By JOHN LEICESTER
AP Sports Columnist
PARIS (AP) - Lance Armstrong once said the extraordinary accusations that he doped needed to be backed by extraordinary evidence.
Well, the evidence is more extraordinary than anyone could possibly have imagined.
Page after page of evidence teased out of former U.S. Postal Service teammates and corroborated by affidavits that washed away the lies, the mythmaking, the fear and intimidation that kept secrets hidden, and the value of the sweat that Armstrong left on French roads.
Now, there is absolutely nothing left to believe _ except for USADA's conclusion: Armstrong's team "ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."
To worry about how the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency managed to bring down one of the biggest sports icons, whether U.S. taxpayer dollars should have been spent on schools rather than trawling through the past, and whether it even had the power to reduce such a giant to a speck, feels trivial in the bare light-bulb glare of USADA's findings.
The means, fair or foul, appear justified by the ends and by the hope _ and it can be only hope at this point _ that this is as low as any sport can sink and that cycling could maybe build a healthier future from here, if the cancer of doping is truly excised.
Because this is the end, the end of the fabulous pretense about a guy from a broken home in Texas who took on cancer and the world's hardest bike race and beat them both. The cancer part is true but USADA's findings appear to leave little doubt that it wasn't just willpower that got Armstrong to the top of the Tour de France podium a record seven times. And once you burst the bubble that Armstrong's story was essentially one of mind over matter then it loses all power to inspire. Instead, the allegations that Armstrong not only doped for the bulk of his career but supplied and pushed drugs, too, inspire only disgust.
Livestrong? How wrong. Those of you with bright yellow wristbands should ask for your dollar back. The title of Armstrong's biography, "It's Not About The Bike," now looks like a cynical private joke in the light of USADA's 164-page "Reasoned Decision," plus reams of testimony and other evidence, explaining why it banned Armstrong for life and stripped away his titles.
If it is to be believed, then the bike, the sport of cycling, was simply a vehicle for systematic fraud and abuse of trust. Judging from his teammates' belated confessions of rampant drug use, a title perhaps closer to the truth would have been: "It's All About The Spike."
Die-hard Armstrong believers who cling to the straws that cheating was a necessary evil because practically everyone was doing it and that he still towered above a doped-up bunch must consider this: Try substituting the word "heroin" for "EPO," "testosterone," "blood transfusion" and all the other banned substances and methods Armstrong's teammates allege they were pressured into or felt were necessary.
USADA's report paints this not as a mere bunch of ambitious athletes who took a bit of this and that but as a drug-pushing, drug-taking, drug-supplying conspiracy that, among others, recruited and corrupted easily influenced young riders.
David Zabriskie rode for four years on Armstrong's team. He told USADA that, as a teenager, cycling offered him an escape from a "difficult home life," with a father who was a drug addict, and he viewed the sport as "a healthy and wholesome outlet that would keep me far away from following my father's footsteps."
But after joining the U.S. Postal squad, he broke his vow never to take drugs himself. Zabriskie testified that team manager Johan Bruyneel _ the brains behind Armstrong's assaults on the Tour _ pushed him to dope with EPO and that a team doctor, Luis Garcia del Moral, administered his first shot of the blood-boosting hormone, in Spain in 2003.
"I felt cornered. I had pursued cycling to escape a home life torn apart by drugs, and now I was faced with this," Zabriskie's affidavit reads. "I went back to my Spanish apartment and had a breakdown. I called home, crying. I had pursed cycling as an escape from drugs, and here I was, having succumbed to the pressure."
A charge leveled at USADA by Armstrong's lawyers to shoot down its case and credibility is that testimony from Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, former close teammates of Armstrong, can't be trusted because they lied for years about their own doping after they were caught by drug tests.