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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2012


Cycle of trouble

Cyclist Lance Armstrong has been among America's greatest athletes. Improbably, he beat European competitors at one of their favorite sports, winning the grueling Tour de France a record seven times. More improbably, he reached his peak after battling testicular cancer.

Mr. Armstrong long has been dogged by rumors and allegations that his superiority was artificially induced by doping, and he has consistently denied it. Now, a year after he retired from professional bicycle road racing, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has brought formal doping charges against him.

This is an unwelcome surprise. The issue seemed to end in February, when the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles ended a nearly two-year investigation without bringing criminal charges. The timing raises a question: Why now? Why not during his long career of stellar success?

Americans who have never ridden a mile on a bike can share Mr. Armstrong's dismay, the ruling emotion being "say it ain't so" -- as a little boy supposedly said to another athletic hero, baseball player "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, in the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

But the ballplayer couldn't plausibly deny his role in throwing the World Series. The 40-year-old Mr. Armstrong has not only said it isn't so, but has done so repeatedly and emphatically.

"I have never doped, and unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests, and never failed one," he said in a prepared statement. "That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness, and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence."

Mr. Armstrong's lawyers are demanding to see the evidence gathered by the agency. They want the names of the secret witnesses -- former teammates and support personnel -- who allege that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Simple fairness demands that much.

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