Lance Armstrong's endgame is upon us.
While the seven-time Tour de France champion maintains that he never used any performance enhancing drugs, official sanctions have now been handed down against three men directly linked to Armstrong's cycling achievements.
According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral, a cycling team doctor; Dr. Michele Ferrari, a cycling team consulting doctor; and Jose "Pepe" Martí Martí, a cycling team trainer, have all received lifetime bans as the result of anti-doping rule violations that occurred while they were working with Armstrong's former cycling teams.
"Permanently banning these individuals from sport is a powerful statement that protects the current and next generation of athletes from their influence, and preserves the integrity of future competition," USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart said in a statement.
For those who wonder what doctors have to do with a cycling team, this gets to the very essence of one of the biggest questions in sport right now: If Lance Armstrong doped, how did he do it? After all, he passed scores of drug tests every year he was racing.
According to former Armstrong teammates, doctors and trainers like the three men USADA essentially convicted, are frequently used to run what some in the sport have referred to as a team's "medical program."
Cycling and the Tour de France have been ravaged by doping scandals for many years. But USADA claims that Armstrong's US Postal Service Team in particular ran a doping program more sophisticated than the competition.
One official involved in the matter put it this way: "This is among the worst and deepest doping conspiracies the world has ever seen."
Ferrari, the Italian doctor who had been ensnared in doping controversy in Europe before Armstrong raised eyebrows by working with him, often independent of his team, is a case in point.
In support of its lifetime ban, this is what USADA says about Ferrari:
"Dr. Ferrari developed a distinctive mixture of testosterone and olive oil to be administered under the tongue to assist in recovery during races and training. This mixture was known among team members as the 'oil.' Dr. Ferrari also advised riders on the use of the banned oxygen enhancer erythropoietin ('EPO') with detailed instructions regarding clearance times, how the EPO drug test worked and how to avoid detection of the drug. Dr. Ferrari specifically advised riders to inject EPO intravenously in order to avoid the drug showing up in a urine drug test."
If it sounds more like a science class than a bike race, welcome to the Tour de France. The details match much of what disgraced Tour winner and former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis told ABC News in 2010.
But at this point, there's still no smoking gun to prove Armstrong did anything wrong.
Even though his doctors and trainers have been found guilty and even though USADA says a minimum of 10 former teammates will testify that Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs and encouraged others to do so, a huge portion of the country wants to know -- where's the hard proof?
Armstrong maintains the USADA case is a "kangaroo court" and that he has no chance of a fair judgment. He tried to get a federal judge to intervene, but that move failed spectacularly.
Federal court Judge Sam Sparks rejected the suit Monday in a strongly worded order that said Armstrong appeared to be playing to the media more than to the legal system.
His legal team filed another claim in federal court today to try to stop the process.
But where does it end?
Armstrong faces a deadline at week's end. He can fight and go to arbitration -- a process that will involve testimony under oath and a likely public airing of what USADA claims will be very damaging testimony. Or he can do what the three doctors/trainers did -- nothing at all -- and allow sanctions to take hold. That could mean the loss of some or all of Armstrong's impressive Tour titles and a lifetime ban from elite level sports.
If there's a third option, Armstrong isn't saying.
But after years of rumors and allegations -- lawsuits and even a dropped federal investigation -- the answer to that controversial question seems to be coming up faster than a sharp turn during a mountain descent in the Tour. Did Armstrong dope? And if USADA concludes that he did, will they offer up the proof many fans will require in order to believe it beyond a reasonable doubt.
What follows is the official list of violations handed down today against Armstrong's former associates.
The anti-doping rule violations for which del Moral, Ferrari and Martí are receiving sanctions include:
(1) Possession of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions and related equipment (such as needles, blood bags, storage containers and other transfusion equipment and blood parameters measuring devices), testosterone, hGH, corticosteroids, and masking agents.
(2) Trafficking of EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, hGH, corticosteroids and masking agents.
(3) Administration and/or attempted administration of EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, hGH, corticosteroids, and masking agents.
(4) Assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering up and other complicity involving one or more anti-doping rule violations and/or attempted anti-doping rule violations.