A week on from the publication of USADA's reasoned decision and supporting evidence for imposing a lifetime ban on Lance Armstrong and removing his seven Tour de France wins from the record books, things are not getting any easier for the Texan. After initially supporting the cyclist, sports giant Nike has now withdrawn its sponsorship. On the same day, Armstrong has stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation that he was so instrumental in setting up.
It is clear that for both these organisations, the name of Lance Armstrong has now been deemed to do more harm than good... one can't help wondering how long Trek and Oakley will continue to believe the opposite.
So is there anything Armstrong can do to recover his reputation? Even confessing now would be far too little, far too late. The evidence contained in USADA's report and the supporting affidavits is not of a cyclist coerced into doping in order to keep up in a then-rotten sport. Instead, we have been given clear evidence that this was a man who was actively making the sport more rotten. Always chasing the latest illegal advantage, paranoid, as former team-mate Tyler Hamilton explains in The Secret Race, that all his rivals were pushing the same boundaries.
We are presented with a man who - along with team manager Johan Bruyneel - bullied new, young team-mates into getting on to the program or kissing goodbye to their childhood dreams. EPO, testosterone, growth hormones, corticoids, blood transfusions... no step was a step too far for what USADA called "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."
For the other riders who took part, there might still be hope. Daniel Friebe argues the case in our latest issue for some form of community service for the likes of George Hincapie and Michael Barry, whose retirements will otherwise see them avoid any kind of penalty for their cheating. Levi Leipheimer is at least facing up to the consequences of his actions, having got the sack from his current Omega Pharma-QuickStep team.
We are at a potential watershed moment for professional cycling, and if the sport does not seize this latest chance to confront the demons of its past and attempt to prevent their emergence in its future then it may not have much of a future. An education program in which the sinners of the past explain their experiences to the riders of today and tomorrow, in the hope of steering them down a different path, would be a good start. And as Daniel argues in his piece, these riders should not sit around waiting for someone to ask them, they should actively seek to take part.
It is the least they can do to repay a sport that rewarded them handsomely while they were tearing away at the very principles of fair competition.
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