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Doug Robinson: Lance Armstrong's repeated denials have turned into a bumpy ride

Published: Tuesday, July 10 2012 8:52 p.m. MDT

How many cyclists does it take to convict Lance Armstrong of doping?

Apparently, the peloton isn't enough.

Is there anyone left among Armstrong's rivals who hasn't accused Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs? And yet The Case Against Lance Armstrong drags on, now about eight years old. Catching him on doping charges has been more difficult than catching him in the Pyrenees.

In case you haven't noticed, Armstrong is facing drug accusations. Again.

This thing has had more reruns than Seinfeld. Given the consistency of the accusations and the persistence of drug and sport officials, a certain inevitably has settled over the case. Maybe Bonds and Clemens got away, but the authorities are going to get this guy. It's starting to feel like the O.J. Simpson case — you know he did it, but can they convict him?

To believe that Armstrong did NOT use PEDs strains credibility at this point. First you have to believe that a vast and distinguished collection of cyclists has agreed to lie about Armstrong's drug use. Second, you have to believe that not only did Armstrong defeat the world's best cyclists in the Tour de France for seven straight years, he did it while many of them had the considerable advantage of a drug aid while he himself was clean.

All this smoke and no fire? All this manure and no cow? Hmmm.

The sport is rife with PED use, which makes it all the more difficult to believe Armstrong alone was clean while dominating the sport. Since 1995, only two Tour de France races have been won by cyclists who have not faced drug charges. According to an incomplete list on Wikipedia, there were 44 drug-related cases in cycling in 2006 alone.

Now comes the latest attack in The Case Against Lance Armstrong. USADA — the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency — is hitting Armstrong where it hurts: They are attempting to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles. Imagine the Patriots or the Celtics being stripped of their world championships and you get an idea of what this means to international sport. Armstrong is Michael Jordan in cycling.

There is precedent. Alberto Contador and Floyd Landis were stripped of their Tour de France titles for 2010 and 2006, respectively, but they flunked drug tests. Armstrong has not flunked a test, or not anything that has been accepted as official. Then again, sprinter Marion Jones never flunked a test, either, and she took 160 of them.

How many more accusations can Armstrong and his lawyers fend off or dismiss with threats and denials. According to news reports, USADA will present the next wave of accusations. The drug agency has collected four cyclists to testify against Armstrong — George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, Utah native David Zabriskie and former Utah resident Levi Leipheimer — in exchange for a six-month suspension for their own PED use.

Armstrong has needed all of his determination and famed endurance to last this long. and he shows no signs of weakening. The case has been building for years. To wit:

In 2004, Pierre Ballester and David Walsh wrote L.A. Confidential — Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong. Emma O'Reilly, Armstrong's former masseuse, said Armstrong asked her to dispose of used syringes and provide makeup to hide needle marks on his arms. Among the book's revelations: Cyclist Steve Swart claims Armstrong began using drugs in 1995. When the accusations were reprinted in The Sunday Times, Armstrong sued for libel and won an out-of-court settlement.

In 2005, Mike Anderson, who had been fired as Armstrong's personal assistant, claimed he discovered androstenone while cleaning Armstrong's apartment. "Andro" is a precursor to steroids and does essentially the same thing (the drug of choice for Mark McGwire). Armstrong sued and the men settled out of court.

In 2005, the French newspaper L'Equipe published a front-page story entitled "The Armstrong Lie," shortly after the American had claimed his seventh victory. The newspaper reported that urine samples taken during the 1999 Tour race were retested and turned up positive. As always, Armstrong repeated denied the charges. Three years later, he refused an offer to retest samples taken during the 1998 and 1999 tours, claiming they had not been maintained correctly.

In 2006, the French newspaper Le Monde reported that Frankie Andreu, a former Armstrong teammate, and his wife Betsy claimed that Armstrong admitted the use of PEDs to his doctor following brain surgery for cancer in 1996. This was followed by a Los Angeles Times report with more damning evidence against Armstrong.

In 2010, Landis, another former Armstrong teammate, said he saw Armstrong receive blood transfusions (as part of the EPO procedure) and hand out testosterone patches to teammates.

In 2011, Tyler Hamilton, still another former Armstrong teammate, told CBS that he had taken EPO with Armstrong during three of the Tour de France races.

After U.S. prosecutors dropped their investigation last winter, USADA continued to pursue Armstrong. Armstrong filed a lawsuit against USADA that was immediately dismissed. Armstrong's attorneys are expected to re-file the suit.

In other words, Armstrong is still peddling furiously, but the peloton is in hot pursuit.

email: drob@desnews.com

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