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Sun, Oct. 13

Editorial: Heroes to zeroes, cause continues

Those bands? The little yellow ones that go around your wrist and read "Livestrong"? They're OK, even if the originator is on the ropes. The charity that Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France champion founded after his triumphant - and very public - victory over cancer, still continues its good works, helping cancer sufferers and survivors navigate a world that seems to have turned against them.

Earlier this week, Armstrong gave up and stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation, saying he didn't want the controversy surrounding his cycling career to have an adverse effect on the charity.

It was something many thought he'd never do, even after he had already quit trying to defend doping allegations from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, even after nearly a dozen former teammates testified against him.

A campaign of accusations that began more than 15 years ago as whispers has become a condemning shout against the man who once led the peloton but now has no choice but to abandon his position as the leading advocate for people in a situation he knows all too well.

Armstrong said in his statement this week that he will continue to work with Livestrong, which has raised more than $500 million toward its international mission. But will the organization survive the embarrassment? As loud as the cheers were for his seven victories on cycling's grandest stage, so were silent the sighs of his dwindling ranks of supporters. They, like their erstwhile hero, have at last been beaten down.

Identifying a cheat in the sport of professional cycling is a bit like identifying an orange on an orange tree. For decades, many of the sport's titles have been won, not at the finish line but at the drawn-out end of an official inquest into banned practices. Armstrong himself submitted to hundreds of blood and urine tests and passed each one. The problem there is that the sport's violation of choice is blood-doping, in which a volume of a racer's blood is removed and frozen, only to be replaced after the body has regenerated the missing amount, thus adding a boost of red cells that add to power and endurance.

Now, the International Cycling Union has until Oct. 31 to decide whether to strip Armstrong of his Tour de France and other titles, a decision that will largely be based not on physical evidence but on the testimony of others in a sport apparently overflowing with cheaters.

And while it seems somewhat unlikely that Armstrong alone resisted the temptation to level the playing field by taking part in doping activities, the final decision on the fate of his legacy remains to be heard.

Whatever that result brings, one thing is certain: even if his yellow jerseys are taken away, the power of those soft yellow bracelets deserves to live on.

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