes insignificant.

I’m wondering if I packed my suitcase of courage. Far away, I hear the song that says, “Have a Little Faith in Me” as only Joe Cocker can sing it. And I hear my mother’s voice, speaking with the surety only a mother can have. “It will come back to haunt her. You don’t get away with that kind of stuff.” Then, somehow, I know I am going to make it through. I am going to be alright.

Buy a Book! Save a Life!

book cover image

All proceeds go to LiveSTRONG for cancer research and awareness.

PB was my friend. He and Mrs. PB lived in England. My husband and I lived in California. We would go years without seeing each other. But we shared one of those rich and rare friendships. We could start our conversation again, just where we had left off, as though no time had passed at all. We were very sure we would grow old together, watching our kids and (some day) grandkids grow. We thought we had all the time in the world.

Then last month, we received the sad news that PB had died from cancer. I wanted to shake my fist at the universe. I wanted to shout “No-o-o-o!” from the roof top. But all I could do was melt into the kitchen chair and say, “I thought we had more time.”

At the time of his death, PB and the Mrs. were in Wales living on a farm purchased with the intent of lowering their carbon footprint. They raised their own chickens, vegetables, and even a pig. They kept their home warm (and welcoming) with a wood cooker, and they bartered with their neighbors for whatever they couldn’t raise.

On the day of PB’s funeral, they converted his old Land Rover to carry his casket. His son, now a naval officer and wearing his dress uniform, drove the old girl. Mrs. PB and his daughter rode followed in the “good car” with a tow rope, just in a case.

As you have guessed, PB was such a unique person. In fact, I was inspired to “borrow” his looks, speech, and mannerisms for a minor character in my first book, A PRIMROSE IN NOVEMBER. After I heard the news about him, I pulled the unpublished manuscript out of a drawer and self-published it. It seemed to be a way to keep him alive. But somehow, that wasn’t enough. 

I decided all the proceeds from the sale of the PRIMROSE ebook should go to charity. I picked the Lance Armstrong Foundation, LiveSTRONG. It raises money for cancer research, raises cancer awareness, and encourages people to live life to the fullest.

To participate in “Buy a Book! Save a Life!,” go to Amazon and purchase A PRIMROSE IN NOVEMBER on Monday, Dec. 19th. Together, we can make it a best seller for a day, encouraging those who don’t know me and didn’t know PB to buy the book and donate money to a good cause.

Please join me in this event. The book is available for $1.99 at the links below.

For those of you without an ebook reader, you can download a free Kindle-like reading application here for your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPod, Blackberry or Android. 

 

I Only Sing in Hospitals

Judy Collins with her guitar

Anyone would love you, Judy

Years ago, after several miscarriages, I became pregnant again. The whole pregnancy was riddled with doubt. Would the baby go full term?

I felt that the first words I said to my offspring—if there was an offspring—should be special. I decided I would sing a Judy Collins song.

My daughter was born one October night at the first 1:30 am, just before they turned the clocks back. There were a few stares when the nurse handed my baby to me and I warbled my first words to her:

Anyone would love you,
Anyone at all,
Anyone with any sense is bound to fall,
I’m sure that anyone whose heart is free,
Seeing you would say,
‘Here’s love, at last, here’s every lonely dream come true,’
Oh anyone, believe me, would love you.”

My debut was meant to be my last public performance.

Twelve years later, my daughter had scoliosis surgery. It involved deflating one lung, spreading her ribs, inserting screws into her spine, seeding the vertebrae with cadaver chips, and joining it all with a   titanium rod. When it was over, she needed a morphine drip for the pain. At one point, her IV needle fell out and needed to be reinserted.

A pediatric surgeon was called in, since no one else could find a vein. My daughter squirmed in agony, waiting for her much needed pain-dulling meds. The surgeon’s first three attempts failed. The doctor moved to another location and  my daughter cried out, “Will someone sing?” Music had always been a source of solace for her.

Finally, I could be something besides a useless bystander. I’m not sure if the rest of the pediatric ICU appreciated it, but I sang.

“Anyone would love you.. anyone at all…”

A vein was a found. Sleep followed. The healing began. Thank you, Judy Collins, for that beautiful song. It’s been with me for the most important moments of my life. Don’t worry though, I won’t be competing with you for concert venues. I only sing in hospitals.

Road/Attitude Repair

Road Rash Maker

Just another dip in the road

Hello, City of Cupertino. There’s a dip in the road you really need to fix at 10554 Santa Lucia Road. I know it’s there because I crashed my bicycle after hitting it .

In years past, it would have never been there. With today’s budget crisis, there are potholes everywhere.

