Vélo Files: Rage Against The Machine

Anthony Tan

road, Anthony Tan, Lance Armstrong, UCI, US Postal, The Secret Race, doping, David Millar, Pat McQuaid, Paul Kimmage
It is time for Pat McQuaid to face the music (Getty Images)
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I am angry. You are angry. We are angry. But, wonders Anthony Tan, is the anger being misdirected?

Attempting to clean up this sordid mess is like trying to clean up a ten-thousand-car pile-up with a Chux wipe. Where do you start? How do you start? Will it end?

The more people I speak with about the state of professional cycling, the more anger I hear. Your loathing is palpable.

Lance can go to hell. If Wiggo is found positive, I’m outta here. These internal reviews are a frickin’ joke. Why should we believe anyone anymore? Why is Orica-GreenEDGE stalling? We all know who they need to show the door… Michael Ashenden has said that without a truth and reconciliation commission, we are basically f**ked. Even if Pat McQuaid is replaced, nothing will change. How do you know the peloton is ninety-five per cent clean? After all, it was Merckx who said it...

Just some of your sentiments. And I’m with you. I’m pissed, jaded and disheartened, too.

As I worked my way through ‘The Secret Race’ in a page-flipping frenzy, I stumbled across this passage from its co-author, Tyler Hamilton:

The 1999 Postal team was one of my favorite teams of all the ones I’ve ever been on. Not because of the remarkable things we accomplished together, but because of the extreme amount of fun we had while we were doing it. Now, looking back, I have mixed feelings about the methods we used to win the Tour. But I can’t pretend that being on this particular team was anything but a complete blast because (1) Postal didn’t do anything that other smart teams couldn’t have done, and (2) we had absolutely nothing to lose.

Having taken a deep breath, I wondered, Where is the contrition? Is the moral of the story, If everyone else is on it, I might as well be on it? Or is it, it’s fun to cheat when you can ride like the wind and the chances of being caught are near negligible?

Still, I feel that much of your antipathy is misdirected.

Following affidavit after affidavit in USADA’s Reasoned Decision, I have also asked myself many times the past month, What would I have done? If smart, honest, hard-working people with good moral fibre like Jonathan Vaughters, Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie succumbed, why would I have been any different?

Blame them all you want but the riders – yes, even Armstrong – systematic doping was going on well before Lance arrived – were pawns on a chessboard. So were the nefarious sport directors, doctors and soigneurs. So were the race organisers. So was the media.

The aforementioned are by no means blameless or beyond reproach. We were all part of a toxic cultural tapestry.

But the only party with any real authority to effect change was the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and its national federation affiliates. Simply put, a lack of governance has allowed the culture of doping in all its forms to brew, fester and flourish for far too long. What we have seen – and still see – is a product of the UCI’s habitual ignorance over two decades or more.

Attempting to clean up this sordid mess is like trying to clean up a ten-thousand-car pile-up with a Chux wipe. Where do you start? How do you start? Will it end?

It’s detrimental to the clean, who don’t deserve to be tainted by the past, but if the purge does not continue, post-haste, we are on a one-way path for history to repeat itself.

“It’s gone beyond some guys cheating and taking drugs,” said David Millar in a recent interview with The Guardian. “This is the only way that cycling is going to climb out of the abyss – by confronting the past just as we have cleaned up the current state of the sport. It has to be done and that’s why the UCI needs to take responsibility now.

“I don’t think they realise what everyone needs is immediate action. They’re trying to go through the usual sports-politics way of trying to ride this out until people forget about it. These are career sports-politicians. But they cannot evade this any longer. They have to act quickly or they’re going to face a total revolt and they’ll be out anyway.

“Pat (McQuaid) has to show volition to change the UCI,” Millar said. I’ve said to him before that the first step is to show complete recognition of the past and assume responsibility for it. But, with the UCI, there still seems to be a sense of denial and an ‘us and them’ approach. They still claim that they did everything they could to stop doping. Well, they didn’t – that’s obvious to everyone.”

As Paul Kimmage tweeted when the UCI suspended its defamation lawsuit against the revered Irish journalist, “How do I feel? I feel like Maximus as he prepared for battle… On my signal, unleash hell.”

The following week, in the quaint Swiss town of Vevey, one of my former European bases, Kimmage lodged a criminal complaint against McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen.

“I have initiated these proceedings not for myself – this is not about Paul Kimmage, but on behalf of the whistle blowers – Stephen Swart, Frankie Andreu, Floyd Landis, Christophe Bassons, Nicolas Aubier, Gilles Delion, Graeme Obree and every other cyclist who stood up for truth and the sport they loved and were dismissed as ‘cowards’ and ‘scumbags’ by Verbruggen and McQuaid.”

The elephant is still in the room. The revolution must continue. Maintain the rage, but rage against the machine that is the UCI’s top brass, rather than its associated parts.

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