So no judge in a court of arbitration will ever be called to read sentence in the case of Lance Armstrong. But for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear, the jury was never out.
By refusing to mount a defence in the US Anti-Doping Agency’s case against him, Lance Armstrong has all but conceded that he won his seven Tour de France titles by doping.
And by walking away from a defence he has ceded those yellow jerseys and lost his status as the most remarkable serial winner in the history of the sport.
There may be some small fraternity of true believers who still need the master-narrative of the heroic cancer survivor-turned-superstar and still cling to a conviction that he could have beaten the rap if the world had not conspired against him.
Armstrong’s statement repeats a familiar litany of disingenuous indignation – his record of wins, a lack of physical evidence, the “nonsense” of this “witch-hunt” and so on – but by this decision, Armstrong has excommunicated himself from the Church of Lance: he no longer believes in the plausibility of his own denials. The aggression that kept accusers in check and witnesses silent for so long has been replaced by weariness and resignation.
This pre-emptive retreat allows him to avoid the formal process of prosecution and conviction, and the humiliation that would have gone along with that. Perhaps his Livestrong foundation can thus survive in some netherworld of unreason.
We may never finally know what deals were done to hush up the alleged positive tests Armstrong gave, though we have our suspicions.
The most important lesson of the Lance Armstrong story, though, is our own gullibility and willing complicity. What is disturbing is that one man was able to enforce his will, isolate, bully and silence his doubters and critics, and win the world’s top cycling event year after year and make people believe in him, despite there being, apparently, dozens of witnesses to its utter phoniness. Too many people had too much invested in the Lance Armstrong story, and the power of persuasion followed the money.
The moral of the story is that if a cyclist looks too good to be true, then he probably is.
But if a cyclist looks too good to be true and has an entourage of lawyers, press flaks, doctors and bodyguards, then he definitely is.