For those that have followed the Lance Armstrong 'saga', and it is a saga in just how long it has drawn out for, the allegations brought by the United States Anti-Doping Agency appear at first glance to be just another slight on the seven-time Tour de France winner's reputation.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

"These charges are baseless," said Armstrong via a quickly issued statement after the news broke yesterday.

"Motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity."

Well, that may be, but it's worth noting that the latest charges mark the first time USADA has filed a case against the Texan.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported USADA had written to Armstrong saying blood samples taken from him in 2009 and 2010 were "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions".

But the 15-page charges leaked to The Post, and posted by The Wall Street Journal online also detail some very serious allegations, not just against Armstrong, but a host of former US Postal personnel including Johan Bruyneel and doctors Michele Ferrari, Luis Garcia del Moral and Pedro Celaya.

I'll allow you to read the document in full, but let me first state that I don't pretend to know just how strong the case is. USADA itself only maintains that it has convincing evidence, but as yet we don't know exactly what that is. It's believed, though, that more than 10 corroborating witnesses support the charges.

There are two points which do stick out with respect to the case that need to be underlined.

Firstly, for the better, USADA is focusing on the practices of the whole US Postal setup.

This isn't just about Armstrong. It's about an alleged systematic approach that has frequently been alluded to in the Texan's Tour-winning heyday but in his case at least, never proven beyond reasonable doubt in a civil or criminal court. Remember, the earliest WADA-validated test for EPO was instituted in professional cycling only after the Sydney Olympic Games, and blood profiling some years after that.

The idea that trying to affect cultural change in cycling by increasing the penalties for those that dope fails to recognise that it's the people up the chain that have the most serious influence on past, current, and future dopers.

It's like saying that by going down to Sydney's Kings Cross and arresting every junkie and low-end dealer cleans up drugs, or imposing stronger sanctions will deter people from getting high - closing one's eyes to where these things comes from will never solve the issue.

There's a difference between being hard on drugs and being smart when it comes to fighting the problem. The movement to tackle doping in cycling is slowly coming to this realisation.

In that way, catching out high profile riders who dope has only ever done so much to stop the impact of doping on the sport. For every Jan Ullrich arises a Bernard Kohl, and a Riccardo Ricco for every Marco Pantani. The faceless hierarchy above remains.

The most effective investigations of the past decade have all involved finding the source of the products, and working backward. Operacion Puerto, Mantova (still pending), and the BALCO scandal all come to mind, and all three have shaken things up in a way no single positive test can.

Disgraced team manager Manolo Saiz disappeared from the sport as a result of Puerto, and for good reason, with his Liberty Seguros-Wurth team heavily implicated in a culture of systematic doping. The momentum from that case however fizzled, and an opportunity to address not just Saiz and the people around him, but several others either directly or indirectly connected to the case was lost.

Isolated cases are rare, though the words "I acted alone" are not.

Of the three doctors that are named in the USADA investigation, two remain directly involved in the sport. Additionally, Johan Bruyneel is in team management at RadioShack-Nissan, while Pepe Marti works for the sport's world governing body, the UCI.

Armstrong may have left the sport, but the ongoing concern is the influence of the above. Whatever you think about the American, it's the above that needs to be addressed.

Which brings me to my second point.

"It doesn't matter anymore. I don't run around bragging, feeling like I have to be a seven-time Tour de France champion," Armstrong told The Men's Journal in May in response to questions over whether he could be stripped of his seven titles if an investigation came. "I worked hard for those, I won seven times and it's great. But it's over."

There's something to be said for what Armstrong is saying. If he doped is neither here nor there, when one considers the pro peloton was rife with doping malpractice when Armstrong was at his peak. Look at the 1999 Tour de France's top 10 riders and tell me, who among them was definitively clean?

Doping doesn't change the sporting moments of his era. There was still drama, there was still enthralling competition. Changing the winners of the 1999 to 2005 races doesn't change what happened.

That rationale has always confused me because the effect on a race from disqualified riders still remains, so the only fair result would be to completely write-off the entire event from that year. But of course, that never happens.

What is important and perhaps insulting is if, and it is a big if, Armstrong's is found guilty, is how remorseless and stubborn the American has been in his consistent denial of all charges.

He has maintained for so long he has never tested positive; he has never taken performance enhancing drugs, all his accusers are liars etc, etc.

For many, all that is wanted is a degree of contrition. For others, just desserts. More than anything it's denouement that is needed, and so hungrily pursued by both supporters and critics alike.

Cycling has enough problems without continually resurrecting the demons of the past, but an exception should be made when those demons, like those named by USADA, remain in the sport.

Closure is needed for the benefit of the future, this is not simply a crusade against past practice, and let's hope that comes sooner rather than later. Somehow though, I don't think it'll be quite as simple as pulling off a Band-Aid.