Will Lance Armstrong finally come clean?
Now that the International Cycling Union (UCI) has done what many thought it would never do - endorse the United States Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) report and officially strip the seven-time Tour de France champion of his titles Monday - there seems little left for Armstrong to do but admit he was lying all along about his use of performance enhancing drugs.
He's been dropped by his Livestrong cancer foundation, and some of his biggest corporate sponsors - Nike, Radio Shack, Anheuser-Busch, Trek bicycles and Oakley. More are sure to follow in the wake of allegations levelled by 11 former teammates that he was the ringleader in the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the sporting public.
But coming clean is not just a moral issue for Armstrong. There may be criminal charges pending for perjury related to his past statements denying the use of performance enhancing drugs - not to mention a raft of civil suits - in which case a public admission is a tricky proposition.
If Armstrong is innocent of the USADA's charges why did he choose not to fight them?
Armstrong's choice not to and relinquish his Tour titles was tactical, part of a legal strategy to avoid having to testify in a public setting, and avoiding the public circus that would surely follow.
He knew former teammates had participated in the USADA's investigation, and not just other riders who'd been caught lying about their own use of performance enhancing drugs in the past.
Among the accusers this time was his right hand man, George Hincapie, a statesman in cycling, who'd participated in every one of his Tour victories, and has since admitted to his own use of drugs until 2006.
Is there any face left for Armstrong to save?
His feats on the bike and determination as a competitor are the stuff of legend.
But the picture painted of Armstrong, the man, by USADA in its report is not a pretty one. A very different portrait of Armstrong emerges than the one that's made him the world's most famous cancer survivor and an inspiration to literally millions fighting the disease around the world.
Put plainly, Armstrong comes off looking like a dick and a bully.
More than revealing just how insidious was his use of performance enhancing drugs, the affidavits sworn by former teammates expose Armstrong as a scoundrel who'd stop at nothing to win, including threatening former teammates - and their wives - using his leverage with big-buck corporate sponsors to keep rivals quiet, and in at least one instance, bribing an anti-doping official to make a positive test after his Tour de Suisse victory "go away."
What might a mea culpa look like?
One of the more interesting passages in the USADA's report deals with a conversation Armstrong reportedly had with former teammate Jonathan Vaughters.
That discussion suggests Armstrong blames the UCI, at least in part, for his cancer. Or, at least, failing to detect the high HCG levels in doping tests that might have alerted drug testers to the testicular cancer that would spread to his lungs and brain.
In his affidavit, Vaughters states: "In Lance's eyes the UCI was somewhat at fault for the extent of his cancer... Lance said, ‘If I ever had a doping problem, I have this card to play.'"
The statement Vaughters attributes to Armstrong suggests Armstrong was not above using his illness, if he had to, to keep doping officials from blowing the whistle.
It doesn't entirely explain - or excuse - his conduct. But looked at another way, the statement provides an entry point for some public sympathy for Armstrong.
Arguably, cycling deserves some of the blame. The sport was awash in performance enhancing drugs way before Armstrong came riding along. If you wanted to succeed, the peer pressure to dope was enormous.
Armstrong's use of performance-enhancing drugs may have, in fact, contributed to his cancer diagnosis. It's why former teammates were afraid to use them. There's no way of knowing for sure, of course. But if it's what Armstrong believed, then, one might see how cheating the system could be an easy decision for him to make.
Do Armstrong's corporate sponsors share in the blame for his cheating?
Lance Armstrong made a lot of money from corporate sponsors. That much is true.
But corporate sponsors made a fair bit of coin using his story to sell the their products.
And what a story it was, the most irresistible in the history of modern sports, a comeback of epic proportions from life-threatening stage four cancer to win the most grueling sporting event on the planet not once, but seven times.
The USADA's report reveals that at least one of Armstrong's biggest corporate backers, Coca-Cola, knew, or should have known, that he was lying to them about doping.
His continued involvement with one Michele Ferrari, the Italian doctor at the centre of a multi-million-dollar doping ring whose doping methods helped Armstrong not only win, but keep one step ahead of the sport's doping police, was well-known.
Coke, however, chose to ignore it. At least, they didn't move to cut their ties when it became an issue. And still haven't as the UCI's decision Monday.
There have been enough stories about Armstrong's doping over the years, including first hand accounts from former teammates that might have cause more diligent corporate sponsors to back away.
But as long as there was money to be made... Nike ran an ad campaign based on his alleged doping. "They ask me what I'm on. I tell them a bike."
Did Armstrong think he was immune from prosecution?
Armstrong certainly acted like someone who believed that too much was at stake for the governing bodies in cycling and his corporate sponsors for his cheating - for those who knew about it ¬- to ever to see the light of day, beyond the rumour and innuendo that has dogged him for most of his career.
But his brazenness got to the point where his cheating seemed to know no bounds, the USADA report revealing his dropping back to the team car during one stage of the Vuelta in 99, to get a little extra juice for the race in the form of a cortisone pill.
The move caught even his teammates by shock and surprise since it would be folly for them to be carrying anything illegal in the team car. An aspirin whittled down to look like a cortisone tablet was given Armstrong instead.
Maybe Armstrong believed, foolishly, that the code of silence in cycling the pervasiveness of drug taking would protect him.
Or perhaps it was hubris after all. He cheated death, what's a few million people more, right?
Were the charges against Armstrong politically motivated?
The USADA's report, as damning as it is against Armstrong, also makes clear that he's not alone when it comes to doping in the sport.
Twenty of 21 podium finishers in the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005, the years Armstrong won, have been "directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations."
Of the 45 riders to finish on the podium between 1996 and 2010, 36 were "similarly tainted by doping," the report makes clear.
Still, it's difficult to make the argument there's been a witch-hunt to get Armstrong, when it was a U.S.-based agency that finally got the goods.
On the contrary, the fact the USADA ended up getting Armstrong casts doubt on just how determined cycling's governing bodies in Europe were about going after Armstrong and ridding the sport of its reputation for rampant doping.
Now they're all too eager to wipe him and the memory of his illegally fuelled exploits from the record books as if they'd never happened.
Can Lance Armstrong be forgiven?
Among many of his supporters who've heard the words, "You have cancer," Armstrong's cheating is an inconsequential part of a bigger mission in life.
It's why Armstrong hasn't had to say much in the weeks since the USADA released its report. He's left the defending to the legions of his fans who've faced or are facing a disease that's a bigger challenge than any bicycle race could ever be.
To them, Armstrong's inspiration, not his deception, is his real legacy. But the revelations of recent weeks is making it harder to separate the two.