And the winner is … no one

The United States Anti-Doping Agency is bringing a loud case against Lance Armstrong, and while Americans in general seem to have tired of court cases involving doping, this one has donnybrook potential.

Reportedly another Tour de France has begun even as they still try to sort out the winner from 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005.

If in life we must seek silver linings - and we must - this would be the suspenseful underpinning of the doping bugaboo, the fact that losing is not so painful anymore.

Finishing fourth at an Olympics, for example, used to be aching; now it comes with a rational sliver of hope that somebody up there on the stand might get caught with funky blood.

Finish fourth, as did Merlene Ottey in the women's 100 metres at Sydney on September 23, 2000, and you know the race has not ended.

In a corner of your mind you can stash that by, oh, say, October 9, 2007, the winner might relinquish her gold.

Another two years, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) might award you a bronze.

If you like, you can stand on a stool in your living room and play music. Maybe a dignitary will drop by to hang the medal on your neck.

Maybe now, fifth is the more aching place.

Heck, I know this sounds far-fetched, but even the silver medalist might end up claiming to have been in a suspicious pre-Olympics motorcycle accident with her boyfriend and end up starting the 2004 Olympics hidden in an Athens hospital, and someday the IOC might reward you even with a silver as it would not give her a gold.

Eat well, stay healthy, stay alive, and by the end you might have won the danged thing.

All those years of Tour de France gruel come up again now as the United States Anti-Doping Agency brings a loud case against Lance Armstrong.

While Americans in general seem to have tired of court cases involving doping, often short-sightedly bemoaning the expenditures, this one has donnybrook potential.

The New York Times just reported that the number of former teammates aiming to testify against Armstrong would figure to exceed 10, and to include George Hincapie, the trusted sidekick from Armstrong's seven possible Tour de France titles.

The agency charges Armstrong with doping and participation in doping conspiracy while on both United States Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams.

A previous federal investigation stalled dead with no criminal charges and with Armstrong in triumphant triumphalism.

Now the saga restarts with a possibility of a stripping of the seven possible titles, and with Armstrong still mining melodramatic terminology for steadfast denials.

All along, of course, he vigorously has maintained innocence, many times citing never having failed a doping test, which discredited his defence whether he cheated or not.

With drug technology long ahead of testing technology, if anybody you know defends an athlete based on passed tests, you should refrain from slapping that person only because we should not go around in life slapping people.

In the good news, we will get another round of Armstrong's theatrical counterpunches, such as his tweet of June 23 alleging "heinous allegations" from the agency.

In the bad news, we will get another long round of his theatrical counterpunches, and many of us are as sick of him as we are of the murky issue.

The other day, he tweeted of the witnesses: "So let me get this straight: come in and tell @usantidoping exactly what they wanted to hear … in exchange for immunity, anonymity and the opportunity to continue to race in the biggest event in cycling. This isn't about @usantidoping wanting to clean up cycling - rather it's just plain ol' selective prosecution that reeks of vendetta."

That opera, of course, took three tweets.

Dauntingly, though, it could end up exhausting sifting through Tour de France charts to find winners in the Armstrong years.

Last February, the three-time runner-up Jan Ullrich received a post-retirement two-year ban annulling all his results from May 2005 to February 2007, including his third place in the 2005 Tour, from which the runner-up was Ivan Basso, who in May 2007 received a two-year suspension and who admitted to involvement in, yeah, attempted doping but not actual doping.

One runner-up admitted to using EPO in 1998.

An independent commission found that one runner-up stopped off for an illegal blood transfusion during one race.

A fourth-place finisher once tested positive for anabolic steroids even as a team director maintained that another team member caused the doping.

A podium spot from 2003 could go to fourth-place Tyler Hamilton … but, oh, wait, never mind.

Pretty soon, you fear they would get down to some schlub on a bike aimed for his mother's flat with a bag of baguettes slung over a handlebar.

At least then they could have a new ceremony and play La Marseillaise, which is a beautiful song.

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