In 2012, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from competitive cycling for life after the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) found him guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.
In a phone interview with Colorado Quarterly on Rocky Mountain PBS from his home in Aspen, Armstrong, considered perhaps the greatest cyclist ever, talked candidly about the era that led to his downfall.
“Of course, you always want science to be ahead of where doping would be,” Armstrong said on the show, suggesting that, if so, all competitors would be equal. “But at that time, science was way, way behind. There was a substance, EPO, that was tremendously helpful, up to the tune of 10 percent (in enhanced performance), and just as important, it was completely undetectable. And, of course, it ran like wildfire through the peloton (professional cycling).”
EPO, erythropoietin, is a hormone that acts on the bone marrow to stimulate red blood cell production. An increase in red blood cells improves the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry to the body’s muscles.
Colorado Quarterly is moderated by Rocky Mountain PBS President and CEO Doug Price, who asked Armstrong if his being stripped of his titles and banned was necessary for the good of the sport.
“That’s a great question,” Armstrong replied evenly, “and one that I ask myself every day. My answer is not a popular one. My answer is that it wasn’t worth it.
“I can look at what it’s done to our sport, I look at how teams and sponsors are fleeing, events are folding, participation is down,” Armstrong said. “It all stems from choices I made. But with all due respect, this was not an effort to clean up cycling. Because in order to do that you have to truly take a global view and a global look at this thing, and a global commission has to do it, which I think we’ve started to do now.”