Video: The knockout blow Lance Armstrong refused to fight
If there was one thing on the problematic subject of Lance Armstrong about which we could all agree, it was that here was a man who would never knowingly be beaten, that here was sport's most indomitable fighter.
So when his statement came yesterday, it felt numbing in its weary, almost lame capitulation. "There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, 'enough is enough'," it read. "For me, that time is now."
Armstrong effectively turned his back on his growing band of significant accusers and the weight of evidence ready to bury him, and just said: "No mas".
Here was the old snarling aggressor, who had always given the impression that he would rather die than have anyone defiling his image, allowing the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) potentially to tear away his seven Tour de France triumphs with only a sigh of resignation.
Remarkable. This was not the Armstrong we know. Waving a white flag?
One can only conclude that an athlete as ferociously calculating about his public image as Armstrong felt it was the only option he had left. Because if he and his entourage of legal advisers had felt there was some way of successfully challenging the USADA as they had with the US Department of Justice, then of course the fight would have gone on.
Instead, they must have recognised that what otherwise awaited him in arbitration hearings were public accusations from 10 former team-mates which may have completely discredited him. It must have dawned that if they were going to tell the world how he not only took performance-enhancing drugs but was also one of the orchestrators of team doping, then it would have done incalculable damage to brand Armstrong.
And that would simply not do, because here was the most heroic brand of all, the fairytale weaver who KO'd cancer to make the greatest comeback in sport's history, the narrator of a story so amazing that the problem was that it felt almost impossible to disentangle his soaring achievements of raising $500m for the fight against cancer from the increasingly deflating evidence that his sporting achievements were too good to be true.
Now declaring, "I will no longer address this issue -- I will commit myself to serving people and families affected by cancer" seems a smart, deflecting move, trying to claim the moral high ground while suggesting he is being hounded by the USADA's "nonsense".
Well, let him prove again it is "nonsense" if that's what it is going to take. Let him disprove the USADA's evidence that he used banned substances and methods, as well as encouraging their use by team-mates. Let him disprove their contention that his blood tests from 2009 and 2010 were 'fully consistent' with blood doping. Let him face the accusers, the team-mates whose evidence he claims would already be discredited.
And if he doesn't? Then, belated as it may be for some, this really is the time to stop believing in Lance's fairytale. And all credit to those who, for a decade while having to run into the full power of the Armstrong image machine, never did believe.
The problem was that, as always in sport, too many wanted to believe in a superhero to such a degree that, even when the counter-evidence was piling up, it was so much easier and more palatable to look the other way.
In a way, it was only Armstrong's massive force of personality which was able to keep a lid on this pressure cooker of accusations and evidence. But by effectively removing the lid himself, he should not think those allegations are going to suddenly evaporate into thin air.
The haughtiest part of Armstrong's statement is where he rails about his opponents and team-mates all knowing who won those seven Tours between 1999 and 2005. "The same courses, the same rules. The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins," he booms.
"Nobody can ever change that. Especially not (USADA chief executive) Travis Tygart."
Do you want a bet, Lance? Ben Johnson was the fastest man in the world in 1988 until the world discovered he was a cheat and he became nothing but an asterisk in the record books.
Is Armstrong really arrogant enough to think the same will not happen to him if his sport concludes from his capitulation that the toughest event in the world must have been won for seven years by the strongest fraud? (© Daily Telegraph, London)