THE decision by the US Anti-Doping Agency to release details of the evidence against seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was overdue, considering they had already banned him for life.
Testimony from 11 former team mates to the scale of his cheating left no room for doubt.
USADA says it amounts to "conclusive and undeniable proof" of the Texan's guilt. The detail runs to 200 pages on their website which claims Armstrong's US Postal team operated, "the most sophisticated, professionalised, and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".
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It tells of perjury, false statements under oath, a medical team hired to run the programme, and an early warning system on tests. The catalogue includes evidence of a fridge in the rider's bedroom (a repository for blood), and of his team bus stopping to bury drugs. What remains of road cycling's crumbling reputation remains at the mercy of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), whose governance has often appeared questionable and less than impartial.
They have 21 days to respond: either formally strip Armstrong of his titles, or challenge USADA's findings at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
A key issue is whether the UCI and others may have been complicit. History is not encouraging. They need only look at another American sports body, USA Track and Field, and allegations surrounding such as Carl Lewis and the biggest recent female icon, multiple world and Olympic champion Marion Jones. There was a cover-up involving Lewis prior to the 1988 Olympics, while Jones passed 167 tests without a blemish. That she was jailed, convicted of cheating, and stripped of her medals, is not thanks to US athletics authorities or anti-doping, but because she lied to federal investigators.
Armstrong repeatedly points to his battery of clear tests (more than 200 by the UCI, it's claimed). USADA now say he failed three. It's "only" sport, of course, and Armstrong's conduct (far less its consequences) hardly compare with the scandalous details emerging round another iconic figure, the late and increasing unlamented Sir Jimmy Savile. His behaviour has blighted and destroyed lives to a far greater degree.
Yet we would venture comparisons. Both were in the pantheon of their respective fields, behind a facade of charity work until the carapace of respectability was peeled away. This helped make them untouchable. Those who heard the accusations and who should have acted more rigorously chose not to. Those who dared accuse were intimidated, ridiculed and ostracised. The pair's status placed them above suspicion. Dare we suggest that too many vested interests compromised those with the power to investigate claims?
It takes a certain style to carry off monstrous confidence tricks. To succeed at the highest level, requires phenomenal self-belief. One observes it in many champions. Success feeds the sportsman's belief that they can achieve anything, no matter the odds, and helps them become even more formidable. Yet this can be dangerous, driving competitors past their sell-by date. So, imagine, then, a talented endurance cyclist, but one for whom ultimate success had as yet eluded him. One whose days appeared numbered when diagnosed with cancer, yet then recovered. Might use of banned substances have contributed to Armstrong's cancer in the first place? We may never discover.
Sometimes, I barely know my own mind, so fathoming that of Armstrong is at best speculation. Yet it seems reasonable to consider survival may even have fuelled his self-believe and arrogance as he established a doping programme costing more than $1m in 10 years, according to USADA.
The omerta of the peleton, and bullying of Armstrong's colleagues, has finally been exposed. Yet it is not as if doping was new to the UCI. It's 22 years since former rider Paul Kimmage quit the saddle. When he exposed the truth, confessing personal involvement and shame in his book, Rough Ride, former colleagues said he had "spat in the soup", and ostracised him. Like Scotland's David Millar, he became a persuasive anti-doping campaigner.
Kimmage was critical of Hein Verbruggen, and recently tweeted an alleged threat the former UCI president once made, to the effect that he was capable of having Kimmage test positive whenever he wished.Verbruggen and his successor, Irishman Pat McQuaid, are now suing Kimmage for previously published articles which alleged complicity in doping and covering up an Armstrong positive.
Kimmage claims it's an attempt to gag him. In which context it's notable that the UCI pair have not pursued any publication which carried Kimmage's allegations. Yet the cycling community has rallied round, raising some $50,000 for Kimmage's defence fund.
Scotland's Commonwealth champion, Millar, recently interviewed McQuaid while covering the World Road Championships for the BBC. He challenged McQuaid on doping: "Don't you think you're sending a wrong message, when you said the UCI has nothing to be apologetic for?"
McQuaid responded that they were not responsible for the doping culture, and that they conduct more tests than anyone else. So many cheats, yet no positives? Inefficiency? Incompetence? Collusion? We may never know. Yet Millar had already revealed the reality of McQuaid's concern about doping in his autobiography. On his return from suspension he wrote personally to McQuaid about suspicions over cheating at his new team. He never received a reply.
The UCI has not covered itself in glory. They vilified Scottish rider Graeme Obree and ruled his bike and technique which claimed the world one-hour record was outwith the rules. They also removed Chris Hoy's gold medal event – the iconic kilometre – from the Beijing Olympic programme to include BMX. There were allegations that this owed something to the number of BMX bikes manufactured in the host country.
The lack of transparency and accountability at the UCI should surely end in McQuaid being ousted as president next year. Or better still, his immediate resignation. And the UCI stripping Armstrong of every honour.