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Lance Armstrong claims doping doesn't lead to drug addiction

Peter Stuart
26 Sep 2018

Armstrong supports David Millar's claims that shamed dopers are failed on mental health, but questions links to recreational drug use

Lance Armstrong has claimed that he doesn't believe a culture of doping in pro cycling has contributed to the recreational drug abuse seen by several pro cyclists who have suffered scandals as a result of doping prosecutions.

Armstrong was speaking on the subject of the upcoming CPA presidency, and described former pro David Millar as ‘probably the last person that would come to mind’ for the role of CPA president. He did, however, agree with Millar on the CPA’s failings of psychiatric care for ex-pro riders.

In an interview published by the Guardian, Armstrong commended Millar’s focus on the psyschiatric impact of being nationally disgraced from a doping scandal.

Millar cited the case of Jan Ullrich specifically, but the issue also brings to mind riders such as Marco Pantani, who famously died from a cocaine overdose, Belgian Frank Vandenbroucke (who died following addiction problems in 2009) and Spain’s José María Jiménez who suffered from severe depression and died in 2003.

Millar argues that this is an issue the CPA (Cyclistes Professionnels Associés) should address, and one he would target during his presidency. ‘The CPA has never confronted the fact that the mental health track record for cycling is horrific,’ Millar claimed.

Indeed, Armstrong’s long-time rival Ullrich has also shown signs of severe psychological troubles in the wake of his implication in Operacion Puerto. He was arrested in Frankfurt last month for allegedly assaulting a prostitute while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

‘Those riders were all “disgraced” by their countries and the press, while their countrymen, who weren’t nearly as legendary as them, were given complete passes,’ Armstrong told the Guardian. ‘This can feel really hypocritical and unfair. Throw in some guys who don’t have the mental strength to manage it all and it’s a recipe for disaster.’

On the topic of drug addiction itself, Armstrong did not believe there was a link between the use of drugs to improve performance and the use of drugs recreationally.

Drug addiction

Cycling and recreational drugs has a history beyond the tragic cases of Pantani and Vandenbroucke – Tom Boonen admitted to a drug and alcohol problem in 2009, after testing positive for cocaine. Luca Paolini also faced a sanction in 2015 for cocaine use that arguably ended his career.

However, despite an association between issues of depression and drug addiction amongst troubled ex-pros, Armstrong was clear that he didn’t see doping in professional cycling as having any causal relationship.

‘I don’t think there is [a link]. The sample size of cyclists that took performance enhancing drugs is massive — in the tens of thousands — so if the tendency was to become an addict then we’d have hundreds if not thousands of addicts, which we don’t,’ he told the Guardian.

The issue has been a hot topic in different sports, with the most high profile case recently surrounding Tyson Fury, who admitted using cocaine to help battle depression.

There have also been calls for recreational drugs to be removed from the WADA list of prohibited substances, as it crosses the line between performance enhancement and promotion of ethical behaviour amongst athletes.

Ahead of the 2012 Olympics, The Times found leaked documents from UKAD, arguing that the length of bans for recreational drug use were unduly punitive. 

CPA election

It seems that while Armstrong doesn’t favour Millar himself as CPA leader, he is in favour of a rider’s union intervening more in the sport, ‘a real union for riders’ he argued, rather than the ‘window dressing’ of the CPA.

Millar’s candidacy has been shrouded in controversy partly because of the rider’s own doping record, but also because of how it has unearthed democratic failings in the election process.

Millar has argued that he is unlikely to win as countries are able to vote in blocs for candidates, and his Italian rival Gianni Bugno will win the Italian bloc vote, while many would-be Millar voters will not be able to vote, as it must be done in person in Switzerland, and many will be at the World Championships in Innsbruck during the election.

The official election for CPA president takes place tomorrow.