Finally, Lance Armstrong has admitted using performance enhancing drugs in his remarkable feat of winning seven Tour de France races before retiring. He made the admission in an interview with Oprah Winfrey to air Thursday and Friday on her network, whose survival is as threatened as Armstrong’s reputation as a straight shooter. After a decade-plus of vehemently denying using drugs, Armstrong coming clean hardly undoes the damage he’s done to his reputation and, possibly, to the sport (if one can call the Tour de France a “sport” rather than a tradition). After surviving the usually fatal testicular cancer, he insisted he would never put foreign substances in his bloodstream that might reintroduce cancer to his system. That seemed so logical, that to think otherwise defied common sense. But it was a lie. What is true about Armstrong’s racing career is that no cyclist — perhaps no athlete in the history of sport — has undergone so many tests for doping (some 500 of them) with no evidence of drug usage. Now that his usage has been confirmed, the explanation is that his use of drugs was so advanced, so sophisticated, that detection methods never caught up. That sounds suspiciously like a cop-out — of fabricating an explanation after the fact. Regardless, he is now guilty of using drugs in his races. Despite hurt feelings of those who believed Armstrong and now feel betrayed, there has never been a cyclist of his talent, stamina, perseverance. What should be remembered is that the Tour de France and cycling are notorious for doping. Over the years that Armstrong was winning the Tour de France, virtually every cyclist who mounted the podium after the race has tested positive for steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. A case can be made that one cannot become a world-class cyclist without help from drugs. Those who deny such usage risk falling into the trap Armstrong inadvertently built for himself. Yes, he’s lost his medals, his record has been expunged, but what cannot be changed or denied is that he was by far the greatest cyclist of his time. Perhaps ever. In a sport where so many of the good ones were doping, Armstrong was competing on a field that was more or less level. No one was in his category. We can look at other sports — baseball’s Roger Clemens (another denier), Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, even the Yankee’s A-Rod for a time. They stood out among others who were on the juice. Ben Johnson — fastest sprinter in the world in 1988 until he was caught using steroids and lost his Olympic gold medal to Carl Lewis. Where is the justice in that? In fact, there are some who believe that most runners who make the finals in the Olympic 100-metre sprint are on some medication. But believing something is a far cry from proving it. It seems that years of denying wore Armstrong down: He cheated. The stellar work he’s done on behalf of cancer, his raising of awareness of the disease, his inspiring, personal example of fighting cancer and not letting it conquer him, fade with the admission of his deceit. He’s now something of a pariah. Perhaps deservedly so. But he’s still the greatest cyclist who ever lived. That cannot be denied. -By Peter Worthington
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