Armstrong's story still far from over
When the news broke last week that the American authorities were ending their 20-month investigation of Lance Armstrong and his former teams, the initial reaction was that this finally answered all the questions surrounding the great cyclist.
Far from it. For one thing the United States Anti-Doping Agency are continuing their investigation into Armstrong and say they're hoping to get hold of the information turned up by the federal probe. And World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman went so far as to say that "the data and evidence that has been gathered will reveal a lot of information that indicates doping offences . . . now that the US attorney had stopped doing his job, all that evidence should be handed over to the anti-doping authorities to pursue it."
You can understand why many people want a line to be drawn under the Armstrong investigation. His Tour de France heroics aside, the story of the man's recovery from cancer is an inspirational one which has given hope to many other victims of the disease. Lance Armstrong, for some, is not so much a sportsman as a secular saint.
Should he prove to be a cheat, the unmasking will be a painful experience for those who've invested so much faith in his story.
Hence the obvious relief when the end of the federal investigation was announced. We seemed to have reached a "move on, nothing to see here" moment. Didn't the fact that the US Attorney's office admitted defeat prove there was no case to answer?
It might not be as simple as all that. There had been criticism of not just the Armstrong investigation but of those into steroid-using baseball stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and ESPN.com's cycling expert Bonnie Ford noted last week that "critics of all three investigations focused on the government's financial outlay in tough economic times and questioned law enforcement priorities.
There is little doubt that if Armstrong had been indicted and brought to trial, federal authorities would have faced a years-long, extremely costly legal battle against a stacked legal team and a defendant who retains a devoted constituency despite years of persistent questions about his character." The authorities, on this reading, may just have decided that proceeding with the investigation was too much hassle.
The striking thing about the investigations is that no fewer than four of his ex-team-mates, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Stephen Swart and Frankie Andreu, say that Armstrong took illegal drugs. And George Hincapie, his key domestique during his Tour de France victories, is alleged to have made the same claim to the federal authorities.
If Lance Armstrong was drug-free throughout his career, then no innocent sportsman has ever been more severely traduced. In fact, the amount of evidence against him, if it's untrue, would point to some kind of organised conspiracy.
Make up your own mind. I know I have.
Sunday Indo Sport