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Belatedly, Armstrong calls it a day, but the doping investigators are just getting started.
BOSTON — Lance Armstrong rode into Paris on Sunday, ending his historic run in the Tour de France with a whimper, not a bang. And that may have been a good thing too. Because the way Lance’s 2010 Tour has gone, the most likely bang would have been a headfirst crash into the Arc de Triomphe.
For the man who has navigated this epic race with unparalleled success — through a record, seven consecutive wins and a stirring comeback last year when, at age 37, he finished third — payback proved a bitch (or, if you prefer, une chienne.)
Armstrong crashed several times early in the race, fell out of contention, became largely an afterthought in the competition — and, finally, when he took one last shot at glory by trying to win a late stage, came up short against younger, faster riders.
Though there is no shame for mortal riders in finishing 23rd, particularly at Lance’s advanced age, it was obviously a major disappointment for Armstrong and his legion of fans. His consolation will have to come from the visible boost he gave to his anti-cancer crusade and the fact that he did wind up on a podium when his Radio Shack team finished in first place.
The physical and emotional ordeal that was Armstrong’s farewell Tour will someday be just a footnote in his career. But on this final day, despite his sporting effort at the traditional fellowship and bonhomie of the parade into Paris, it was easier to picture the yellow pallor of an aging Lance than to summon up the image of him wearing the yellow jersey. Among our most illustrious athletes, it is the rare few who know when to call it a day, and for Armstrong this Tour was clearly a day too late.
If there was no bang in Paris, the big bang could be waiting for Armstrong at home. And it could be far more painful than anything he endured the past three weeks in France.
At stake here will be Armstrong’s reputation and his sporting legacy. And they are now in jeopardy because the feds — the same pit bulls that put former Olympic queen Marion Jones in jail and former baseball king Barry Bonds in exile — have now shifted their attention to the sport of cycling.
The investigation involves accusations of both doping and financial shenanigans on the U.S. Postal Service team that would later become the Discovery Channel Team. Armstrong has repeatedly denied all allegations involving performance-enhancing drugs. And though he was the singular face of those teams, he has, of late, begun portraying himself as nothing more than an employee with no true knowledge of or involvement in management practices.