By Michael Rosenberg
January 17, 2013
Without doping Lance Armstrong would not have won any of his seven Tour de France titles.

I don't know how many surprises we'll get from Lance Armstrong's pre-recorded interview with Oprah Winfrey, which will air Thursday and Friday. We already know Armstrong admitted to doping (and already knew he doped). Maybe Armstrong called himself a terrible person for trying to destroy so many people who simply told the truth about him. Maybe Oprah said she used steroids when she ran the marathon. Maybe she gave him a free car.

We'll just have to tune in and see. But whatever Lance said, and however much he cried, the simplest, most painful truth for him is this:

Without doping, Lance Armstrong would be nobody.

Oh, sure, he would be alive. But he would not exist as a public figure. He would not be on Oprah's couch for any reason, because Oprah would have no clue who he was. You wouldn't know him if he walked down your street, unless he happened to be your neighbor, and then you would struggle to remember his name. Larry something, you'd think.

Without doping, Armstrong would not have won the Tour de France. Without winning the Tour de France, he would not be famous. Without his fame, he would not be have made millions in endorsements.

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Without his victories, Armstrong would have struggled to find a publisher for his book, "It's Not About The Bike," written with sportswriter Sally Jenkins, and he and Jenkins would not have made a bunch of money off it.

Without fame or Tour de France titles, Armstrong would not have been such a compelling hero for so many people who fight cancer, and so his Livestrong Foundation would probably not exist either. It certainly would not exist on this scale.

Without doping, Armstrong could not have done all the good work he has done for cancer patients.

Other than his family, virtually everything in Armstrong's life was built on a fraud. Without doping, he would not have so many lawyers, agents, marketing people and hangers-on enabling him over the years. Without doping, he wouldn't have critics to destroy, lawsuits to fight or humanitarian awards to accept.

Without doping, he would have no image to rehabilitate.

Armstrong is not like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens -- who, by all accounts, were rich, famous and headed for the Hall of Fame before they started using performance-enhancing drugs. Without doping, Armstrong would be just another guy. That was never enough for him -- which, of course, is why he doped.

Armstrong can tell Oprah -- and himself -- that virtually every top cyclist of his era was doping, and the net effect was neutral. If everybody cheats, is anybody really cheating? But there are problems with that line of thought. Not everybody had access to the same quality of doping -- remember, Armstrong's doping program was so good that he says he never failed a drug test -- and not everybody reacts to doping in the same way. PEDs may have given Armstrong a much bigger boost than they gave most riders.

And anyway: Even if almost everybody doped, then so did Armstrong. It was his choice. He is just as guilty as Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, and if he had chosen to race clean against them, he would not have won anything. This is why he doped. If you think he would have won anyway, in an era filled with cheats, you're delusional.

Without doping, those of you who love Lance Armstrong would not even know Lance Armstrong, and this is why so many fans have clung to the idea that he didn't cheat. One reason we watch sports is that the games give us something concrete in an ambiguous world. You can hate the Miami Heat, but you must acknowledge they won the championship. You can say that Peyton Manning is overrated, but you must admit his 436 career touchdown passes happened.

Who wants to un-tell Armstrong's remarkable story, just because it wasn't true? Who wants to take back their tears? It is so hard to admit that the emperor should have no yellow jerseys. It's more comfortable for fans to deny, deny, deny, just like Armstrong did, right up until this week. But this is the truth about Armstrong. Doping made him.

Without doping, Armstrong would just be another guy running a bike shop in Austin, Texas, trying to promote the place with special discounts for his 200 Twitter followers. Without doping, he would work his butt off to pay the mortgage every month and hope he had a little extra to give to the American Cancer Society.

Without doping, Armstrong would explain to his bike-shop customers that there is a difference between a Cannondale and a Trek, and he might even talk them into buying a Le Mond. He would tell his customers that yes, the rumor around town is true: He did finish the Tour de France a couple of times, and it wiped him out ... and yes, he knew the top cyclists were doping, but he decided it wasn't for him ... and anyway: Would they like to test-ride a Cannondale? Yup: Without doping, Armstrong would be just another working man, trying to convince the customers in his shop that it really is about the bike.

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