- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

So two of Lance Armstrong’s ex-teammates have come out of cycling’s closet to say they used EPO as part of their preparation going into the Tour de France in 1999.

Armstrong, predictably enough, denies there is a connection to him.

Not that the two ex-teammates said there was.

They said the opposite, in fact.

Yet Armstrong felt compelled to term the revelation a “hatchet job.”

That is the old fighting spirit, tedious though it has become.

Armstrong has come to have a lot in common with Marion Jones, the erstwhile track and field darling.

Like the sprinter, Armstrong is at least guilty of not picking his associates wisely.

His guilt beyond that depends on who is interpreting the considerable body of circumstantial evidence in his midst.

Armstrong might have come across better if he had not been so contemptuous of the latest bombshell.

By now, though, he is conditioned to respond like an attack dog.

His best defense is a great offense, whether in court or through the media, as he endeavors to defend his empire and legacy after winning the Tour de France an unprecedented seven consecutive years.

He inevitably points to a clean test record and tries to pick apart all the elements that collectively undermine his reputation.

It is just his bad luck to have worked with a doctor who was indicted on doping charges.

It is just his bad luck that his ex-physiotherapist wrote a book that detailed his doping.

It is just his bad luck that the wife of one of his ex-teammates testified in a deposition that she and her husband heard Armstrong admit his doping use to the doctor treating him for cancer in 1996.

Armstrong has all these unsettling connections in his background, just as Jones does.

Jones married one doper, soon fell in love with another, while following the training regimen of a coach with a long list of dopers and the nutritional advice of the BALCO mastermind.

She, too, passed every test until this summer, only to be vindicated by the negative result of her backup sample.

The passing of a test is not much claim to innocence, as we learned from the BALCO scandal. That was the beauty of BALCO. Its black marketers were ahead of the testing procedures of the various governing bodies in sports.

Armstrong probably will spend the rest of his life stomping out accusations.

We still have not heard the last of Floyd Landis, whose positive test resulted in the stripping of his Tour de France victory, which he is appealing.

Landis was a member of the Armstrong team in two tours and eventually could have a lot to say on his doping-plagued sport.

Frankie Andreu came clean to the New York Times this week out of concern for the sport. He did not implicate Armstrong. He merely felt the pull of his conscience and broke the unwritten rule of the cycling fraternity.

Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong’s former team manager, called Andreu a “pitiful man.”

Pat McQuaid, the president of cycling’s governing body, questioned Andreu’s intentions.

“If Andreu wishes to say that, that’s up to him to say that,” he said. “I don’t know what he’s trying to achieve because he cannot achieve anything by saying this.”

That is what gives Andreu’s admission credence.

There is nothing in it for him.

Not unlike Jose Canseco, he has alienated the sport that is dear to him, as he knew he would.

Cycling remains forever stuck in a self-imposed purgatory. Its officials know it has a serious problem. Yet they can’t quite bring themselves to applaud the admission of one of its former competitors.

That is not exactly an encouraging sign to others who possibly have a secret to share.

The message is fairly clear: Talk and you will be labeled “pitiful,” especially if you have a close connection to Armstrong, cycling’s sacred crow.

It seems Armstrong was around all kinds of wrongdoing.

But he was cycling’s one beacon of purity.

And we have his word on that.



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