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With Lance Armstrong stripped of Tour de France titles, cycling can recover

The International Cycling Union stripped Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France titles – the result of a sport trying to clean up its act after years of doping scandals. The cleanup should be commended.

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By opting out of the channels afforded to him, Armstrong made a powerful statement about perceived shortcomings in the anti-doping system. These should be examined carefully and not dismissed out of hand just because Armstrong has fallen from grace.

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And while Armstrong fans have been rightly disappointed by the results of the investigation, it is important to remember that he was competing in a sport where nearly all his top competitors were very likely doping as well.

The Oct. 10 USADA report notes that from 1999 to 2005, when Armstrong won a record seven consecutive victories at the Tour de France, 20 of the 21 cyclists who finished on the podium (i.e., first, second, or third place) during those years “have been directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations” or exceeding the threshold for hematocrit, which tends to indicate the use of EPO, a popular drug for endurance athletes.

While Armstrong’s victories have been tainted, it remains a fact that he showed extraordinary courage, determination, persistence, and discipline in training and competing at such a high level for years. Now it looks as if he will have an opportunity to cultivate other qualities, such as perhaps self-examination and reflection, as he grapples with the fallout of the USADA’s probe and the consequent loss of most of his sponsors – as well as his position as chairman of Livestrong, the charitable foundation he started 15 years ago.

The former teammates and associates who came forward also have a more mixed public record, though their willingness to set the record straight sets them apart from Armstrong. Some of them, such as Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title, had little to lose. But others who are still competing had to sit out the 2012 Olympics and face suspensions from competing because they revealed their own doping past in testifying against Armstrong.

In a sport where doping was concealed for years by a “code of silence,” the very fact that the USADA was able to put together this investigation is a testament to how far the sport has come.

And one of the chief witnesses, Jonathan Vaughters, has done much to clean up the sport in recent years by establishing the Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda team, which distinguished itself with an internal drug-testing program that went far beyond the sport’s requirements – its mission being to prove that it’s possible to compete clean at the highest levels. Last year, it won top awards for being the best team at the Tour de France.

Fans and supporters would do well to remember such accomplishments, even as they seek to glean lessons from this difficult chapter for Armstrong and the broader cycling movement.

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