OPINION: If anyone still doubts the guilt of Lance Armstrong for the range of doping offences levelled at him by the US Anti-Doping Agency, a read of the findings from the investigation that led to the guilty verdict should silence them.
Little more than a month ago, in explaining my approach to impartiality on the case, I wrote I wanted to read with my own eyes the evidence USADA had against Armstrong and the others charged.
I also said if such evidence proved doping took place, I would admit I got it wrong by taking a cautious approach. I also recognised things could have been made clearer sooner, had I and others in the cycling media pursued allegations of doping against Armstrong more vigorously.
Today, I stand by that pledge and openly say: ''I got it wrong.'' In fact, it was a reality that became as clear as a spring dawn while reading the recently released book The Secret Race by former Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton and co-author Dan Coyle. It outlined the extent of doping abuse by Hamilton, Armstrong and others in so much detail, it not only gave weight to its case but also to the accusations that have followed Armstrong since the first of his seven Tour de France ''wins'', that have since been stripped from him.
But the release by USADA of its 202-page ''reasoned decision'' into its findings - that totals more than 1000 pages and includes the testimonies of 26 witnesses - only reinforces what I believe is the stark truth, and backs up the agency's decision to not just rub out all of his results since 1998, but also ban him for life.
Adding weight to the report that has been received by the UCI - as a supporting statement from USADA chief executive Travis Tygart says - is evidence that includes financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results.
As to where the sport heads now, it is probably too early to say as all parties focus on absorbing USADA's report and prepare for the consequences, which are more than likely to affect so many others - the riders, teams, owners, sponsors, race organisers, the UCI and media, who (but for the brave few) had a role in propping up the fallacy of someone who didn't even defend himself against the charges. The fans have every right to feel angry and cheated.
In the meantime, the cycling world must wait for the UCI to respond to the report. In a statement, the cycling union said it ''will examine all information received in order to consider issues of appeal and recognition, jurisdiction and statute of limitation, within the term of appeal of 21 days, as required by the world anti-doping code''. It also said it ''will endeavour to provide a timely response and not to delay matters any longer than necessary''.
There has been talk of a truth and reconciliation commission - an idea that would allow all parties to declare the errors of their past and/or knowledge of how deep the problem of doping extends. In turn, they would reveal the harsh realities of what must be done to clean up the sport.
While there are cases for and against, what is clear is the ''truth'' must now be the reality.
It might be too early to talk of ''reconciliation'' so close to the public release of the corroborated evidence, when emotions are running high and as three of the five on USADA's charge sheet, including Armstrong, are yet to have their cases heard.
What is sure is these are watershed times for cycling - if not for all sport. And whatever the fallout, the opportunity must be seized to ensure cycling is cleaned up once and for all.
It is also time for those who have erred in judgments (myself included) to show they want to remain in the sport. If, of course, the sport wants them to.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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