Lance Armstrong will be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. Watching him win those races was exciting, and I had always hoped that the investigations regarding the doping allegations would come to a conclusion. Certainly, the allegations are still alleged, as there has never been a positive test and Lance has not confessed (in fact, he has merely refused to fight the allegations). But I digress.
There has been some discussion on how to award his Tour de France titles to other cyclists (more here). Here are my thoughts that are most definitely influenced by operations research.
1. An athlete’s strategy depends on the strategies of their opponents. If the doping cyclists did not compete, it would have been an entirely different race. The fastest non-doping cyclist would not necessarily win a race with only non-doping cyclists. Therefore, without Lance as an opponent, perhaps the sixth place finisher could have won with a more conservative cycling strategy. Lance won his races with different margins, and he had to come from behind in several of the Tours. However, many of the leading cyclists in the Tours were tainted with doping, so I suspect that widespread doping affected the non-doping cyclists’ strategies.
In diving, for example, one may change the selection of dives based on what they anticipate their opponents’ scores would be (see my blog post here). A diver may go big or go home, having a poor finish in an attempt to medal against super-human opponent. Without the superhuman opponent, they might make a more conservative strategy that would make a second place finish more likely.
2. Cycling is doubly challenging because cyclists are on a team, yet there is an individual winner. The team members (as part of the peloton) shield their team leader from wind, etc. That is, all of the teammates are sacrificed for the one member to have a chance at winning. What if the team leader is not doping but his teammates dope? That cyclist would have received an unfair advantage even if he did not personally engage in doping. This is a gray area.
3. In other competitions, second place athletes have refused a title/win after the first place athlete was stripped of their title. Reggie Bush being stripped of his Heisman trophy comes to mind. Vince Young, the second place athlete, was not offered the Heisman and publicly stated that he would not have accepted it. This is notable, since Vince Young almost certainly would not have competed any differently had Reggie Bush not been in the Heisman competition (concern #1), and therefore, Vince Young would have won if Reggie Bush had not competed. Yet Heisman Trust simply decided to vacate the award for 2005. In cycling, where the second place winner would not necessarily have won in a race without the alleged dopers, there is even more reason to vacate the Lance’s titles from 1999-2005.
4. My above arguments assume that we know the truth about who has doped and who hasn’t. This is a dubious assumption. If you are curious about unpacking the mystery, I recommend watching the 60 Minutes interview of Tyler Hamilton (one of Lance Armstrong’s teammates and accusers makes a compelling case against Lance) and Sally Jenkins’ latest Washington post article. Sally Jenkins does an excellent job of explaining why the alleged doping is just that: alleged. Alberto Contador was banned for two years after a substance was in his blood that was “too small to have been performance-enhancing and that its ingestion was almost certainly unintentional.” He was found guilty because “There is no reason to exonerate the athlete so the ban is two years.” Making decisions under uncertainly–naming new Tour winners from 1999-2005–is fraught with peril. There is no physical evidence of some of the accused, and there is so much that we do not know about who is innocent and guilty of their charges. Even if there was some reasonable way to address my concerns #1 and #2 about strategy in the presence of some dopers, I cannot imagine the newly named winners would be deserving.
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