Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cycling faces steep climb after Lance's disgrace

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So it's come to this, for those still inclined to give Lance Armstrong the benefit of every doubt in his long fight against doping charges:

Either you accept the damning findings of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which says in a new report Armstrong was at the heart of "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sports has ever seen." And you accept the sworn, detailed testimony of no fewer than 11 of his former teammates that the most dominant cyclist of his generation participated in and masterminded doping over a decade.

Or you can go along with Armstrong, who through his lawyers maintains that the report is a "one-sided hatchet job." You can continue to see it as the latest chapter in a vendetta against a seven-time Tour de France champion carried out by those jealous of his success and determined to bring him down by weaving an elaborate web of lies.

In other words, Armstrong is left demanding of the world: Do you believe me or your own lying eyes?

This is a tragedy, not just because yet one more sports icon joins the long list of discredited heroes. Armstrong's journey back from cancer to the pinnacle of world cycling earned him much more than riches and fame. It won him enormous respect -- even love -- beyond what any sporting achievement could bring. It also, to his enduring credit, allowed him to raise half a billion dollars to fight cancer.

It's long past the point where Armstrong could fess up and salvage something of this mess. He's done. But professional cycling has hardly begun to face up to the scandal. The USADA report makes clear how extensive were the doping schemes Armstrong was involved in. "Mr. Armstrong did not act alone," it says. "He acted with the help of a small army of enablers, including doping doctors, drug smugglers, and others within and outside the sport and on his team." There's also evidence Armstrong and his U.S. Postal Service team benefited from inside information about when and how testing would be done.

Armstrong's defenders cite the extent of cheating in cycling as the last-ditch argument in mitigation of his misdeeds. Everyone was doing it, they say, so Lance had no choice if he wanted to win. That, of course, only further blackens the reputation of cycling as a whole. The sport has a very steep hill to climb if it truly wants to win back respect.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2012 A15

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