Armstrong story will not go away

So now we know the accusations won’t stop, and neither will the denials.

Because even as the clandestine world in which Lance Armstrong constructed his mythology crumbles at its very core, there is still one alibi he seems prepared to repeat for the rest of time.

20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of competition. Never a failed test. I rest my case.

That was what Armstrong tweeted Thursday afternoon, moments after word broke that his former teammate Tyler Hamilton had told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he saw Armstrong inject himself with the performance-enhancing drug EPO in preparation for the Tour de France, which he won seven straight times after nearly dying of cancer.“I saw it in his refrigerator, I saw him inject it more than one time … like I did, many, many times,” Hamilton said in a preview of the interview, which aired Sunday night.

Yes, this makes two former American cycling champions stepping forward in the past year to come clean on their own drug use and accuse Armstrong of cheating.

Floyd Landis, who won the 2006 Tour de France before a positive test stripped his title away, finally admitted doping last May and alleged that Armstrong had taken the endurance-boosting EPO in three of his Tour wins.

Now here comes Hamilton, who had long denied doping even as he tested positive for PEDs at the 2004 Olympics and again in 2009, earning an eight-year ban from the sport.

But even as the allegations become more specific and more on-the-record than ever, does the assault on Armstrong’s integrity accomplish anything but harden the views of those who have already made up their minds?

As long as he continues to claim he was clean and has a history of testing to back him up, it’s hard to imagine anyone who still believed Armstrong’s denials before Thursday would abandon the fairy tale now.

For many people, especially those well-versed in the culture of cycling, Armstrong’s dominance was always dubious.

Doping has been around as long as the sport itself, and ever since PEDs became illegal in 1965, cyclists have always tried to push the bounds of technology to find an edge. By the 1990s, when innovations in drugs and blood manipulation began to outpace the sophistication of the testing, it might have been the dirtiest sport on the planet.

To accept that Armstrong was clean when he won the Tour de France seven straight years would be to believe it’s possible for somebody not using PEDs to dominate a field full of world-class athletes aided by world-class drugs.

And for Armstrong to be that dominant three years after being treated for cancer that had spread from his testicles to his lungs, abdomen and brain? It’s a lot to believe.

And, yet, everything was set up for the public to believe it.

Armstrong’s story as a cancer survivor resonated even more strongly than anything he did as a cyclist, inspiring an entire generation of Americans who grew up wearing yellow bracelets that have become iconic in the fight against that horrible disease.

Combined with his history of clean drug tests and a loyal racing team that helped him win Tour after Tour and supported his doping denials whenever allegations of doping came up in the European press, Armstrong became one of America’s most famous and beloved athletes.

But once his story started to unravel — first in a 2004 book that alleged PED use, then in a damaging 2006 story in The Los Angeles Times that examined evidence in a lawsuit between Armstrong and a promotional company trying to withhold a $5 million bonus, and then with the Landis accusations — the mountain of circumstantial evidence would have been hard to ignore.

By now, you’ve either long since given up on the idea that Armstrong was clean or you’re so invested in his story that only a positive test will convince you otherwise.

Sure, Hamilton adds another voice and witness to the case against Armstrong.

But just like with Landis, Armstrong’s supporters will hold them to an impossible threshold of credibility. Just because Landis and Hamilton once lied about using PEDs doesn’t mean they’re lying now, but already that’s the way Armstrong’s PR machine has tried to paint them.

Showing up on “60 Minutes” with a salacious story about Armstrong might make them opportunists, but it doesn’t necessarily make them liars.

It would take a lot of faith, at this point, to believe Armstrong was clean, but didn’t it always?

There might be plenty of testimony now, but in the absence of a smoking gun, the lines in this debate have long since been drawn.

It will never end, of course. More Armstrong associates will come forward with allegations, he’ll continue to deny them and those who remain unconvinced by now will either continue abandoning common sense or cease to care.

But, at this point, Armstrong can let everybody else do the talking. As long as he has his negative tests — as unreliable as they might be — he doesn’t have to say another word.