One of the greatest events in all of sports is Le Tour de France, a grueling three-week ride through France that requires power, speed, strength and endurance over its approximately 2,200-mile course.
While the course changes every year, there are several constants. Time trials, requiring the rider to race against the clock along a designated course.
Hill climbs, which require the rider to race uphill and downhill in various categories of climbs including those that are beyond classification or hors categorie.
And flat and intermediate stages which are often marked by breakaways that include riders who leave the peloton of most riders in order to attempt a stage win and to gain time.
The most important of all bicycle races, the Tour has been held for more than a hundred years. The race captured the hearts and minds of United States viewers in the late 1980s, when Greg LeMond won three of four Tours.
By the time Lance Armstrong won his first of seven Tours in a row, there was growing television coverage in the United States.
Armstrong's win came in 1999 after he became part of the US Postal Service team. By the time the Postal Service left cycling in 2004, Armstrong had won five Tours in a row. He won two more, winning more Tours (and more in a row) than any other rider in cycling history.
Sadly, Floyd Landis had his 2006 Tour victory taken away after fighting for years the claim that he had been doping during his Tour win.
And in 2010, Landis claimed that Lance Armstrong and many other riders also were doping while racing during the Tour.
"On May 20, 2010, after almost four years of contesting the allegations against him, Landis admitted to continual doping and alleged that Lance Armstrong and many other top riders who rode on his team doped as well."
These were not the first such claims. In 2005, VeloNews reported that an Armstrong drug test in 1999 showed he had used the banned substance EPO during the Tour. As Wikipedia wrote:
Doping controversy involving unproven allegations have surrounded Lance Armstrong, although he has never tested positive or been formally accused of doping. In August 2005, one month after Armstrong's seventh consecutive victory, L'Équipe published documents it said showed Armstrong had used EPO in the 1999 race.
Armstrong denied using EPO. At the same Tour, Armstrong's urine showed traces of a glucocorticosteroid hormone, although below the positive threshold.
He said he had used skin cream containing triamcinolone to treat saddle sores. Armstrong said he had received permission from the UCI to use this cream.
For some time, certainly before last summer, US and other governmental agencies have been investigating drug use by Armstrong.
Among those involved in the investigations are the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Food and Drug Agency and the Department of Justice.
There is a grand jury progressing in Los Angeles, which has resulted in the latest disclosures by several former teammates about alleged Armstrong drug use.
Among others in addition to Floyd Landis, George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton have allegedly testified that Armstrong used banned substances during some or all of the Tours he won.
After eight years and untold millions of dollars, Barry Bonds was not convicted of using banned substances in his recent trial in San Francisco.
Some claim that this newest investigation, which is likely already to have cost far more than the Bonds investigation because of its international reach, is inappropriate for a federal government already strapped for cash.
In addition, despite over 500 drug tests, Armstrong has never tested positive for banned substances under applicable rules and limits. His attorney has said:
"All of Lance's samples were 100% clean when they were first given and tested," Fabiani said. "In fact, over his 20-year career, Armstrong has taken nearly 500 drug tests, in and out of competition, and never failed a single one."
Yet the investigation continues undeterred.
Investigators have said that this is different from the cases against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Both involved lying to federal authorities. While this is also clearly a possible charge here, the fact that the US Postal Service and public money was involved in many of Armstrong's wins makes this decidedly different with much more serious implications.
Although little has been said about the grand jury inquiry and deliberations, which remain secret as a matter of law, one person claimed to be "close to the investigation" said this was about "corruption to the core."
Among others, Armstrong could be charged with fraud against the US Government, racketeering, conspiracy to defraud the government and a number of other charges.
Sadly, there is very little chance that this investigation will go away. With the already leaked testimony, the international scope of the investigation, and fame of Lance Armstrong, there is little doubt but that an indictment is forthcoming.
Whether Armstrong, like Bonds, will be able to defeat the charges is uncertain. What is certain is that the reputation of the greatest cyclist in US history will be forever tarnished.
Especially given the hope Armstrong has brought to cancer patients, and the success he has had in generating money and interest in defeating cancer, this is a greater tragedy than any previous doping charge against any other athlete.
In the end, we have almost certainly lost a true hero to many without hope before his exploits.