CHARLES GRAHAM - Very bad day for sport

CYCLISTS have never enjoyed such adulation in this country as they have this year.

Wiggins, Hoy and co can take great credit for the sudden proliferaion of folk in skin-tight Lyrca now wobbling around our streets and country lanes.

And, as they did at the previous Olympics, gave British fans some of the most thrilling moments of the London games. Our own adopted sporting son – he of the magnificent sideburns – further ramped up interest and fervour with his magnificent Tour de France win.

These performances had been such an antedote too for a sport blighted by performance-enhancing drug abuse more than most over many years.

But this ruinous spectre has now returned with a vengeance after the most stunningly sad week for a sport’s reputation that I can recall.

Lance Armstrong has been a colossal role model to millions, not only in winning the Tour on numerous occasions but also his conquest of cancer.

He was the Pele, the Bradman, the Ali of cycling. But now he is none of these things, having been stripped of all his titles and branded a drugs cheat.

There had been allegations and a case building against Armstrong for years which he always vehemently denied. Indeed he never failed a drugs test during his career and, to my knowledge, there was no clinical evidence against him for the forthcoming tribunal.

His reputation was to have been savaged largely by fellow cyclists who claimed to have evidence which struck me as rather odd. I would have thought that any drugs cheat wouldn’t be popping pills or injecting himself in front of anyone bar, perhaps, his supplier. Nor would he be talking about it either.

The late Terry Newton told my colleague Phil Wilkinson that only the person who knew he took performance-enhancing drugs (before he failed a dope test) was the person who gave them to him. All his closest friends and family were taken completely by surprise by the results.

One began to wonder whether the claims against Armstrong were false and maliciously motivated. And it also set you musing how easy it would be destroy any sporting legend’s reputation with a few belated and unprovable allegations.

But then, at the 11th hour, he announced he would no longer be contesting the case, saying he was weary of it all.

One might argue that he felt that he was never going to win a one-voice-against-several case.

But surely someone with nothing to hide, who has batted away cheating claims for years on end, would at least have held out a few more weeks even if it was unfairly in vain?