Let's tally up the losers and the louses in the latest round of the Lance Armstrong Derby. Lord knows -- and no offense to the members of the Dick Pound Fan Club, here -- there ain't a winner in sight.
It's amazing how muddy the back end of a car wash can get. Armstrong is coming through a week in which he ostensibly was supported in his long-held claim that he didn't cheat like a bandit to win the 1999 Tour de France.
It took less than a full news cycle for the broad body of public opinion to start ricocheting back the other way.
People practically lined up to explain that what a Dutch lawyer concluded wasn't really acceptable. They noted you couldn't trust any finding that Armstrong didn't cheat back in '99. For that matter, what the lawyer came up with wasn't really a refutation of the charge that Armstrong doped his way to glory.
It's time to accept the inevitable: It won't ever be over for Armstrong. It won't ever be over for Barry Bonds, or Marion Jones, or any of the people who've been keelhauled by public opinion and various accumulations of fact, rumor and whisper (not to mention blood, urine and saliva).
Armstrong certainly understands that much; he said so in a Men's Journal interview in which Tom Brokaw asked the seven-time Tour champ whether he was finally "out of the doping business" in the sense of people no longer asking him about it.
"No, no, I'm not out of that," Armstrong replied. "There are too many people. It's really become a story You have a guy like Dick Pound -- he absolutely hates me with a passion. He'll never let it die."
True dat. And on to the leaderboard.
Just doesn't come out looking much better, in the end. His support comes from Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman, who was hired by the International Cycling Union to investigate the handling of Armstrong's urine samples from 1999, but Vrijman's report isn't going to sway anyone who already thought Armstrong was a cheater -- the case it makes is essentially the old samples-were-unreliable defense trotted out by so many disgraced athletes over the years.
The fact that Vrijman might be 100 percent correct about that - those samples look like they were trampled by hordes of invading forces before they were ever tested - isn't carrying the day, either. Instead, Pound issues his official doubts from whatever throne he's occupying these days, and a Texas specialist on athletes and substance abuse, John Hoberman, tells a reporter that the fact remains Armstrong dominated "the most drug-soaked sport in the world."
Nice. Armstrong, meanwhile, maintains that the report "confirms my innocence." Upon further review, apparently not.
World Anti-Doping Agency
This is the agency once thought to be sports' best hope against wholesale cheating. Alas, it comes out of the Vrijman report looking like just another passenger along for the ride.
It's impossible to separate WADA from the pompous Pound, its chairman, but Vrijman notes in his 130-page document that the agency didn't fully cooperate in his investigation of the procedures used to reach conclusions about Armstrong and the '99 samples. Vrijman also concluded that both WADA and the French national anti-doping laboratory didn't follow testing procedures and violated confidentiality rules.
Other than that, nicely played.
Fast becoming the clown prince of the industry, Pound is the go-to guy for any reporter looking for a blustery quote about cheating in general, no matter how ill-informed or shoddily thought out it might be.
Pound responded to Vrijman's report himself, before his WADA peeps even had time to put together their official statement of disappointment in the findings -- and what he had to say was vintage Pound. In an interview with the Associated Press, Pound said it was clear from reading reports of Vrijman's document that "there was no interest in determining whether the samples Armstrong provided were positive or not."
Pound hadn't actually read Vrijman's findings, which make it clear Armstrong's samples were so badly mishandled that there isn't any conclusion from them to be trusted, least of all one that he cheated by using the synthetic hormone EPO. But, hey, why let that get in the way of a quote?
Officials of the Tour publicly challenged Armstrong's truthfulness; the French lab that did the 2004 re-testing of the five-year-old samples blew all protocol; a French newspaper first reported the "scandal" ah, forget it. No sense piling on.
Armstrong told Brokaw that he doesn't miss competitive cycling. He still might miss getting on his bike. That part was always OK. It's this stuff he doesn't miss. And that makes it all the more ironic that this -- the scum and the grime -- is what Armstrong won't be allowed to scrape away anytime soon.
Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at email@example.com.