Say it ain’t so, Lance. In fact, the world’s most famous bicycle racer has said that many times about allegations he took performance-enhancing drugs and otherwise cheated during his storied career, which included an incredible seven straight top finishes in the Tour de France.
“Incredible” appears to be the appropriate word here, literally, both for Armstrong’s championships and his claims of innocence. Although he still hasn’t admitted to cheating, he has decided to stop fighting the U.S. Anti-Doping Association’s case against him, which will result in a lifetime ban from the sport and forfeiture of those Tour titles.
Armstrong is a proud, defiant, stubborn man, never one to stop battling — not against cancer, which he overcame in the 1990s, not against competitors in a bike race, not against his doubters. He has answered any allegations of drug use with threats and lawsuits. It’s hard to believe he would give up the fight to save his reputation and titles now unless he believed his accusers had strong evidence, in the form of test results (he has repeatedly said in the past that he has never failed a drug test) and testimony from former teammates (and not just admitted cheats Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis).
And his accusers say they do — evidence of steroid use and blood doping and testimony from 10 former teammates in all, including the thoroughly believable George Hincapie, his closest confidant when he was racing.
Armstrong will still have his true believers, just as Hamilton and Landis did for the years they denied using performance-enhancing drugs even after testing positive. That made them not only cheats — which was understandable given the fact that professional cycling has been rife with doping for a long time, with riders thinking they were at a disadvantage if others were doing it and they weren’t — but, worse, liars.
However, it will now be much harder for those who doubted Armstrong but wanted to believe him — not just for his exploits on a bike but for the money he raised for cancer research, and the support and inspiration he gave to cancer victims — to do so. That’s sad, but better than self-delusion.