- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2011

I’m not sure how many folks can watch Tyler Hamilton’s interview on “60 Minutes” and still think that Lance Armstrong was clean in becoming the world’s top cyclist. If holdouts were uncertain beforehand, Hamilton’s apparent pain and reluctance in outlining Armstrong’s supposed doping history should remove doubt.

“He took what we all took,” said Hamilton, Armstrong’s former teammate. “There was really no difference between Lance Armstrong and the majority of the peloton. There was EPO … testosterone … a blood transfusion.”

I always suspected that Armstrong was just like everyone else at the top of his sport, but that never changed my opinion of his accomplishments. Since his competitors were doping, too, he didn’t gain an unfair advantage. On a level, performance-enhanced playing field, he proved himself the best by winning seven consecutive Tours de France.

But there’s a certain amount of sadness surrounding Armstrong’s case. It was captured in the anguish on Hamilton’s face as he discussed the drug use, including his own. It was heard in the fierce denials of Armstrong’s true believers as they ignored the latest evidence, including testimony under oath to a grand jury. And it was seen in Armstrong’s unconvincing response as he launched yet another defense, including a scathing press release, a new website and this tweet: “20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of competition. Never a failed test. I rest my case.”

Marion Jones never failed a drug test, either.

And she rested her case after a guilty plea and tearful apology on the courthouse steps.

At least for the time being, that strategy isn’t in Armstrong’s playbook. He remains in “kill-the-messenger” mode, with a growing number of targets.

A statement on facts4lance.com reads, in part: “CBS’s reporting on this subject has been replete with broken promises, false assurances and selective reliance on witnesses upon whom no reputable journalist would rely.”

In addition to Hamilton, former Armstrong teammate George Hincapie also testified before a Los Angeles grand jury that’s investigating whether Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service cycling team conducted a systematic doping program. CBS reported that Hincapie, one of Armstrong’s closest friends, has joined other members in claiming drug use took place.

Just like the government probe into Barry Bonds’ steroid use, this investigation is a flagrant abuse of power and waste of tax dollars. It’s beyond me why pro athletes’ use of performance-enhancing drugs is a federal case. The government spent eight years chasing Bonds and wound up with one puny conviction, on obstruction of justice.

The next folks on trial should be the prosecutors spending all this time and money to prove something we already know and barely rises to the level of a crime.

But unfortunately for Armstrong, he doesn’t appear to have a Greg Anderson in his circle, someone willing to sit in jail rather than testify against a superstar. Armstrong has questioned the credibility of his former teammates-turned-accusers - namely Hamilton, Frankie Andreu and Floyd Landis - because they all denied using drugs in the past before changing their tune.

Again, so did Marion Jones.

If Armstrong is innocent, I understand his frustration with the accusations and doubters such as myself. All he has to defend himself is his word and his supposedly spotless record in drug tests (although Hamilton said Armstrong failed at least one test, in 2001, that was covered up). If people refuse to believe him, what more can he do?

Nothing. Either a lot of other folks are lying, or he’s the one not telling the truth. We each have to determine for ourselves whom we believe.

However, even if he took enough drugs to stock a CVS, you can’t take away what he’s done for cycling, let along cancer awareness and cancer research.

He made yellow bracelets fashionable, helped raised more than $400 million for Livestrong and inspired millions of cancer patients worldwide. Coming back from a 50-50 prognosis to win the world’s most grueling race seven consecutive times - on PEDs or not - is truly an incredible story.

Without any physical evidence tying him to drug use, we’ll never know for certain whether he cheated unless he confesses. And he’s got too much invested at this point to come clean voluntarily. But I wish he would.

There’s more shame in the lie than the crime.