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October 25/12 22:21 pm - Cycling Still Has a Long Way to Go - An Editorial


Posted by Editor on 10/25/12
 

During his announcement that the UCI accepts the findings and sanctions imposed on Lance Armstrong by USADA, UCI President Pat McQuaid made the memorable quote of "Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling".

Well, I've got another quote for you:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

That one comes from philosopher George Santayana.

The UCI is going to decide shortly on how to redistribute Armstrong's results, and Tour organizer ASO has already put asterisks in the record book for the seven years that Armstrong won (1999-2005), while many riders and team directors are saying that that is the past and that all they want to talk about the future....

Well, I'm here to tell you that you are wrong.  We cannot pretend that it didn't happen and, more importantly, we should not try and bury it.

This was a time of wide scale and systematic cheating, but it was also a time that vaulted cycling into the upper echelons of sport; mostly on the back of one Mr Armstrong, the guy with the inspirational story of overcoming cancer and becoming the greatest cyclist in the history of the sport (according to many pundits).

The UCI, ASO and bike industry loved this guy.  Not only did his sponsors and equipment suppliers benefit from Armstrong's success, but so did the whole sport, not to mention the anti-cancer industry.

Millions upon millions of people wore Livestrong wristbands.  Cancer patients and their families cited Armstrong as an inspiration to battle against an insidious disease.  Event organizers, corporations and politicians scrambled to get onside.  When Armstrong retired, much of the bike industry mourned.

Then he came back!  The ASO rejoiced, as did most of the industry, and President McQuaid said to me at an event, "this is good for the sport".  And, despite the increasing evidence that the fairy tale had a dark side, pretty much everyone insisted that it was all good.

This all happened.  It happened because we all wanted it to be true and, more importantly, because we were afraid that once we started to pull that loose thread, who knew how far it would unravel.  Well, it is starting to unravel, and there is still a concerted effort to, if not stuff that genie back in the bottle, at least put up a wall.  (Please forgive my mixed metaphors)

At the presentation for the 2013 Tour, former racer and team director Marc Madiot was quoted as saying:  "What's happening with Armstrong is almost trivial. We need to get over all this business, because it happened a long time ago and many already had suspicions that have proven to be true."

Current French rider Pierre Rolland was also quoted:  "We must take those pages and rip them out of the history books.  The sport has changed since those days. People must believe us when we say the sport is better."

Why must they believe us?  Exactly what have we (as a sport) done to engender their trust?

We said it would change after Tommy Simpson died (1967).

We said it would change in the 1970s after multiple riders were caught using amphetamines and steroids.

We said it would change after the blood doping scandal of the 1984 Olympics.

We said it would stop after the PDM (1990-1) and Festina (1998) affairs.

We said it would stop after Operacion Puerto (2006-Present)

And now we are saying it is going to stop after the USADA report implicating Lance Armstrong.

But it hasn't stopped.

Instead, everyone throws their hands up, professes horror, and the guilty (ie, those caught) are ostracized.

What doesn't happen is a change in the system that pretty much requires athletes to keep their mouths shut about what is going on.  Levi Leipheimer confesses, and Omega Pharma Quickstep says "good job, you're fired".  Bobby Julich does the same and is fired by Sky.  Matt White gets fired by Cycling Australia ... it's like a drug cartel where we keep arresting the street level guys and never shut down their bosses!

We have the UCI squabbling over jurisdiction with various anti-doping bodies, insisting that things are better, while race organizers, sponsors and the media sanctimoniously cheer on the top riders ... until they are caught, at which point it becomes a witch hunt.

I do not forgive the riders who cheat, but I do sympathize with the pressure they are under to perform, with little support.  They are treated like indentured servants; Armstrong himself was abandoned by his team (Cofidis) when he was diagnosed with cancer.

There have been calls for a 'Truth and Reconciliation' commission, but I think this is not enough.  We need a true independent commission to investigate ALL levels of the sport.  There are accusations of corruption at the UCI, that anti-doping labs leak and cover up results, that corporations pay hush money.

These types of allegations cannot be addressed by a commission run by the UCI or an anti-doping agency; it requires a truly independent commission that has the power to investigate ALL the involved parties.

Cycling has made great strides - it was the first sport to adopt the WADA Biological Passport program, and is far ahead of other sports in ongoing testing programs.  But it is also the sport most closely identified with doping, and has the greatest need to clean up if it wants to keep its sponsors and, more importantly, attract new, young participants.

If the UCI, the anti-doping agencies, the sponsors, the major race organizers, the federations and the teams were truly interested in cleaning up cycling they would agree to an independent, nonpartisan commission, with the power to offer amnesty to whistle blowers.  A commission that would not be subjected to political maneuvering by organizations more interested in protecting their own turf than exposing and rectifying inconvenient truths.

Unfortunately, I see little likelihood of this happening without the pressure of the federations that make up the UCI and the anti-doping organizations forcing the issue.  Otherwise, I give it five years before we are all once again dealing with the fallout of the next doping scandal.

 


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