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The dope on Lance's teammates

July 12, 2008 |  2:30 pm

Cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong speaks at the Nevada Cancer Institute as part of the Lance Armstrong Foundation's fifth annual LIVESTRONG Day May 13.

Miguel Beltran was an accessory to Lance Armstrong's final three Tour de France victories, riding as a domestique -- or helper -- on Armstrong's team in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Friday, the news came out that Beltran had tested positive for the blood booster EPO in a test taken July 5, the first stage of the 2008 Tour.  The confirming "B'' sample test has yet to be run, but Beltran's current team, Liquigas, sent the Spanish rider packing immediately.

Now it would be a stretch to consider Armstrong an accessory to Beltran's doping, given that the only bicycle he seems interested in these days is one built for two -- him and actress Kate Hudson.

But it hardly seems a stretch to point out that Beltran is the fifth rider to share one or more Armstrong triumphs and later either test positive or admit doping.

The rogues' gallery: another Spaniard, Roberto Heras, and U.S. riders Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and Frankie Andreu.

Armstrong, it must be said, never was sanctioned for a positive doping test.

Of course, he did test positive for a corticosteroid during his first triumph, in 1999, but that result conveniently went away after he produced a therapeutic use exemption for the drug -- although that paperwork allegedly was backdated.

And then there was the messy business of Armstrong's reported EPO use in the 1999 Tour, uncovered by the French newspaper L'Equipe based on leaked documents about retroactive testing on his samples.  No sanctions were applied because the testing was unofficial -- and perhaps scientifically questionable, although that never was determined.

No, all we know about Lance is he rode during an era when dopers were everywhere in the sport, and he crushed those dopers climb after climb, time trial after time trial, year after year.

And we know that five of his ex-teammates have been involved in doping.

And many of us want to give Armstrong a pass on this because he is a cancer survivor and he has inspired thousands of others with cancer in the fights of their lives.

Me?  I think what he has done for the cancer community is magnificent and munificent, the achievement of a lifetime.

But, if "B"' follows "A'" for Beltran, as it did for the other teammates, it also follows that  what Armstrong did on a bicycle to make all his good works possible continues to be tarnished more and more as time goes by.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong speaks at the Nevada Cancer Institute as part of the Lance Armstrong Foundation's fifth annual LIVESTRONG Day May 13. Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images for Nevada Cancer Institute

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