Lance Armstrong doping? Sports Illustrated takes a fresh look.

An exhaustive Sports Illustrated investigation published today is the latest attempt to dig up dirt on Lance Armstrong. The online preview offers tidbits, but fails to provide the smoking gun many have long sought.

James Knowler/AP Photo
Lance Armstrong of the United States, center, riding for Radio Shack, competes in the Tour Down Under bicycle racing prologue at Adelaide, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 16.

Lance Armstrong faced another exposé today by journalists determined to dig down to the bare truth about whether the cycling superstar used performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his amazing career.

This time it was Sports Illustrated who took on the champion. Among the highlights in a sneak-peek online before the hard copy hit stores today were:

  • Dr. Don Catlin, a pioneer of antidoping efforts and one of the most respected figures in the field, has three suspect test results on file that SI’s sources say belong to Armstrong. They indicate abnormally high testosterone-epitestosterone ratios, the same test that brought down Floyd Landis after his 2006 Tour de France victory.
  • A former teammate saying under oath that he heard Armstrong say he used EPO, which boosts an athlete’s endurance, and other drugs including steroids.
  • Armstrong often was able to circumvent stringent customs controls because he traveled by private jet. One time, customs officers searched his bag anyway and found some questionable stuff.

So assuming SI put their juiciest details in the online preview – or would have at least alluded to them – their exhaustive investigation failed to turn up definitive proof that Armstrong was systematically doping throughout the seven years in which he won consecutive Tour de France titles.

Several years ago, a French newspaper managed to get the results of a second round of testing – meant for research purposes – of samples that had been stored for years in a prominent French lab known as Châtenay-Malabry. The tests, conducted by the lab, showed EPO use in samples the newspaper claimed belonged to Armstrong. Armstrong vociferously denied ever using EPO and he and others slammed the lab for not handling the samples properly, thus rendering any findings null and void.

If that didn’t bring down Armstrong, perhaps nothing could. But Jeff Novitsky, the FDA official spearheading what has become an international investigation into claims that Armstrong doped, is a no-nonsense kind of guy.

Armstrong has done a lot of good, and been a great inspiration to many, many people. If he did pull off his incredible victories without drugs, all the power to him. If he did resort to unethical means, he still demonstrated incredible grit besting a field that we now know included at least a few dopers who have since confessed.

We may never know exactly what Armstrong did or didn’t do. But kudos to those who have the courage to seek out the truth so far as we know it and put it on record.

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