Lance Armstrong | Globe Editorial

Careening downhill

Lance Armstrong rides in the 2010 Tour de France. Lance Armstrong rides in the 2010 Tour de France. (Reuters)
May 26, 2011

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IF WHAT Lance Armstrong’s former teammate Tyler Hamilton says is true, America’s greatest bike racer should make a copy of his “Livestrong’’ bracelet: “Liestrong.’’ It would be tragic, of course. Because, more than any of the baseball players caught up in the steroid scandal, Armstrong is symbol of hope and perseverance in the face of bad odds. Nothing can diminish his courage in overcoming metastatic cancer, but his overall character would be tarnished. He would still be strong in some ways, but not where it really counts.

Armstrong, of course, denies that he used performance-enhancing drugs. But his credibility is plummeting as precipitously as a Tour de France cyclist headed downhill in the Alps.

In last Sunday’s dramatic “60 Minutes” report, Hamilton accused Armstrong of doping when he won seven consecutive Tours. During a lengthy interview packed with sordid details, Hamilton described a secret world in which lunch bags filled with drugs instead of energy bars were delivered routinely to Armstrong and other riders. He said Armstrong provided illegal drugs to teammates and showed them how to use them.

Armstrong’s lawyer accused CBS of relying on questionable sourcing “while ignoring Lance’s nearly 500 clean tests.’’ However, according to Hamilton, Armstrong tested positive once in 2001. The results were not made public, he told “60 Minutes,’’ because “people took care of it.’’

Armstrong is on his own now, as a grand jury in California investigates him for crimes including fraud, conspiracy, drug trafficking, and money laundering. According to the “60 Minutes’’ report, Hamilton and another former teammate, George Hincapie, told the grand jury that they saw Armstrong use performance-enhancing drugs.

Their testimony buttresses allegations made by two other former teammates who also said Armstrong used drugs in a sport that appears to be saturated with them. The prevalence of doping was, apparently, a compact among riders; Armstrong may have felt he was following the unwritten rules of his sport. But he became larger than his sport, and stood for so much more. A conspiracy of silence doesn’t suit a world-class hero. It doesn’t even suit an ordinary bike racer.