No other story dominated cycling in 2012 like USADA’s case against Lance Armstrong and the US Postal team.
Take the most polarising figure the sport has ever seen and unravel his Tour de France domination and character over two years, two high profile investigations and a Reasoned Decision that left the one-time untouchable with no Tour wins, no sponsors, no cancer foundation and no platform. No sport has ever witnessed such a fall from grace.
In truth, the story about Armstrong’s credibility has shadowed his career since 1999, but it gathered pace after his comeback in 2009 and once again when Floyd Landis penned his confessions in 2010. ‘We like our word, we like our credibility’ became a mantra for the Armstrong camp but by the end of 2012 it counted for nought.
When the federal case was dropped during the spring of 2012 USADA tightened their resolve, telling Cyclingnews that the truth would become public either via their own procedures or through a public press conference. Armstrong called it a witch hunt.
Although Armstrong took centre stage, a number of cameos had parts to play and lines to deliver. Over in Switzerland, it was as if the UCI sat around and determined policy through Pat McQuaid’s Magic 8 ball as they blundered their way through the season. Signs point to yes; outlook not so good; reply hazy, try again.
The Garmin team found themselves on the back foot when the Dutch media correctly reported that a number of US riders had cut deals with USADA, as Hein Verbruggen, the Andreus, Paul Kimmage, and Dr Michele Ferrari all rotated through the media spotlight. Even Phil Liggett was wheeled out to give a revisionist slant on facts.
Meanwhile, Armstrong remained publicly resolute. He shrugged off Jeff Novitzky, even goading the FDA on Twitter but behind the scenes he’d assembled a crack team of lawyers.
However in May, and with the FDA sidelined, Armstrong announced that he would not fight any further doping accusations. It looked as though the wagons were circling in an attempt to protect his off-the-bike interests with Livestrong and the LA Foundation. It ultimately failed.
In August Armstrong released a statement: "Enough is enough,” he said.
“For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt.
“This investigation has not been about learning the truth or cleaning up cycling, but about punishing me at all costs.”
Again USADA pushed on and in October their reasoned decision landed. Page after page, testimony after testimony, it unearthed a doping regime stemming back to the 1990s and illuminated a system of corruption, rule breaking and coercion. It made for compelling reading but raised questions as to why other national federations were unwilling to investigate their own athletes from the same era. If Armstrong was the leader, there were still plenty of others behind him who chose to play by the same terms and conditions.
Armstrong was stripped of everything. Sponsors left like rats leaving a sinking ship, his charity waved goodbye through a smile and gritted teeth and a vacuum was filled by an astonishing variety of stories.
From unworkable zero tolerance to self-appointed breakaway groups selected from Twitter and donning tight-fitted recovery clothing – it really became that surreal – to a governing body scrambling for credibility after swimming against the tide for so long.
Cycling enters 2013 having been rudimentally shaken by its demand for the truth but a series of half-truths, hypocrisy and remaining secrets mean that this story is far from over.
|1||Lance Armstrong being stripped of all Tour de France titles and banned for life||42%|
|2||Tom Boonen dominates Paris-Roubaix and equals Roger De Vlaeminck's record tally||14%|
|3||Alberto Contador's attack on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España||11%|
|4||Chris Froome dropping Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins in the Tour's high mountains||5.4%|
|5||Peter Sagan's entertaining ensemble of victory salutes||5.4%|
|6||Youngest rider in the Tour de France, Thibaut Pinot, solos to victory||5.2%|
|7||British men's and women's team pursuit squads break their respective world records||5.1%|
|8||Tejay van Garderen joins Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten to win the Tour white jersey||3.0%|
|9||Kristin Armstrong repeats as Olympic TT champion in final race of career||2.7%|
|10||Publication of Tyler Hamilton's book "The Secret Race"||2.0%|
|11||Bradley Wiggins's press conference rant at the Tour de France||2.0%|
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