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Aside from looking good on high-def TV, professional cycling's main purpose these days is as sports' most gruesomely enthusiastic penitent.

We've been doing drugs for a couple of thousand years, but in the mid-Aughties it felt like cycling had just invented narcotics.

Most of the affronted fans didn't understand what this stuff was, or what it did, or where exactly Belgium is on a map, but they knew enough to feel cheated.

Everyone wanted to get cycling out in the public square for a good whipping, but cycling was hanging onto chairs and door frames and making a real show of itself. Ahead of the 2006 Tour de France, the two favourites were nabbed in a Spanish doping sting (along with dozens of others). The guy who won the race failed a drug test, appealed, lost and was stripped of his crown. The title was retroactively awarded to the second-place finisher, who was then also investigated for doping.

If you visited Paris that July, there was an off chance you'd end up winning the Tour de France, just because you were the only person in the city without the testosterone levels of a silverback gorilla.

Drugs and cycling didn't really matter until Lance Armstrong stuck his head in the media wood-chipper and left it there until it was whittled down to a bloody nub. Armstrong's sin wasn't lying about doing drugs. It was destroying the people who found out about it. That was the sort of story people could understand, and would neither forgive nor forget.

Once cycling lost Armstrong, it gave up fighting.

For the past few years, the sport has been in the midst of a wide-ranging reconsideration of its recent history. The first of the really damning documents was a 2012 U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report into Armstrong's actions.

It called the machine behind his U.S. Postal Service cycling team "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."

The East Germans had a government program (State Plan 14.25) dedicated to doping, and as many as 100,000 participating athletes. They won 192 gold medals at 11 Olympics. Armstrong was one guy.

But having spent so long bound together by denial, cycling and its fellow travellers wanted the catharsis of an old-fashioned stoning. Armstrong was being buried up to his neck.

Three years later, they're still throwing rocks at him.

On Monday, the International Cycling Union (UCI) released a report by its "Reform Commission." It reads like the sort of document the Mafia would put out on organized crime, if everyone in the Cosa Nostra was mainlining sodium pentothal.

The UCI cast itself as more than just one of Armstrong's many abettors. It helped create him.

In 1999, he was caught using cortisone, a banned substance. Advised of the positive test, Armstrong provided a backdated doctor's note. The note was transparently falsified, as it contained several basic errors. The UCI backed down. Armstrong went on that year to win the first of his seven Tours. From that point on, he was untouchable.

"[T]here was a tacit exchange of favours between the UCI leadership and Lance Armstrong, and they presented a common front," the report concludes.

The report stops just short of suggesting the leadership was motivated to shield Armstrong by financial corruption. But only just.

That's the headline, but it's the least of it.

While it's still busy beating itself up, cycling has done a well-advertised job of assuming most of its competitors are cheaters. No sport has a more onerous and invasive testing regimen.

"It is sad that athletes will have to wear tags like cows saying they have taken so many drug tests with no positive results," Canada's leading expert on doping, Christiane Ayotte, said several years ago. "It's a bit pathetic."

Sad, pathetic and – according to the UCI – not working.

The UCI report suggests the famed "biological passport" – used to track small variations in testing parameters – is instead being used by cyclists as a blueprint to build personalized doping schemes. It recommends that competitors no longer be told their results, and be tested at all hours to prevent late-night "micro-dosing."

The report says drug use is "endemic" in amateur cycling. So much so that elite racers no longer take part in the pastoral pro-am races called Gran Fondos – too many of the competitors are on the juice.

As to the top ranks, the UCI can't say who's on drugs. Maybe everyone? Maybe just a few scoundrels? But probably everyone.

From the report: "One respected cycling professional felt that, even today, 90 per cent of the peloton [the main pack] was doping, although he thought there was little orchestrated team doping in the manner that teams had previously employed. Another put it around 20 per cent. Many people simply stated they 'didn't know' who was clean and who was not."

This makes professional cyclists sound like members of al-Qaeda cells.

Monday's report set off a backlash to the backlash to the … hold on a minute. I'm getting confused. Well, somebody's angry.

Former pro and clean-riding activist David Millar accused the UCI of constructing a "false consensus" around the dirtiness of the sport.

"I would be very interested to know how many current clean riders they approached in order to find the state of the peleton today," Millar told The Guardian.

A "clean rider." What does that particular beast look like? Presumably no different than the unclean ones. How do we tell the difference?

Furthermore, given that the governing body of the sport is the one telling us the whole thing is crooked, why would we believe it?

Cleaning up a sport sounds like a wonderful idea, but this is where it gets you.

Eventually, your truth-telling runs up against a very basic aspect of human nature – that people tell lies when there's something to be gained from it. As long as drugs are illegal, people will lie about taking them.

The trick isn't in catching them. It's in building something that doesn't require them to lie in the first place.

If you can't take drugs out of cycling – which the UCI has just admitted – that leaves you with two choices. Stop checking for drugs, or keep checking for lies.

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