5 questions I would now ask Lance Armstrong

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Having had a few days to think about the Lance Armstrong confession session there are some questions I would still like answered.  Here are the top 5 questions that I would ask if given the chance.

Last week Oprah Winfrey recorded an interview with Lance Armstrong.  This interview was shown over two nights and streamed for free worldwide.  In this interview Lance admitted to having doped for all seven of his Tour de France victories.  Following the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) report in October, which Armstrong chose not to contest, many wondered what his next move would be.
A week or so before the interview aired rumours circulated that he would admit to a doping past.  Exactly how much he would admit was debated. After the interview the debate has continued as to how honest he has been.  I felt that there were many areas where the questioning could have been a lot more probing.  There were some questions begging to be asked which slipped by.  The top five questions I still have are below.

1.  Do you or do you not believe in the Athlete Biological Passport?

I’m no fan of the UCI but the introduction of the biological passport worked.

There were two statements from Lance that stood out for me around the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP, see this post for a little more detail).  Armstrong suggested that after the introduction of the biological passport by the cycling governing body (UCI) in 2008 that the doping game changed.  After this time it was no longer safe to use EPO or to blood dope.  He stated when asked if he doped on his 2009 comeback:

The last time I crossed that line was 2005.

This statement is in direct contrast to the USADA report. After Armstrong decided to return to cycling USADA and WADA started to collect blood samples, 37 of which were collected between October 2008 and April 2012.  These samples were processed for the ABP. The results of these samples have been scrutinised by an expert, Professor Christopher Gore at the Australian Institute of Sport.  He concluded:

the approximate likelihood of Armstrong’s seven suppressed reticulocyte values during the 2009 and 2010 Tours de France occurring naturally was less than one in a million.


So, does it work or not Lance?

2. What drugs did you take?

I didn’t have access to anything anybody else didn’t
The questioning at the beginning was of a yes and no variety.  Oprah asked if he had taken drugs such as ‘ EPO [erythropeitin], blood dope or blood transfusions, testosterone, cortisone or Human Growth Hormone’ to each he simply answered yes.  These are the ‘run of the mill’ drugs in endurance sports and as such not too suprising.  His expanded answer at one point was

My cocktail was EPO, but not a lot, transfusions and testosterone.

I would like to ask which drugs exactly he took.  This would allow us to judge whether the first quote above is correct or not.

What about Actovegin (calf blood extract not approved for use in the US)?  This was found in his teams discarded rubbish during the 2000 tour who said it was for the use of diabetic staff.  The drug is not currently banned by WADA but not licensed for use in the UK or USA.  How about new variants of EPO as they came out (eg CERA, aranesp)?  Hematide/Peginesatide or AICAR (both also rumoured to have been found in his teams possesion when not licensed for use)?


3. What happened with Don Catlin, Rasmus Damsgaard and independent blood testing?

In advance of the 2009 comeback it was trailed that there would be regular blood testing undertaken by Dr Don Catlin, ex head of the USA anti doping laboratory.  This was being pushed as a big part of your clean comeback.  Why did it not happen?
Your team then enrolled the help of Dr Rasmus Damsgaard, who had been working with other teams on their internal testing programmes.  After a while your team also ditched their use, saying you believed the ABP was now so strong it wasn’t required.
Part of your transparency was to publish the results on the web, which you did do for a while (not the full 37 mentioned in Q1.).  These numbers were then analysed by some experts who concluded there was enough doubt to raise suspicion.
See this article for a little more background and this for detailed analysis of the blood values (thanks to CB who tweeted these links today!).

4. Why is Dr Ferrari so good and so important to you?


In a purely scientific way I am intrigued by Dr Michele Ferarri.  He has been described as ‘most notorious doping doctor’ and the ‘master of doping’ and once compared using EPO to drinking orange juice. Dr Ferrari has a notorious history in the sport, possibly as the person who introduced EPO into cycling in the early 1990’s.  He is also now banned for life from any having any connection to any sport.


What was it that made him so good that you paid him over $1M in 10 years? Was he simply the most connected Dr, able to get what was needed to you at any time.  I suspect he must have a very good understanding of drugs and they way they work and able to work out the ways to evade testing.  Did he have any specialist equipment to experiment on or did he put samples through hospital labs for testing?


Also, why do you still hold out for him?  I guess he knows everything.

I viewed Michele Ferrari as a good man and a smart guy and I still do.


5. Did you meet with any of the anti doping lab directors?


There was no secret meeting with the lab director

This question relates to the post here, which reported Lance as having met the head of the Swiss lab, Dr Martial Saugy.  This meeting has been confirmed by Saugy, by USADA and the UCI, yet Armstrong denied this.  He also seemed to double back on whether this positive test actually happened or not, it wasn’t clear.


If you did meet what did he tell you and how did it influence your doping practice? How did you alter the use of EPO after this and was this information what turned you towards blood doping?  If you met with Saugy did you meet any other lab directors and have cosy chats with them?

My feelings on the interview

I felt there were times when Lance was truthful, scared and unsure of how to answer questions.  He described this period in his life as the second time in his life he did not have total control, the first being when he was diagnosed with cancer.  One thing I couldn’t really find was a motive for this confession.  Is it really so he can run in a marathon in five years time or to win the 45-49 year old age group at a triathlon?
Ultimately though I do not think he told the whole truth and it certainly wasn’t the no holds barred event as billed.  If he were to testify and answer the same questions plus those above under oath he may answer differently.  But then again he has lied under oath previously.
I personally don’t think he should be allowed to return to the sport in any way and I would be surprised if anyone though it were a good idea.


Any thoughts?  What questions remain for you after these interviews?  Feel free to comment below and subscribe for future updates!


Interview photos by lwpkommunikacio, on Flickr

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About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He is currently the subject lead for chemistry and forensic science at Sheffield Hallam University. He's managed hundreds of forensic toxicology cases, and is an experienced court witness. He has specialist expertise in forensic toxicology and drug testing in sport. And yes... he watches CSI.