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- American cyclist
Lance Armstrong's final escape route was closed to him on Monday, with his complete fall from sporting grace confirmed by the international chiefs of his own sport.
The UCI, cycling's world governing body, upheld the findings of a thorough and damning report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency that accused Armstrong of masterminding a doping strategy that involved prohibited drugs, blood transfusions and elaborate schemes to fool testing authorities.
At a media conference Monday, cycling leaders revealed the 41-year-old will be banned from competitive cycling for life and stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he won between 1999 and 2005, leaving the Texan no more outs except perhaps disclosure of the long-awaited complete story.
"This is the biggest crisis cycling has ever faced," said UCI president Pat McQuaid. "This was an enormous, sophisticated cheating program."
Monday's events seemed to be the last piece in the puzzle, as there had been some doubt as to whether the much-criticized UCI would finally turn its back on Armstrong and reverse its long-standing support of him.
McQuaid dismissed claims in the USADA report that Armstrong had bribed the UCI to ignore a positive test back in 2001, but he was otherwise steadfast in his condemnation of actions that have further tarnished the sport's already-troubled image.
While cycling faces an uphill battle to restore its credibility, that fight has already been lost for Armstrong, with the crumbling of the reputation of a man who created cycling history and inspired millions with his recovery from cancer now complete.
Though the reception he received at an event over the weekend in Austin, Texas, for his Livestrong charity proved many still appreciate his fight against the insidious disease, his sponsors have deserted him like rats fleeing a sinking ship and untold fans feel cheated by evidence that his extraordinary athletic exploits were fueled by malfeasance.
The only option left that could tilt some public sympathy back in his favor would be to come clean – to admit that just like the now-ironic title of his autobiography, "It's Not About the Bike," it was the substances and medical processes that propelled him to those famous triumphs on the roads of France.
If coming clean was never an option for Armstrong before, because there was simply too much to lose, perhaps it is now. Because it all seems to be either gone or going: all the titles, all those endorsement contracts, and his once-pristine name.
The truth might not set him free from the inevitable spiral from greatness to affirmed cheat, but it would be something that could earn him a measure of respect at the end of a sordid saga.
Just like the Tour de France has opted not to reallocate Armstrong's titles to another rider, instead leaving the record books blank for those years, there have been no winners from all this, and plenty of losers.
Cycling has lost, consumed by its own failure to effectively combat a culture of doping that grew out of all proportion and ensured that finding and affording the right corrupt doctor – and not athletic ability – was the most important attribute for a Tour de France competitor.
So many who believed in Armstrong and his fairytale story, one that seemed so uplifting and heroic, have lost too, deceived by the duplicity of his actions and his words. Armstrong was so adamant with those words, so vehement in his accusations against those who doubted him, so steadfast in his assertions that he had never, would never, could never cheat, that it seemed impossible that this was all a giant smokescreen.
Yet that is exactly what is was, one that took more than a decade of tireless efforts of anti-doping authorities, pioneering work from a tiny minority of journalists who refused to be silenced even by legal threats, confessions from 11 of Armstrong's former teammates and now the UCI's ultimate coup de grace, to bring down.
Monday's events mean that this story is close to having run its course, a defining step at the end of a tale that has unraveled to expose extraordinary details of wrongdoing behind what was once considered an extraordinary tale of human achievement.
All that is left is for Armstrong now is to reveal all, to tell the world what, how and why he fooled so many for so long. But for an athlete for whom denial and deceit has seemingly become second nature, such a reversal must be considered unlikely.
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