David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer are two of five former Armstrong teammates who, according to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, have struck a deal with USADA. (AP)

David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer are two of five former Armstrong teammates who, according to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, have struck a deal with USADA. (AP)

As the riders in this year’s Tour de France pedal on, the event’s greatest champion continues to defend himself in retirement.

In February, a two-year investigation into charges that Lance Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs throughout the best years of his long and illustrious career ended with no criminal charges. But last month, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency notified Armstrong and his former team manager, among others, that that agency would file formal charges against the seven-time Tour winner. Should that agency succeed, Armstrong could be stripped of his Tour de France medals and other titles.

USADA also charged two team doctors, a trainer, and a consulting doctor with participating in doping, and indicated that as many as ten of Armstrong’s former teammates and associates would testify against him.

This week, Lance Armstrong fought back. In an e-mail to the Associated Press he wrote, “So let me get this straight. Come in and tell them exactly what they wanted to hear, and you get immunity AND anonymity? I never got that offer.”

Armstrong has asserted that the prosecution “reeks of vendetta.” He’s said, again, that he has passed each of the hundreds of tests he’s taken.

But here’s another statistic: Since 1996, eight different men have won the Tour de France. Five of them have been banned from racing for various periods of time, either because they tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, or because they admitted using banned substances.

People who love the sport and its most accomplished athlete righteously claim that no athletes are as thoroughly and frequently tested as their champions.

People who long ago wrote the sport off as filthy wonder how all the smoke that has swirled around Lance Armstrong for years could possibly have come to be without fire. His former teammates have been busted, as have numbers of his associates. How likely can it be that the greatest rider of them all raced clean while so many others around him – some of them right beside him – systematically broke the rules?

And then there are the people who watched the long, sometimes comically inept prosecutions of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens end in nothing much. These people, and there are lots of them, have grown awfully tired of stories like this one and would be delighted if nobody ever again gave Lance Armstrong–clean or dirty–reason to squawk.