Reflections on the Lance Armstrong endgame

Late last night, Lance Armstrong announced he would not be fighting the drug charges raised by the US Anti-Doping Agency against him. While stopping a long way short of being an admission of guilt, it seems clear this was the least worst option for him. He has now been stripped of his seven Tour de France wins, not to mention opening the floodgates for a series of lawsuits which will cost him significantly financially as well as in terms of his reputation. Here are my summary thoughts on the subject – you can read more from both my fellow VeloVoices bloggers and the wider Twittersphere over at

Armstrong’s statement is a masterpiece of obfuscation, but really this was just the full-stop at the end of a sentence which has been written over a period of years. The true believers will still believe. The armchair prosecutors will bemoan the lack of an admission of guilt. ’Twas ever thus.

In that respect, nothing has changed. In many others, though, everything has: history will record Lance Armstrong as a no-time Tour de France winner. The all-American hero has been unmasked as the devil.

So while this is closure with neither conclusion or conviction – and I doubt the story will truly end here – it’s still a pivotal day. Some fans are sad, some are still mad and others are grave-dancing. A few will always believe, no matter what. Like many, I’m somewhere in between.

To me, he is still the greatest cyclist of his generation. He is also a cheat. I’m conflicted. Sue me. (Please don’t.)

It’s time to move on. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Lance was just the public tip of a large pharmacological iceberg, but let’s learn the lessons and march forward without constantly looking back. I hope ASO will declare ‘no winner’ for the 1999-2005 Tours as a reminder to future generations. I suspect that won’t happen, and Messrs Zulle, Ullrich, Beloki, Kloden and Basso will inherit those titles without turning a pedal. That might just be the greatest crime of all.

24 hours from the Tour de France

The title of the Gene Pitney song is actually 24 Hours from Tulsa, but what the hell? For both die-hard and occasional cycling fans, the biggest day in the sport’s cycling calendar is now just one day away. Tomorrow, in Liege in Belgium, the 2012 edition of the Tour de France begins. Three weeks of hell. Two wheels. One amazing race.

Will Sky’s Bradley Wiggins live up to his billing as the bookies’ favourite and become the first British rider to wear the coveted yellow jersey in Paris (let alone the first to finish on the Paris podium)? Or will Australia’s Cadel Evans be able to defend the title he won with such battling panache last July?

Will the combination of Mark Cavendish‘s preparations for the Olympic road race and Sky’s focus on Wiggins compromise his effectiveness as he seeks to add to his 20 Tour stage wins in defence of his green jersey? Or will we see a new sprint king crowned in Peter Sagan or perhaps Andre Greipel, Matt Goss or Mark Renshaw, all former teammates of Cavendish at HTC-Highroad?

Who will delight us with their daring attacks on the steep climbs and equally precipitous descents of the Alps and Pyrenees? And who will provide us with the drama and romance which featured protagonists such as French media darling Thomas Voeckler and Johnny ‘Barbed Wire’ Hoogerland?

In previous years I have provided stage-by-stage recaps and analysis here. However, all cycling coverage has now transferred over to our new dedicated site, where you will find full previews, daily recaps, stats and analysis throughout the next three weeks. Just click on the banner above and come and join us!

Arsenal do it the hard way to secure Champions League football

West Brom 2 Arsenal 3

Long 11, Dorrans 15; Benayoun 4, Santos 30, Koscielny 54

Throughout their history, Arsenal have had a habit of doing things the hard way. The 1979 FA Cup final, where they let a 2-0 lead slip in the final five minutes only to snatch victory back at the death. The 1989 league decider at Anfield, which culminated in Michael Thomas’ last-gasp title-winner. Even the final game of the 2003/04 Invincibles season, where they had to come from behind at home to Leicester on the final day. This afternoon’s game at the Hawthorns fell into the same category, as Arsenal contrived to take the lead and fall behind in the first 15 minutes, and needed two crucial interventions in the dying moments to preserve a 3-2 win which secured third place and guaranteed automatic entry into the Champions League group phase next season.
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Three goals conceded, three consecutive draws as Arsenal slip up again

Arsenal 3 Norwich 3

Benayoun 2, van Persie 72, 80; Hoolahan 12, Holt 27, Morison 85

In the end, the villain of the piece was Kyle Naughton – the defender on loan from Tottenham, of course – who had a hand in the final result. Literally, as his shove in the back on Robin van Persie in the dying moments of the game denied the striker a dramatic late winner. But the truth was Arsenal had no one to blame but themselves, as they were fortunate to finish with a point after a pulsating 3-3 draw with Norwich which featured shockingly amateurish defending from a side which hopes to play in the Champions League next season. Their fate is now out of their hands, however, as the weight of expectation passes to Tottenham tomorrow. It is a burden which proved too much for Arsenal here. Read more of this post

Battling draw sees Arsenal edge ahead in the fight for third

Stoke 1 Arsenal 1

Crouch 9; van Persie 15

Although both sides had opportunities to win this game in the closing 15 minutes, a draw at the home of one of their bogey teams will have pleased Arsenal, particularly in the light of Newcastle’s heavy defeat at Wigan. It leaves them in control of their own destiny in the battle for the third and final guaranteed Champions League spot. However, the game was marred by persistent abuse from the home fans, much of it targeted at Aaron Ramsey, who was returning to the ground where he had his leg broken by Ryan Shawcross two years ago. Read more of this post

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