Facing the fallout from the worst doping scandal in sporting history, Alex Tyndall believes cycling authorities must act decisively, but with optimism, in order to safeguard the sport’s future
The sport of cycling is sitting in a precarious position. In the weeks since the United States Anti-Doping Authority released their Reasoned Decision condemning Lance Armstrong and his organisation of a doping scheme described as “more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history”, the reputation of cycling has been dragged through the mire.
The integrity of the International Cycling Union has been called into question, key team sponsors have pulled out their funds claiming they don’t believe cycling is clean any more. The attitude of the professional peloton towards drug cheats is still not united. However, as painful as the present may seem for the sport, all those connected with it have been granted a rare opportunity to set the record straight, put the old ways to rest and really make cycling a clean, self-governing sport.
The first thing that needs to be done concerns the man who started it all. Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling. He has no place in sport. He has no right to be remembered as anything other than a cheat, a liar and a bully. He has undeniably done good work for cancer charities but he built up his charitable empire on the basis of a lie which ran to using American taxpayers’ money to buy performance-enhancing drugs while he was riding for the US Postal Service team. The best thing Lance Armstrong could do now would be a full and frank confession, but he’s been fighting drug charges and pleading his innocence for 13 years now. The cost to him of admitting his guilt (and by extension, committing several counts of perjury and fraud) would be astronomical. Therefore it is up to the wider cycling community to remember the lessons learned from his case but forget the man himself. There needs to be consensus and unity within the cycling world – the continual defence of Armstrong by key figures within the sport such as Team Sky’s Alex Dowsett or the pundit Phil Liggett obstruct the healing process which must take place in the peloton.
Hailing Armstrong as a “legend” in spite of the evidence against him was a rash move by Dowsett which utterly fails to take into account the careers Armstrong stunted or the fans he betrayed.
The peloton also has a role to play in cleaning up cycling’s image to the public. It was an extreme move by the Team Sky bosses to dismiss staff who had any past or present involvement with doping but it displays a clear zero-tolerance approach, which is exactly what is needed. Team sponsors need to show continued support at this stage and express optimism about cycling’s future. Rabobank ending their sponsorship of their team displayed an understandable but inappropriate attitude towards the recent revelations; they aren’t a demonstration of cycling as a broken sport but a list of lessons which need to be taken on board.
Cycling’s governing body has its own role to play. They have been placed in a difficult position, having had allegations levelled at them of accepting a $100,000 bribe from Lance Armstrong in 2001 to cover up a failed drugs test in that season’s Tour de Suisse. At times like these, someone must take the blame.
Hein Verbruggen, President of the International Cycling Union during Armstrong’s peak years, and now honorary President with Pat Mc- Quaid, has as little right to keep his involvement with cycling as Armstrong himself. It is quite simply impossible that he didn’t know or suspect that there was a drugs culture in the sport while he was President.
He could have done more. He should have done more. There needs to be a reshuffle of power at the top of cycling and a proactive attitude towards tackling the cheats. When a rider is caught cheating, they should be banned for life, first time. A two-year suspension just isn’t severe enough to act as a deterrent.
These are undeniably difficult times for cycling. But from the ashes, with the right attitude, the sport can recover and be a leader in the sporting world, the ultimate expression of what the human body can do, just the way it was supposed to be in the years when the Tour de France was young.
PHOTO// Ben Sutherland