FOR those who had aired doubts about the legitimacy of Lance Armstrong's success, it is tempting to say, ''I told you so''. To wonder what those Armstrong supporters who flooded our inboxes - sometimes with foul invective - think now. To ask if their brains have finally caught up with the peloton of truth.
So convincing is the evidence released by the US Anti-Doping Agency, surely only those who stay up on Christmas night hoping Santa will bring a new Malvern Star down the chimney retain any doubt Armstrong's seven Tour de France ''victories'' were tainted. That the compelling story of the cancer-stricken champion rising from his bed to conquer the world is a fractured fairytale. Discredited by the illegal drugs and blood transfusions systematically administered by Armstrong and his cohorts.
But, thumbing the lowlights of USADA's 200-page report, there is no more joy to be found. Only murky detail. Such as the money trail leading to the aptly named Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, whose peddling of illicit substances, it is claimed, was instrumental to the incredible way Armstrong pedalled a pushbike.
Denial... Lance Armstrong. Photo: Reuters
USADA boasts it has exposed ''the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program the sport has ever seen''. Perhaps. But such hyperbole plays into the hands of the dwindling band of true believers clinging to the now unfathomable belief their hero is the victim of a bureaucratic witch-hunt.
In the latest desperate act of denial, Armstrong's attorney, Tim Herman, launched a pre-emptive strike before the USADA evidence was released, describing the case as ''a one-sided hatchet job - a taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories''.
Of course, pressure would have been brought to bear on witnesses, such as George Hincapie, the US Postal Service team lieutenant who admitted his guilt while implicating Armstrong. Just as prosecutors in any investigation exert the full weight of their powers. But 25 witnesses colluding in a conspiracy to lay the blame on Armstrong? What would they have to gain if the strongest drug Armstrong had taken in the Alps was a headache tablet?
Inevitably, the more a cheat pushes back against the accusations, the greater the humiliation if they are proven. Armstrong and his lawyers have used every club in the bag. They have claimed victimisation - including by French journalists supposedly jealous of American success. They have belittled government agencies and branded their accusers liars. Most shamefully, Armstrong has used his cancer charity, and his own story of cancer survival, to confuse the naive and the slavishly devoted who fail to distinguish the drug cheat from the great benefactor.
Now the time has come for Armstrong to own up. He should have faced the music when his seven Tour titles were taken away. Then, you might still have considered his human frailty. Now Armstrong would be considered a man only willing to tell the truth when clubbed over the head with 1000 pages of sworn testimony.
As USADA head Travis Tygart said, the 15 cyclists who provided sworn statements have the chance to be ''forgiven and embraced''. ''Lance Armstrong was given the same opportunity to come forward and be part of the solution. He rejected it.''
If there is a public admission, don't expect it to reek of sincerity. As the likes of Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Alan Jones have demonstrated, in the celebrity age you get plenty of mea, but rarely much culpa, when prominent people are forced to say sorry.
Coincidentally, this week, the spring carnival's main events begin. Over the new few weeks we will admire, and even ascribe human qualities, to the grandiosely titled ''equine athletes''. But, should it be revealed the Melbourne Cup winner was fuelled by something other than hay, at least we will know the competitor was not complicit.
As for Armstrong, the USADA report provides the gruesome bottom line. ''Armstrong and his co-conspirators sought to achieve their ambitions through a massive fraud now more fully exposed. So ends one of the most sordid chapters in sports history.''