We May Never Know If Lance Armstrong Doped

It's easy to assume the cyclist is guilty—but there's still no proof.

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Reuters

Lance Armstrong is convinced—or at least sounds convincing—that the repeated allegations of his having used performance enhancing drugs is "a witch hunt."

I've reviewed as much of the evidence against Armstrong as I'm capable of digesting, and I share his conclusions. But witches do exist, and sometimes witch hunts uncover them. It's not far from the realm of possibility that both of these statements are correct: Lance Armstrong is the victim of a witch hunt, and Lance Armstrong is guilty of using PEDs.

I don't know the truth. Neither do scores of journalists whose opinions on the subject are everywhere, shaping public opinion. A quick look at the New York Daily News' front and back covers says it all. The front page proclaims "STRIPPED—Disgraced Lance's 7 Tour titles wiped from the record books." Back page: headlines of "Tour De Fraud" and "Lupica: Armstrong Can No Longer Outrace His Lies." That's Mike Lupica, of course, who never saw an athlete accused of anything, particularly drug use, who wasn't guilty. He writes about these things the way the loudest guy in your local pub shouts—at the top of his voice.

There are no revelations in either Lupica's column or the Daily News' feature except what everyone else woke up to find out this morning. Namely, that the United Sates Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has declared that Armstrong will received lifetime ban from Olympic sports and will have all 7 of his Tour De France titles removed—there are other punishments, but that's the gist of it—following his decision not to challenge the results of the USADA's two-year investigation.

It is not yet certain that the USADA has the power to do any of this. We'll see. But that so many have decided in advance that the agency can do all this—including forcing Armstrong to return his prize money—indicates how many were predisposed to believe in Armstrong's guilt.

I write this not as a journalist, but as a fan, which is to say I only pay attention to cycling a few times a year, and my knowledge of the world of doping in sports, from the chemistry to the politics, is spotty. When a scandal rears its head, I do a crash course in the available facts, calling on experts, when needed, for explanations and analysis. I've been collecting information on the Armstrong controversy for several years now and am finally convinced that I will never know enough of the background to make a decision on my own.

I do, however, have a number of outstanding questions. For instance, I would like to know how everyone can be so positive as to what it meant that four cyclists - four key members of Armstrong's former team—opted out of consideration for the Olympics back in June.

According to Henry Blodget of Business Insider:

One obvious possibility ... is that some or all of these cyclists are among those who have provided evidence against Armstrong and don't want the distraction or bad publicity associated with the arbitration taking place at the same time as the Olympics—especially if they themselves admitted being involved in doping.

Another possibility, presumably, is that they want to be available to defend Armstrong.

Okay, they might have been able to give testimony against Armstrong, they might have been doping themselves, or they might have waned to be available to defend Armstrong. That about runs the gamut, and like so much of the so-called evidence in this matter, I know nothing more after reading it than I did before I read it.

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Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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