Regardless of the outcome of the FDA probe, the legacy of the sport’s most transcendental figure appears to be on shallow ground, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

– Spanish philosopher George Santayana, 1863-1952

I'm
sorry to say this to people - the fans, the Lance-loving media, the
cancer sufferers, the what have you's - but this is a story that won't
go away.

It won't go away because Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton
weren't the only ones who rode with Lance Armstrong from 1999-2005, the
years he dominated the world's greatest bike race with such unfettered
authority. And as much as the Texan likes to control matters, his
influence over those one-time acolytes could only be contained and
managed while they rode with him.

There is a raft of others that, until now, we've heard nothing from. But one by one, they're starting to speak out.

Some,
like George Hincapie, have been forced by subpoena, as part of the
FDA's investigation into alleged systematic doping at the United States
Postal Service cycling team, triggered by Landis' admission last May to ESPN's Bonnie Ford and emails obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

According to CBS News'
flagship current affairs program, '60 Minutes', Hincapie testified
before a federal grand jury that he and Armstrong supplied one another
with EPO and testosterone. The only rider to have ridden on all seven of
Armstrong's Tour-winning teams has denied speaking with '60 Minutes' -
but perhaps more importantly, has not refuted testifying as such to the
Los Angeles grand jury.

Others, like little-known American Scott
Mercier, who rode with the USPS team in 1997, have acted out of nothing
except the public's right to know the truth, claiming he was offered
synthetic testosterone by a team doctor but never took any. "I'm not
sure that I really viewed the doping as cheating," he told VeloNews. "It's just that I could not live with the hypocrisy and lying associated with it."

Mercier
said he did not see any other team-mates take PEDs but did notice a
"black plastic lunchbox" that remained locked in the refrigerator of
their team bus. "I liked to pick it up and shake it to hear what sounded
like glass vials clang against one another," he said.

While
Mercier was unable to live with the lies associated with doping and the
purported credo of winning at all costs, Landis, Hamilton and quite
possibly many others who rode with the USPS team could stomach such a
dogma.

For Landis and Hamilton to come clean after so long
presents a major credibility issue in the FDA probe, which the Armstrong
camp has swiftly taken advantage of, citing ulterior motives - fame,
infamy, a book deal - rather than absolution via confession. "Those
witnesses are pretty dirty, but will they help the case? Yes, because
you have to use insiders to make a case like this," Laurie L . Levenson,
a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told the New York Times.

"When
you use insiders," he said, "you have to make sure they are believable,
and one way to do that is to corroborate their testimony."

Which makes the news that Hincapie testified, allegedly backing up what Landis and Hamilton have already said, so crucial.

A
person briefed on the investigation that is being championed by Jeff
Novitzky, the lead agent in the BALCO scandal involving track sprinters
Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, as well as baseball's home-run king
Barry Bonds, told the NYT that charges against Armstrong may
include fraud, corruption, drug trafficking and money laundering. In
order to verify Landis and Hamilton's claims, FDA prosecutors are
assiduously gathering other witnesses, phone calls, documents and
e-mails - in essence, anything and everything they can.

One major
difference between BALCO and 'L'Affaire Armstrong', however, is that
Novitzky was working in real time in the former case, digging through
trash cans late at night, intercepting parcels containing PEDs, tracing
phone records, etcetera, etcetera. The allegations brought by Landis and
Hamilton relate to events almost 12 years ago - meaning vital evidence
may no longer exist; destroyed, missing or otherwise. It therefore
further augments the need - and power - of additional testimony.

It
certainly helps that Hamilton willingly handed back his medal to the
United States Anti-Doping Agency, which the International Olympic
Committee confirmed last Friday.

What does not help prosecutors is Hamilton talking to '60 Minutes'. As a Columbia University law professor told the NYT,
"the fewer times your witness recounts the narrative that he will be
giving at trial, the better. Because there always will be the risks of
inconsistencies."

Still, in Hamilton's email to friends and
family last Thursday he said he told the grand jury "the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth", likening his expunge of guilt to "the Hoover
dam breaking". And if this story he told is the truth - and I have
little reason to doubt him - then it is far easier to be consistent with
the truth than maintain a lie, as his tainted past has demonstrated.

Meanwhile
both Armstrong and his lawyer Mark Fabiani continue to spruik the party
line. "20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of
competition. Never failed a test. I rest my case," tweeted Armstrong
when the '60 Minutes' teaser broke and spread like wildfire.

Sorry
Lance, that's not quite true: you tested positive for a corticosteroid
at the 1999 Tour. But Armstrong subsequently produced a backdated
Therapeutic Use Exemption docket, allowing him to use a cream to treat a
saddle sore.

As one VeloNews reader quipped, "20 years'
driving and over 500 photo enforcement cameras, cops using radar, etc.,
and not one traffic ticket. That doesn't mean I don't speed regularly.
Sorry Lance, the 'I never failed a doping control' excuse won't hold up
much longer."

From the Festina fiasco of 1998 to Operación Puerto
in 2006 to today, cycling's claim of being the most heavily tested
Olympic sport must also come with a disclaimer: Tests are far from
foolproof. Even Riccardo Riccò, the bad boy of 2008 Tour de France,
boasted he should have tested positive more times than he actually did.
And he is a bloody idiot.

It is also worth remembering that in
the 1999 and 2000 Tours de France, a test for EPO did not exist, making
its debut at the Olympic Games in Sydney. And it wasn't till the 2004
Tour that riders were specifically screened for what is still the most
commonly abused blood boosting agent.

When retrospective testing was done on Armstrong's 1999 Tour samples, 6 out of 12 came back positive for EPO, according to a L'Equipe
report published on August 23, 2005. A year later, a report
commissioned by the UCI cleared the American of any wrongdoing, instead
lambasting the French lab and WADA for the leaked information, but did
nothing to explain the allegations levelled by L'Equipe.

Even some of his most ardent followers accept the effect of a much bigger lie may spell the end of the legend that is Lance.

"I think it would be sad," Rafie Bass told the Associated Press,
one of some 50 Armstrong admirers that attended an auction last Friday
to benefit the Livestrong foundation. "I think from a cycling
perspective, if that was the case, and I don't believe it to be true,
but if that was the case, it would hurt his legacy as a cyclist."

We've now heard from Frankie Andreu, Stephen Swart, Landis, Hamilton, Mercier and maybe Hincapie too.

Last
November, I asked Jonathan Vaughters, team manager and co-owner of
Garmin-Cervélo, and who rode with the USPS team in 1998-99, how he would
feel if he was asked to testify. "I'm totally comfortable with that. I
don't really see an issue with that," he told me.

"I think we've
issued a statement that was more than clear, saying that anyone that is
part of this organisation of Slipstream is compelled by the
organisation, by the employer - meaning me - to be completely
transparent and honest about what happened in the past. And that
includes me, as I am an employee of Slipstream Sports as well."

In order for us to know the future we must first understand the past. And I think you'll agree there is much left to understand.