So, Lance cheated; tell us something we don't already know

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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Lance Armstrong's game is finally up, if you believe Tyler Hamilton's words to Scott Pelley of CBS that he saw Armstrong fire up EPO before his first Tour de France victory in 1999.

Then again, America has been off the Lance Armstrong boil for quite awhile now, and barring a pending court case a la Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, it's going to stay that way.

Without government intervention, Lance Armstrong will continue to fade from public view. (Getty Images)  
Without government intervention, Lance Armstrong will continue to fade from public view. (Getty Images)  
It is hard to construct a plausible defense for Armstrong at this point based on the sheer weight of circumstantial evidence. I mean, the best rider in the history of a sport soaked in performance enhancing drugs was the only clean one? Really? And his own claim, that he never tested positive, is really only a condemnation of the system in cycling at the time, which was, "How's your blood and urine, sport? Good? OK. Pedal hard and we'll see you at the finish line in a month."

Armstrong says he wasn't caught? The same as never having done it? Nobody who sailed through fourth grade isn't going to see the massive distinction in those two positions.

But Hamilton also says Armstrong told him he failed one test in 2001, and didn't miss a stroke. If that's true, then we have an implausible defense undone by a lie.

And ... waiting for that second shoe ... nope, not yet.

The second shoe, of course, being Armstrong being brought to court and going through the full Bonds-Clemens public shame-a-thon. Barring that, Armstrong remains what he is now -- a widely disbelieved champion living in a limbo of nobody much giving a damn about cycling.

Now to those who do, and find these claims from Hamilton either outrageous or crushing, well, welcome to where most people have been on this subject. Armstrong won the hardest bicycle race in the world over and over and over again. All the other champions in the sport (give or take) have been caught doping to excel. So most folks have done the math.

One, plus one, equals two. And if you're not there yet, take your time, review your work. We have other stuff to do, but we'll be around if you need us.

Armstrong has become rather an irrelevance as time has gone on. He was a household name for awhile, and had books and television shows of great praise written about his heroic struggles against cancer, the cycling establishment and the topography of Europe.

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But as baseball went through its drugs catharsis (which by the way it is trying now to advertise as a raving daily success, even though we know better), the illogic in the Armstrong position was displayed by any number of ballplayers who claimed "They didn't catch me" as the same as "I never did it."

And now Armstrong is a fairly invisible figure, just radioactive enough to be ignored without actually being shamed. That might have happened anyway, given that he excelled at a sport which most Americans equate with "you'll be late for school; hurry up."

That is probably his only escape from the opprobrium of the Bonds and Clemens issues. His denials were as flimsy as theirs. In fact, his denials come closer to Clemens' defiance as Bonds' of gullibility. But the lapse of time and the general disinterest in post-Armstrong-Tour-de-France cycling will likely be his path to escaping greater wrath and scorn.

In short, America will look at Armstrong and take one the following stances:

1. "Of course he cheated. How he could he not? The sport is nuts."
2. "Of course he cheated. So did everybody else."
3. "Of course he cheated. But he cheated for our team, and that's OK."
4. "Of course he cheated, and he's a pretty brutal liar."
5. "Of course he cheated, and why didn't the government go chasing after him?"
6. "Of course he cheated. And I never liked him anyway."
7. "Lance Armstrong? Is he still around?"

None of these are appealing paths in retirement -- scorn, misplaced pity or utter disinterest. That leaves only late-night infomercials for juicers and knife sets or a life in public service for him.

On the other hand, it isn't jail time, and we await developments from the government there. Our guess: They won't touch it. Then again, we've been wrong about how the government works before.

Armstrong, though? We all pretty much got that one awhile back. Tyler Hamilton's admissions certainly do him no favors, but they mostly reinforce what we have come to believe on Armstrong.

He did it. So did everyone else. The sport was filthy. We stopped caring. He's no hero. And he's out of our faces.

Not exactly a happy ending. And not exactly a gauntlet of public outrage, either.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com

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