Lance Armstrong is the only real champion cycling has ever had. Mainstream sports fans recognize Armstrong next to any other high-profile athlete, but his legacy was dealt a massive blow Thursday evening.
According to a statement on Armstrong's website, he is giving up his fight against the USADA and their doping charges:
Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.
Armstrong may be right. It may be just as he describes it: nonsense. We will probably never know either way, but that doesn't diminish the damage to the sport of cycling.
He was the sole pillar of strength for a sport existing on the fringe. Armstrong, guilty or not, is no longer invincible.
Armstrong's legacy will always be up for debate, and it's never going to be cut and dry. His guilt is questionable, and walking away at this point ensures that it will always be that way.
He made sure that the impact this investigation makes on his life ended on Thursday. This was a decision rooted firmly in inner peace for himself and his family, but it will severely alter the cycling world.
It's not like Armstrong is the only one who has faced these issues. Every year, it seems like a fresh new face is being chased by the powers that be.
Cycling's nature is intertwined with undertones of doping, but Armstrong's name sticks out above all others. He accomplished things that no other cyclist could manage, and everything about his story begged for human interest.
A halogen light was cast on him wherever he went during his run of seven straight championships, and that brought attention to the entire sport. The Tour de France will be lucky to have that presence again.
Armstrong became bigger than his sport like only the best athletes do. He took an obscure activity and attached an iconic name to it like no one else has ever been able to.
The trophies that he earned may not matter to him or to the people who watched him win them, but they matter to cycling. They signify the greatest individual achievement the sport has ever seen, and that's very tough to bounce back from.
This isn't baseball, basketball or football. Cycling champions don't rise to prominence every day.
Armstrong's crash cast a murkiness over his entire career, but it did ineffable damage to an entire culture.