Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lance Armstrong Investigation: Has He Been Tested Over 500 Times?

Photo taken from NY Times
I tip my hat to a group of skeptics who have put together an analysis of Lance's claim that he has been "tested over 500 times and not once tested positive." Before we get to the analysis, here are a few of the actual quotes (in addition to the one above) that are attributed to Lance or his legal team in this regard. You can find similar quotes by a simple Google search.
"Lance is the most tested athlete, amateur or professional in the history of sport. We don’t know exactly the number but we think it’s around 300 separate tests that he’s undergone and he has never had a positive test." (Tim Herman, Lawyer to Lance Armstrong, July 2010)
"Throughout his twenty-plus year professional career, Mr. Armstrong has been subjected to 500 to 600 drug tests without a single positive test." (Civ. Action No. 1:12–cv–00606–SS July 2012)
As it turns out, the number of tests he has had over the period from 1990 - 2010 appears much closer to Tim Herman's quote in 2010: 300. Here are some key points from the analysis documented at

First, the analysis covers 1990 - 2010 and it explains that it is based on data published by USADA and WADA from 1999 to today and, for the period of 1990 - 1998, the data on numbers of tests for specific athletes wasn't published so some assumptions were made. Those who compiled the data make a case that their assumptions are generous towards Lance's claims. For example, they state that for the period from 1990 - 1998:
Very little information exists for this period, but what we do know is that very few (to be read as no) out-of-competition testings were conducted during this period*. Race winners were, on occasion, tested and on even rarer occasions other podium placings were subject to anti doping tests, along with occasional spot checks at the Olympic Games. For the purposes of this diagram we have credited Lance with an anti-doping test for every single race win and podium over this period, despite evidence that this was not the case. It is acknowledged that the US Based lab of Don Catlin conducted around 2 dozen tests on Armstrong over this period. 
The bottom line is that this analysis shows Lance was tested no more than 236 times. It's interesting how far from the 500-600 claim this is. They also call him on his claim that "he has never had a positive test." Here is what the analysis has to say about this claim:

  • In 2005 L’Equipe reported that Lance Amstrong’s tests from the 1999 Tour were retroactively tested and that 6 samples from the ’99 Tour tested positive for EPO.
  • In 2011 it was reported that in 2009 US Cycling requested reports on tests conducted on Armstrong between ’93 and ’96. Five of these tests could not be recovered, but three showed abnormally-high levels of testosterone. Sports Illustrated reported “a 9.0-to-1 ratio from a sample collected on June 23, 1993; a 7.6-to-1 from July 7, 1994; and a 6.5-to-1 from June 4, 1996. Most people have a ratio of 1-to-1. Prior to 2005, any ratio above 6.0-to-1 was considered abnormally high and evidence of doping; in 2005 that ratio was lowered to 4.0-to-1.”
  • Lance tested positive for Cortisone during the ’99 Tour, however a backdated TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) notice was provided.
I tip my hat to the individuals who took the time to analyze these claims. I've often thought his statements that "he has never had a positive test" were pretty weak and they show that these statements are essentially lies. To give him the benefit of the doubt, these statements remind me of President Clinton's statement that he wasn't lying with regard to Monica Lewinsky based on his statement that "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is." Well, Mr. President, maybe you think you can re-define a word  as basic as "is" but I, personally, don't think Lance Armstrong has reached that status in society. 

The bottom line of all this is it looks like the 500-600 tests claim is also a serious exaggeration, if not a lie. Maybe Lance will refute this with his data but I wouldn't hold my breath. I won't be surprised if he tries to re-define some words he used though but only if someone calls him on it...


*UPDATE: A reader has informed us that some non-US agencies under the UCI's jurisdiction did perform out-of-competition testing during the referenced time period.  However, we are unsure whether or not USADA performed such testing during that period.  While those who performed the analysis we have referenced in this post may have understated their estimate of the number of times Lance was tested as a result, this potential discrepancy is very unlikely to account for the gap between the author's estimate and some of Lance's more extreme claims.


  1. Given the positive tests that you refer to, I don't understand why he has never been previously charged with doping. Wasn't there also something about a suspicious A sample in '99, but the B sample was "mishandled" so it had to be thrown out?

  2. Steve, yes, the 1999 samples were overturned on a technicality. The point is that he did have positive tests. The rules allowed him to avoid any consequences of those tests but it's clearly at least incomplete to say he never once tested positive. Here is a link to more information on the 1999 tests showing he used EPO:

  3. Allowing a back dated TUE was a violation of the rules. Armstrong should have been thrown out of that Tour.

  4. And the Tour de Suisse positive.

    1. Yes. I'm guessing that one was left off since it's subject to argument by Lance and his supporters. The others, not so much...

  5. My frustration is in how Lance has been able to maintain such a squeaky clean persona all these years irrespective of objective tests like the '99 samples. I never cared for the guy...pre or post cancer. Anyone who paid close attention could tell he lacked any moral compass. Yet the cycling media saw an opportunity to contrive for us the story of a "hero" that would bring millions of cycling outsiders (and their money) to the industry. So, I can't help but wonder if Lance was systematically protected from the top in order to perpetuate the story and milk it for all it was worth. That may be too much of a conspiracy theory for some, but as we become less descriminating (as in incapable of using our power of reason) of a people, and more desperate for "heroes" we pretty much set ourselves up for this stuff. \rant