I wasn’t sure if I was going to write a follow up to my previous post on this topic, but a chat with a good friend made me decide that I should. Not least because it’s far too complicated to explain my position in a tweet.
I should start by saying that I haven’t read the (1,000 page) USADA report. But then, I don’t believe too many journalists have either.
The key revelations of course centre around the allegations that Lance Armstrong, 7 time “winner” of the Tour de France, not only doped during his period of dominance, but operated as part of a deep-running, systematic doping ring within his teams at the time. There are claims that he was the ringleader of the whole thing, that he coerced and bullied others into doping, and that his own selfish motives were behind everything. I think there are stronger cases for some of those things than others, but ultimately I’m not sure we’ll ever know – particularly if Armstrong sticks to his current stance and refuses to either accept or fight the charges.
We now know that, at least at the top level, professional cycling was rife with cheating for an extended period of time. Just how far back is hard to say, but to my mind the last real, enduring, champion was Miguel Indurain. Coincidentally, he’s Bradley Wiggins Tour hero. Fitting; as I hope Wiggins can become the figurehead of a new, drug free, era in cycling.
We also know that the sport IS cleaning up, and in fact has already come a long long way in doing so, before this latest scandal even broke water. There have already been a number of high profile resignations among the Pro Tour teams, and more than 1 rider has been let go from a contract as a direct result of their testimonies in the USADA report.
Let’s not forget that those people who spoke out against Armstrong have also incriminated themselves, and some are now serving bans from the sport as a result. They have put their jobs, their reputations and their livelihoods on the line for the sake of the sport, and, while the prevalence of the doping culture still sickens me, that takes balls. It’s precisely the reason I have so much respect for David Millar.
Was he really any good?
There’s a question on a few people’s tongues as a result of the decision not to award any of Armstrong’s seven Tour victories to anyone else (like they did with Andy Schleck when Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour title), and that is just how deep did the doping run? Simply based on the testimonies in the USADA report, we know that there was a hello of a lot of doping going on at the time and so to realistically extrapolate the doped vs non-doped results would be nigh on impossible.
It is deeply saddening to me that that is the case, and that 7 years of history must simply be scratched out. It will forever be a blot on the sport.
Perversely, given the prolific extent of the doping, it’ actually not unreasonable to assume that Lance Armstrong was still the best cyclist of that time. Who knows what might have happened if those seven were fair races.
It just sucks to be one of the forgotten few who really were riding clean, and suffered in one way or another as a result.
What is still lacking, in my opinion, is more contrition at the UCI. It is fairly apparent to all observers that the UCI top brass are still refusing to accept that the doping culture of the Armstrong era is something they could have prevented, even limited. In essence they’ve been turning, and continue to turn, something of a blind eye to the culture. To me they seem to have written it off as “just one of those things”, and that is not the way they should be trying to deliver a sport from what could be the darkest circumstances it has ever been in.
I’m not saying that they should be whip cracking, or making promises they can’t keep, but an investigation of the current culture wouldn’t hurt. Nor perhaps would an some sort of encouragement for other riders to come clean.
Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, respectively the current and previous presidents of the UCI – their combined tenures covering the entire era of Armstrong’s dominance, are in a position of tremendous responsibility. The eyes of the world are on them. They need to man up, stop deflecting the situation away from themselves, and stand aside. I’m not saying that’s the only course available, but it’s by far the easiest way for the UCI to get a clean break and continue the rebuilding that I believe is already in progress within the sport.
Those others involved more directly with the sport – the riders, the teams, their chiefs and doctors – need to take responsibility too. Not for the past, but for the future. A lot already are, but not everyone. There’s a responsibility to the riders of the future now to prove that cycling is a clean, fair, sport.
We’re lucky in Britain. We’re home to some of the best riders in the world right now. Men and women, track and road. And they are clean, proud, and vocal. They are not afraid to stand up to this culture of doping which has dogged cycling down the years. They are proof that this is possible. Not everyone has that. Lance Armstrong was the first cyclist to truly transcend the sport, and there’s no-one now to fill those shoes.
On the other side of Armstong’s public life is Livestrong, the cancer charity he founded as a survivor of testicular cancer before he ever won a tour, and which to this day raises millions of dollars and, directly and indirectly, touches the lives of millions of people.
It becomes increasingly important now to distance that from him, in order to sustain the good will it has accumulated over the years, and Armstrong made the only move he could by resigning as chairman. I only hope he did so of his own volition.
While Armstrong has lost his personal sponsorship from a variety of big name brands, one of the biggest – Nike – has publicly committed to its continued sponsorship of the Foundation.
Both Armstrong and Nike have made the statement, albeit in very different ways, that Livestrong still matters and, perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t need Armstrong.
That all said, it still turns my stomach slightly to think of the associations between the two. The reason for this is twofold: firstly I’m passionate about cycling and so I don’t think I’ll ever lose the association in my mind, and second, well, this is all very fresh still. Over time the dust will settle and those associations will diminish for most.
The rest of us? Well, we sure could use a new hero.