It would be a rather easy round on Family Fortunes. ‘We asked 100 people to name something associated with the sport of Cycling’. ‘Our survey’ would surely come up with ‘doping’ or ‘drug use’ as the top answer. This reputation is by no means undeserved.
A case in point is 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis, who confessed in 2007 to doping at the time of his victory. Correct justice followed; he was struck off the race’s record books. Bizarrely, less than a year later he was reinstated, with just a footnote detailing the tainted nature of his victory. More widely in cycling, it appears that drugs offences are little more than footnotes in the long term; minor transgressions to be casually swept under the carpet by the authorities. Riis remains a highly regarded member of the cycling community and up until the end of this season he managed the Luxembourger brothers Frank and Andy Schleck. Why would two of the sport’s biggest stars not consider it at least a little unseemly to be so closely associated with an individual with this particular baggage?
The year before Riis’ confession, 2006 champion Floyd Landis failed a drug test. He initially and bizarrely put it down to whisky, before coming up with a whole reel of other excuses. Meanwhile the American has raised over a million dollars for a “Floyd Fairness Fund” dedicated to fighting for his innocence. Innocence that, in 2010, after four years of lies and legal procedures, Landis admitted was fabricated. He confessed to doping and confessed to lying and came out with a slew of accusations against other cyclists. As yet the Tour de France have yet to apply the ‘Riis Rule of Remorse’ to him and he is not included in the official Tour winners’ list – but who knows what the forgiving world of cycling might come up with in the future.
Is there any hope for cycling? Well, one of the sport’s rising stars, Roman Kreuziger, has a tattoo proclaiming ‘I’m free from doping’. Mark Cavendish, Britain’s all time leading stage winner at the Tour, has said that drugs testers should be able to test anybody at any time of the day without warning. So there are beacons of hope, but they have difficult shining through when so many riders in the professional ranks have doping offences against their name. The Tour de France should be one of the greatest shows on earth, a supreme celebration of athleticism, teamwork and determination. Instead, it is a twisted soap opera, rotten to the core. While many people in the cycling world whinge that this image is mere media construct, it is very clear that the drugs problem in cycling is self-perpetuating. The media is not cycling’s worst enemy; cycling itself is.