The worst part of the Lance Armstrong story isn't the lying, considering more important people have lied more loudly. And it's not the cheating, considering bigger athletes to Americans have cheated.
It's certainly not how he sullied the sport of cycling, because (a) cycling is beyond sullying, and (b) most Americans pay attention to cycling only when angrily driving to work behind two people riding side-by-side in a Shimano uniform.
No, the worst part is how, for years, Armstrong willingly and eagerly held himself up as something more than just a cyclist. He stood for something more, he told us. He pretended he was noble through his story of cancer and yellow "Livestrong" wristbands.
This is what remains so different about discussing the Armstrong who steps into a staged confessional with Oprah Winfrey on television Thursday night. Armstrong, the cyclist, isn't the central issue anymore, if he ever was, at least in this country.
Armstrong, the man, is the issue.
And you don't need a Tour de France map or some analyst to explain the mountain stage to understand Armstrong now. You just need to ask: What kind of a person sets up a genuine confession with a Hollywood talk-show queen?
The back story is equally telling. They met at Armstrong's home in Hawaii to discuss the ground rules, according to the Wall Street Journal. Days passed. His people talked to her people. Lawyers were involved. Agents. A date was set.
Again, does this sound like a negotiation or a confession?
There will be televised tears, of course. Believe they're real, if you wish. But if you need a tissue it should be for the dozens of people whose lives were stained by Armstrong, the ones whose stories tumbled out, one after another, in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's 1,000 page report on him.
There is Armstrong's masseuse, Emma O'Reilly, who went public with his performance-enhancing drug use. He sued her for more than her worth and spread the idea she was a drunk and a prostitute.
There is Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former Armstrong teammate, Frankie. They testified to being with Armstrong in a hospital 1996 when he admitted to a doctor using performance-enhancing drugs.
"Vindictive, bitter, vengeful and jealous," Armstrong labeled them.
Betsy Andreu then heard this from one of Armstrong's soldiers on her phone: "I Hope somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head. I also hope that one day you have adversity in your life and you have some type of tragedy."
Cheating in cycling, you see, is a misdemeanor on the human scale for Armstrong. Lying to race officials is the small stuff.
Armstrong used his influence to have Trek bikes drop its sponsorship of Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France. That cost him millions, he said. His crime?
"If Lance's story is true," LeMond had told a reporter, "it's the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If it's not, it's the greatest fraud."
A teammate, Tyler Hamilton, told "60 Minutes" how Armstrong cheated. The next time they saw each other, Armstrong said, "I'm going to make your life a living hell both in the courtroom and out of the courtroom."
For years, most Americans needed someone to explain Armstrong's cycling feats to us. For years, our critical thinking began and ended with the words former NFL coach Mike Ditka, who said as Armstrong won another Tour de France:
"Look, I have no idea what he's doing over there. But do you understand how hard that is? Get on your bike and ride for 10 minutes [and] tell me how you feel. And this guy is going to win again?"
Cycling isn't America's sport. But you don't need to understand cycling to consider Armstrong a lout. He made himself out to be someone he never was. In the end, he was a cyclist. Just a cyclist. He just cheated to a level few cyclists do.