Against Armstrong, do 2 liars make the truth?

May 21 2011 - 5:21pm

PARIS -- It was easy to dismiss one liar, Floyd Landis, when he suddenly and belatedly saw the light last year, admitted to doping and at the same time accused Lance Armstrong.

Back then, it was still Armstrong's word against that of his former teammate, a man who lost his credibility when he was caught doping at the 2006 Tour and who conned fans into financing his "Floyd Fairness Fund" mounted for his defense.

Those who bought "I believe Tyler" T-shirts when he was fighting doping charges likewise must also be feeling betrayed by Tyler Hamilton's confession broadcast Thursday night on CBS' "60 Minutes" that he injected himself with the banned blood-booster EPO "many, many times."

Tell us something we didn't know.

Given that twice-banned Hamilton was stating the blindingly obvious, no one really would have cared had he not tossed Armstrong's name in there, too.

"I saw (EPO) in his refrigerator," Hamilton said, referring to his former teammate. "I saw him inject it more than one time ... like we all did."

Two liars, possibly reformed ones, making direct eyewitness claims against Armstrong. That is starting to look like a crowd.

Hamilton and Landis rode with Armstrong at different times. Hamilton was his trusted lieutenant on the U.S. Postal team at the 1999-2001 Tours; Landis came in for Armstrong's 2002-04 races. So, if they're being truthful, then Armstrong was doping for at least most of his winning streak, which lasted until 2005.

"20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of competition," Armstrong tweeted in response, failing to note that drug-testing is more stringent now than when he started out. "Never a failed test. I rest my case."

As if making all this go away could be that simple.

If the belated claims from Landis and Hamilton are true -- stuff they really saw with their own eyes, not merely whispers or hearsay -- then the seven-time Tour de France winner is the biggest liar of them all.

Surely that's worth finding out.

Every cent and all the hours that U.S. federal investigators and their European counterparts are expending on trying to untangle this bag of worms are well spent. Allegations this serious from former teammates-turned-accusers, even discredited ones, cannot and should not be ignored.

Nor can they be left to cycling officials who don't have the stomach, the credibility or the muscle to lead the sport out of this mess.

Yet, to move on from the doped-up era that all three riders were part of, cycling needs to know the truth.

So do all the young cyclists who -- like Armstrong, Landis and Hamilton -- will go on to compete at the Tour de France.

So do we all.

If Armstrong rode clean, as he insists, then ultimately he should have nothing to fear.

But if his victories were a fraud, then the feds will have done a service to the champions of tomorrow if they can unmask him -- as they did Marion Jones. The disgrace of track and field's golden girl had the merit of showing that cheats don't always prosper. That is always a valuable lesson if it helps steer future Lance Armstrongs away from the dark side.

Because Hamilton, Landis and Armstrong are Americans, it's only reasonable that U.S. taxpayers should foot the bill so we can all figure out who to believe.

Ignore the complaints from Armstrong's camp that the feds are wasting millions. Maybe they are. Maybe, as Armstrong insists, the feds are chasing nothing but a pack of lies about bad things that did or did not happen a long time ago, a long way away in Europe.

Either way, it doesn't matter. You can't attach a dollar figure on the value of truth and justice. Someone needs to determine whether Hamilton and Landis are lying, and judicial authorities are the only ones who have the power to reach across borders for evidence, the clout and the needed determination to get to the bottom of this.

Professional cycling is no longer as sick with doping as it was when Armstrong, Landis and Hamilton -- all now retired -- got into it. Cycling's 3-year-old pioneering program that monitors riders' blood values has weeded out some, but not all, cheats. Police and prosecutors are catching others.

Yet, for each step forward, cycling steps backward to its even dirtier past with each fresh allegation against Armstrong, the sport's most famous star. That is not fair for those riders who are racing clean, who help fund cycling's anti-doping program and who shouldn't be tarred with the suspicions that linger from the era of which Armstrong, Landis and Hamilton were part. Nor is it fair to Armstrong if the allegations aren't backed up with proof.

The clean-up of cycling, still far from complete, depends not just on the better testing and police work now in place. It also requires, once and for all, an answer to whether Armstrong was a true champion it can still be proud of.

If not, and if the feds can prove it, then his seven years of Tour domination should be stored away in the sport's stuffed archive of fraudulent performances that were worthless and should be forgotten, so new names and feats can take their place.

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