We didn’t need further proof but recent events involving Danilo Di Luca and Lance Armstrong attest that old habits die hard. Anthony Tan urges us to remove the rose-tinted spectacles in favour of some hard-core realism.
The situational ethics of cycling fans, participants and the media alike is at best naive and at worst disingenuous.
After Cadel Evans became the first from this land Down Under to podium in all three Grand Tours, a genuinely historic moment in Australian cycling history, my colleague Mike Tomalaris lamented about the lack of coverage within mainstream media circles.
Perhaps Eric, a Cycling Central reader, had the answer, delivering a blunt assessment of how things stand under a news story published Wednesday, ‘Nike pares back Livestrong involvement’.
“Cycling is now and always has been a ‘dirty’ sport. The situational ethics of cycling fans, participants and the media alike is at best naive and at worst disingenuous... Nike and Armstrong did way more good than harm and yet everyone chooses to demonize these activities as though they never happened before and will never happen again... It is really a shame to take focus away from the fight of the cancer community as a whole...”
Tomalaris’s blog appealed to the converted – that is, most of you. Net effect, therefore, was zero.
Who we need to change is people like Eric, the once-converted but now jaded, disenchanted over the way things stand and on the precipice of tuning out altogether, or may have already done so. And who can blame them? Among cycling’s top brass, talk has trumped action by a factor of 100-1.
Now, just because I included Eric’s sentiments does not mean I wholeheartedly agree with his grouse. I honestly believe professional cycling is cleaner than it has been for years, decades even. But let’s not kid ourselves – we are coming from an era where the clean were conspicuous by their absence. The last few years, I have not seen evidence of systematic doping among any of the WorldTour teams; the decision to dope, it seems, is now one made by individuals, as opposed to a message from above, implicit or otherwise.
But there is still a degree of performance-enhancing drug (PED) use going on, as evidenced by rampant recidivist Danilo Di Luca’s EPO positive on the Giro d’Italia’s Black Friday, the news coinciding with the cancellation of one of the two most decisive mountain stages due to snow. Exactly how much PEDs are being used and by whom, I don’t think anyone knows for sure.
It was only September last year when one of the world’s foremost anti-doping researchers, Dr Michael Ashenden, wrote in a column on Cyclingnews.com, “Despite the self-serving data bending and associated propaganda to the contrary, I am led to believe that there are pockets of organised, highly sophisticated dopers even within ‘new age’ cycling teams. Personally, I don’t accept that the ‘dark era’ has ended, it has just morphed into a new guise.”
Omertà is still very much alive, Ashenden made clear, and the only way to dismantle its walls, layer-by-layer, brick-by-brick, is by way of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which, given an unlikely change of leadership at the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), doesn’t appear forthcoming anytime soon – or later, for that matter.
Even the US Anti-Doping Agency’s self-proclaimed scapegoat said he’s in favour of an amnesty, and that he’d be one of the first to sign up. Though we need to be careful (read: sceptical) about what Lance Armstrong says he wants to happen and what Lance Armstrong really wants to happen.
On Tuesday, it was revealed most of those he pledged a personal apology and explanation to on Oprah back in January are still waiting.
Betsy Andreu, wife of Postie teammate and capitaine du route in the Blue Train’s heyday, Frankie Andreu, told USA Today she tried in vain to meet Armstrong in person, as per his wont – well, at least according to what he said – even going to his hometown of Austin, Texas, where she attended a doping symposium on April 22. But in the end, and despite multiple e-mails exchanged, one of the last asking for no more than five minutes of his time – five minutes, Lance! – Armstrong told her via text: “My issue with you comes down to trust. I do not trust you. That’s as direct and as honest as I can be. Sorry.”
Betsy replied: “You know what trust is? I never told anyone other than whom you knew that I was going to see you. If we didn’t talk about anything substantial there’d be no trust for me to break. It’s an out for you. I am the one who asked you to keep this quiet. You refused to agree.
“You’ve made so many bad choices in your life that you don't trust yourself – that’s the problem. So go back to your peeps who are telling you how wronged you are and your lawyers who are bleeding you dry cuz (sic) you can’t handle it any (other) way.”
As USA Today reporter Brent Schrotenboer wrote, “Though he had hoped the truth would set him free, Armstrong also has found it potentially could be expensive.” As it stands, Armstrong’s potential liabilities amount to US$135M plus some. In 2010, Forbes valued his net worth at US$125M.
You can you see how Big Tex is in a bind between morality and reality.
“The litigation left Armstrong with a choice,” Schrotenboer said. “He could demonstrate his remorse by paying back those who can show they were swindled by his lies and doping in cycling. Or he could fight in court to try to protect his fortune but risk being viewed as the same old Armstrong.
“He has chosen to fight.”
Same old Lance.
“I get asked a lot what he’s done to make amends,” Betsy Andreu told the paper. “And the answer is nothing. I merely wanted to look him in the eyes and he look me in the eyes. That’s it. A show of humanity. After his decade-long tirade on me, I felt he owed me that. I wasn’t asking for a lot.”
In my VeloNews interview with Ms Andreu, published in February last year and ten days after the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) unceremoniously and inexplicably shelved their two-year-long investigation, she told me: “Like Yasser Arafat, Lance yet again dodged another bullet. It’s disheartening that all of us who were compelled by law to tell the truth and risked so much in doing so weren’t vindicated in a court of law.
“I’m astounded, stunned and disappointed because I thought this was would’ve put the truth out there in its entirety, thereby putting to rest any doubt about my knowledge of Lance’s doping as I testified to in the SCA case and of which I spoke truthfully to the Feds. It would’ve showed that I never lied. Ever. I also think it’s a huge blow for clean sport.”
Thankfully, the heartache and trauma suffered by the Andreus and others who spoke the truth was not in vain. They have now been vindicated.
I do not wish for Armstrong to burn in hell. I just don’t want him or anyone else like him in professional cycling. Ever. Again. That he’s in conversations with his former teammate-turned-Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters, I couldn’t give a toss about, other than to say we do not need Lance to show cycling the way forward. That he can’t find five minutes to meet up with a person he disparaged and ridiculed for a decade begs the question: ‘Why should cycling give him five minutes to espouse virtues that hold little to no sincerity?’
Frankly, we do not need ex-dopers to tell current and future generations not to dope. Most, it is my firm belief, are not faced with the same career-threatening choice encountered by their predecessors. And for those who feel pressured, as William Walker told me earlier this month, “I think it’s far better (coming) from a clean rider that walked away from a career, because when we’re looking at (sport) directors or riders that have still got their jobs, all they’re seeing is someone in that position because they did dope – and they did ride the Tour de France, which is now why they’re directors of teams.
“(The ex-dopers) say, ‘We can help because we’ve been through the bad things’ – but the best people that can help (make cycling clean) are the ones that made the hard decision to walk away from the sport, when there could have been a potential career for them.
“It’s a really difficult situation for cycling,” Walker conceded, “but I think (the authorities) need to push longer bans for dopers, for sure, and start to just get rid of them out of the sport.”
As the cases of Di Luca and Armstrong attest, old habits die hard.
So, provide me with a compelling reason why cycling need these people, other than saying ‘he’s a good bloke, everyone in the team likes him’, or that ‘he was just doing what everyone else was doing’.
Please, let’s stop the blind optimism and instead, push for hard-core realism and real change, so that one day, cycling enters the mainstream with our heads held high and a clear conscience.