ANALYSIS

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Lance Armstrong hit with new doping charges

US cycling legend Lance Armstrong could lose his Tour de France titles after being charged with doping by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

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There are those who are celebrating the news. And those who are bitterly angry about it having even got this far. Either way, the announcement that seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong faces doping charges by the US Anti-Doping Agency means that at long last the issue of whether he was a clean rider or not - one that has hovered over the sport way past his Retirement No. 1 in 2005 and Retirement No. 2 in 2011 - should once and for all be resolved.

The Texan has denied the allegations and in a statement called USADA's charges a "vendetta".

That Armstrong is the benchmark of success in the sport's biggest race - the Tour - with his seven wins is one reason alone that the case must be investigated and heard. 

“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one,” Armstrong said.

Drug charges ... Lance Armstrong exits an anti-doping control bus during the Tour de France

Drug charges ... Lance Armstrong exits an anti-doping control bus during the Tour de France Photo: AP

“That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence. Any fair consideration of these allegations has and will continue to vindicate me.”

But, like it or not, this issue has been the elephant in the room for cycling. And as much as the sport may claim that it has made inroads into the fight against doping, until all the evidence from Armstrong and his accusers is laid bare and judged, cycling will never be able to move on.

Why does so much hinge on the innocence or guilt of one person when so many others have engaged in doping? Notwithstanding the case involves far, far more than one person, there is arguably no rider - past or present - who has had such an influence on the sport, transforming it from being the European-centric sport it traditionally was into the globally recognised sport that it is today.

That Armstrong is the benchmark of success in the sport's biggest race - the Tour - with his seven wins is one reason alone that the case must be investigated and heard.

It should not be forgotten that stakeholders of the sport have benefited from such a historic feat for so long - from the Union Cycliste Internationale, race organisers, sponsors, media outlets and retailers. Armstrong's detractors believe that that gain has led many of those parties to be clouded in their judgment of him, while his supporters dismiss his accusers as being disgruntled former teammates and employees, or cynics who just simply refuse to believe his feats.

There are others who don't know what to believe and just want to live in the present and cast Armstrong and his feats into the closet of history and champion today's generation of riders.

But surely everyone - from disbelievers to believers and not-sure-what-to-believers - wants to know if his efforts in winning a record seven Tour win, is true?

The fact is that the accusations have been made, and the charges by USADA have been laid.

It is time for both parties to step up - USADA to prove its case and Armstrong to defend his.

While it will pain many - if not the sport - for the case to be heard and scrutinised, that a resolution awaits is surely something that we can all look forward to.

That USADA has taken the action should not be that much of a surprise, considering it made clear its intent to continue investigating the 1999 to 2005 Tour winner and his alleged activities after the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles suddenly closed the door on an investigation that lasted almost two years into doping allegations made against Armstrong.

In the charges, outlined in a 15-page charging letter obtained by The Washington Post, USADA has alleged that it had collected blood samples from Armstrong in 2009 and 2010 that were "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions”.

The letter, dated June 12, alleges that Armstrong, whose Tour successes came after he survived testicular cancer that he was diagnosed with in late 1996, used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents, and that he distributed and administered drugs to others.

The Washington Post says the letter also accuses, along with Armstrong, five former team associates — Italian physician Michele Ferrari, team manager Johan Bruyneel, trainer Jose Pepi Marti of Switzerland and doctors Pedro Celaya of Luxembourg and Luis Garcia del Moral of Spain - of being part of a “long running doping conspiracy” from 1998 to 2011; and that the letter says: “the witnesses to the conduct described in this letter include more than ten (10) cyclists ."

For Armstrong, who has been immediately suspended from competing in triathlons pending the USADA case's outcome, at stake is his seven Tour titles, sporting reputation and sponsorships; not to mention the damage it would cause to his own image as a cancer survivor and campaigner.

For USADA there is credibility; and for his accusers possibly the last chance to pitch their case.

For the sport, the damage will vary. There will be short-term hurt as the storm clouds of a doping controversy once more build over cycling - and once again as the Tour nears.

Over the next weeks and during the Tour, this will create doubts and uncertainty about the sport as the topic inevitably becomes part of the daily conversation - even though many in the generation who are racing now were not even in the peloton during the Armstrong era.

As for how great the long term damage will be, that depends on the final verdict.

Oh ... and that everyone agrees on that verdict too.

Twitter: @rupertguinness