The Last Word: Lance Armstrong - monster or martyr, we need to know

Armstrong's latest legal battle will put the reputation of cycling on the line once again

Move on, people. There's nothing to see here. It's just another drugs case, involving Lance Armstrong, predatory attorneys, and the self-appointed guardians of your conscience. It's tiresomely familiar, an unnecessary indulgence, and no longer matters. Leave the man alone, to live the life he almost lost. Hold that thought.

Listen to the siren voices of the appeasers, accept that the pursuit of truth has become boring to the point of irrelevance, and the abyss beckons. A world of moral ambiguity requires clarity. Until Armstrong is revealed as sport's biggest monster, or its greatest martyr, closure is impossible.

There's no middle ground. The American is either a cynic beyond comprehension and a cheat without comparison, or a sort of sporting Thomas More, a saintly, persecuted figure in branded Lycra rather than a hair shirt. Until that distinction is drawn, cycling will be shackled to its past.

The Tour de France, bristling in anticipation of a first British winner, Bradley Wiggins, will remain blighted by suspicion. The London Olympics, in which Team GB will be represented by the convicted EPO user David Millar, will be similarly soured.

Armstrong's denials of the latest charges – the US Anti-Drugs Agency allege a 13-year conspiracy involved the cyclist, three doctors, a trainer and a team manager – are characteristically vehement. He condemns them as "baseless" and "motivated by spite." He reminds us he has passed more than 500 drug tests, failing none, and remains a powerful symbol of hope for cancer sufferers.

But this is not about shooting Bambi. It is about Bambi shooting up. A chillingly incisive 15-page letter to Armstrong implicates him in the alleged administration, concealment and trafficking of doping agents. It claims he created a climate of fear, a culture of compulsive dishonesty. Code words – Edgar Allen Poe for EPO, oil for testosterone – punctuate a code of silence.

We must all make our choice in whom, and what, to believe. My search for enlightenment involved a visit to a laboratory in Manchester, where I watched Wiggins undergo a maximal test on a stationary bike. The aim was to set a physiological benchmark, to push himself beyond his natural limits. The pain was primitive, relentless, and pursued him to the edge of consciousness. It was difficult to watch, yet had a compelling purity which convinced me he is clean. Others instinctively doubt any cyclist. In the current climate it was politic for the Tour de France organisers to be given a Powerpoint presentation on Thursday outlining, in minute detail, Wiggins's training regime over the past year.

That proactive gesture was sanctioned by Dave Brailsford, whose dual role, in running Team Sky and the Olympic cycling squad, will test, to destruction, his reputation as one of the most visionary figures in British sport. He is a pragmatic man, facing the ultimate test of his principles, and understands the value of transparency.

He once offered me an insight into his duty of care. A young rider, with his first professional team, was struggling with injury and illness. Brailsford sensed the dangers of isolation and frustration. Experience told him that, one night on the road, in yet another featureless hotel room, the kid would be offered the poisoned apple – the chemically induced solution.

He assigned his team to call him, each day, to remind him he was not alone. That rider, Mark Cavendish, is now world champion. He is likely to be helped to a gold medal in the Olympic road race by Millar, whose ill-judged comment on Chris Hoy as a "paragon of perfection" illustrated the strains of his situation.

Millar is a product of the same era as Armstrong. No one emerges from it unscathed. Cycling was in thrall to the multiple champion, whose cancer charity offers lessons in "survivorship". Millions were inspired by his near-death experience.

Monster or martyr? If the truth is hideous it must be faced.

Nice guy Walcott becomes England's talisman

The matrons of Middle England will continue to coo. The White Van Men can keep dreaming. Theo Walcott is, once again, all things to all people.

He's relentlessly nice, disarmingly understated, sporadically effective. He might have missed his vocation as world Knock Down Ginger champion, but he'll do as Roy's poster boy.

Like this transitional England team, Walcott is flawed, but not beyond salvation. He's making the best of a difficult situation, and his principal asset invites perseverance.

His pace, if not his personality, would have been perfectly suited to the childhood prank of knocking on a stranger's door and sprinting to safety. It certainly terrified Sweden's defenders, who chased shadows like bemused householders. Ukraine will be similarly vulnerable to Walcott as an impact substitute.

In essence, little has changed. England are still playing foundation-degree football. They concede possession, and rely on traditional resilience. Failure, in a quarter-final against Spain next Saturday, would represent an honourable discharge from duties.

Hodgson's hunches have come off, and he has scope for hard choices. Seeing John Terry lumbering around like a wounded bison was particularly instructive.

Time has caught up on him. Keep on running, Theo.

First of many?

The first domino has fallen. Wycombe Wanderers have closed their academy, victims of the Premier League's ruinous youth-development programme and sacrificed for pennies at a time when TV rights are sold for £3 billion. Shameful.

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Asset Manager

£70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...

IT Support Analyst (2nd Line Support) - City, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare: Ashdown Group: IT Support Ana...

KS1 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: KS1 Teaching Specialist Leic...

Y3 Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Key Stage 2 specia...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor