Lance Armstrong never existed. That is the message from cycling's governing body in the wake of overwhelming evidence that he was a drug cheat. And his disappearance is being fastidiously enforced, his every mention having been expunged from the record books. The seven times he was at the pinnacle of the sport as the winner of the Tour de France are no more; the entries from 1999 to 2005 are now marked by blank spaces. But more is needed if the sport is to recover from the fall from grace of its biggest star. All those who knew of and covered up the cheating also have to be harshly dealt with.
Some have already come forward. The US Anti-Doping Agency's 1,000-page report released on October 10 is based on their testimony. They admitted that doping was necessary to compete at the highest level in cycling during the Armstrong years. None of the dozens of tests he took ever came back positive, although many opponents and team-mates had been found out. There is such an avalanche of evidence from those who have broken their silence that it is impossible to continue to believe Armstrong's denials and cries of "witch hunt".
The truth tarnishes his astonishing tale of being a survivor and winner. A Texan from a broken family, he became a world champion, was struck down with testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain, but he beat the odds and within months, was back in the saddle and winning his first Tour de France. Prize money, sponsorship deals and appearances made him rich and a household name, enabling his Livestrong cancer-fighting foundation to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. Cycling as a sport moved into the mainstream and more people found it acceptable to ride for leisure and to work.
Doping is unacceptable and it must be banished from every sport. Cycling must show how that can be done. Guilty riders, administrators, officials and facilitators have to be rooted out and made an example of, and penalties have to be increased to make the benefits of cheating not worth the consequences. No more can there be a win-at-all-costs mentality.