This particular dip gave me a lot of road rash, black and blue marks, and a really sore shoulder. It also made me to go buy a new helmet, since the old one cracked when I hit this baby and slid (and slid and slid.)

I was limping around, feeling sorry for myself, while slowly walking my dog near my house. That’s when I got the wake-up call. My neighbor who is recovering from cancer came past, walking with his wife, and keeping a faster pace than I was.

That’s when I realized, I don’t have it so bad. Miners in Brazil who don’t get out of a collapsed mine until Christmas… They got it bad. Me? I’ll be back on my bike as soon as it gets out of the shop.

About Time

Just relax. There's time.

Relax. There's time.

   At some point, I crossed an imaginary line. Time, in my lifetime, became finite. Suddenly, I didn’t want to talk to uninteresting people, read uninteresting books, or take boring vacations.

   It was as if I had x amount of time left, and y number of things to do in that time. I didn’t want eat crummy food, drink bad coffee, or write uninteresting blogs—though I probably will.

   I became obsessed with maximizing my remaining time. Even while doing something “worthy,” I was anxious about not getting to the next worthy thing. In short, I wasn’t enjoying life.

   Then I remembered a lesson I learned while traveling. If you visit  an interesting place, like London for example, there are so many must dos and must sees—the Crown Jewels, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, ad infinitum. No one has enough time in one trip.

   So, I told myself, “Do what you can do comfortably (comfortably being the key word) and do the rest the next time.” If I never returned to London, it still made the current visit more enjoyable.

   I think it’s the same with life. I’ll do what can do comfortably, and then do the rest in my next life. If there is no next life, I’ll never know. And if there is… well, perfect.

  It allows me to enjoy the moment. This moment. And that’s all any of us really have.

Three Ways to Know You Hate Your Job

Is it just me, or is this normal?

There may not be a litmus test for how much you dislike your job. However, I’ve done some intensive research at past jobs. (BTW, this research is on-going.) The signs include:

You would rather be at the dentist. Any time that sitting in the dentist’s chair is preferably to sitting at your desk at work, you have a problem.

You never whistle at work. I heard someone walking down the hall, whistling and realized, I never whistle at work. This may not be a valid test if you can’t whistle. You could substitute singing.

You volunteer to be laid-off. The order is out at your company—after all, it is Silicon Valley. They want to reduce your department by 10%, and you are waving your hand like a kid in first grade who needs to go to the bathroom.

Now that you know the warning signs, you can’t do a thing about it. It’s a recession, for heaven’s sake. There are no jobs out there for you. Just the lousy one you have already.

You can either reassess your situation or you can take some tips from the characters in my latest novel, OLD HU$BAND$’S TALE$. HINT: Play the lottery or plan a bank heist. Empower yourself!

Too Much Money

 “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”

– President Obama to Wall St.,  4/29/2010

     It’s a real danger in Silicon Valley. I’ve seen it happen to my neighbors—but not me. <sigh> Now the President is warning us of this rare, but terrible, plight. Just so you don’t fall into the “Oh, no, I have more money than I need” dilemma, I’ve gathered some helpful hints.

Don’t let it happen to you. Check for the following signs, most courtesy of Jeanne Sahadi of CNNMoney.com

Signs you have too much money:

  1. Bling H2O bottled water-$38/bottle for the limited edition bottle decked out in Swarovski crystals bottled in Tennesee.
  2. Silver sleeve for your Haagen Dazs– $1,057 from jewelry and silverware designer Theo Fennell. It slips over a pint of your favorite flavor. The sterling silver tub is engraved with the words “Haagen Dazs.”
  3. BMW 3-series wagon – A man in California reportedly purchased one for the sole purpose of having his housekeeper take his dogs to the vet.
  4. Girl’s bed – $47,000/Designed like a coach available at Posh Tots.
  5. A Gucci chainsaw – Gotta have it.

Finest Author’s Moment

Train in the Salinas Valley

Hold That Train

     In my former life, I was a journalist. Once, I had decided to write a news article on train travel, and Amtrak had comped me three tickets to do it.

     The travel required that I ride the Coast Starlighter from Salinas to San Luis Obispo, wait 20 minutes, and catch the train back. My daughter, 4, and my mother-in-law accompanied me.

     It was a great experience, but we were delayed on the first leg, which meant we would miss the connection home. To my surprise, when we reached San Luis Obispo, they had held the train that would take us back to Salinas.  Apparently, Amtrak didn’t want a “fun train travel” article to turn into a “when you miss your train home” article.

     The best part of having a train held for you is walking the length of the train with everyone staring  at you. For a moment, we weren’t just Grandma, mom, and little girl, we were famous people.