Cycling’s past may be shameful, but as Anthony Tan writes, we must not delude ourselves it wasn’t so.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

For the simple reason of time, or more precisely a lack of it, I don't
normally read forums of any kind but when I do, it's usually done to
gauge public sentiment on a topical issue.

Recently, a colleague
alerted me to a post on the Cyclingnews.com forum, ominously
entitled: "Graham Watson: Keeper of Omerta".

On October 21, the
forum member who started the post, BroDeal, then wrote: "Snarfed this
from a post on Bike Radar. It is from the Q&A portion of Watson's
website."

The 'question' from Eric G and Graham Watson's answer
were as follows:

Eric G - 10/06/2010:

"Just noticed the
URL for the LeMond pics has the word "fool" in it instead of his name.
Please correct this, not everyone is an Armstrong fan, and I was going
to buy several prints from you, but no longer, very disappointed."

10/11/2010:

"Hi
Eric, I've not noticed that mistake, I'll have my webmaster look at it.
Sorry we cannot appease you, I'm a fan of both guys, they both did a
lot for my career, just a shame one cannot keep his mouth shut… GW"

For
those who don't know, BikeRadar is an online publication owned
by Future Publishing, the same owners of Cyclingnews.com, and
tends to amalgamate various features from Future Publishing's stable of
cycling publications – a cycling outlet for everyone and anyone, if you
like. However, I've been told the majority of traffic (and ostensibly
its reason for being) comes from forums, which are incredibly popular in
the United Kingdom and where Future is based.

The forum thread
began in a sub-section called 'The Clinic' – "the only place on Cyclingnews.com
where you can discuss doping-related issues. Ask questions, discuss
positives or improvements to procedures," reads the description.

At
last count, the thread had received 162 replies and amassed over 17,000
views – superceded only by a thread called "FLandis letter, links",
that coincidentally, just happened to be initiated by 'BroDeal', the
same fellow who started the aforementioned thread on Graham Watson.

For
Watson, who's been the business of cycling photography for 32 years,
it's definitely an 'oops' moment to have accidentally label LeMond a
"fool". Whether LeMond has an agenda or not, from what I've seen and
read of him the past 20 years that I've been involved in the sport, fool
he is not.

And I have to admit, part of Graham's reply to
BroDeal – "I'm a fan of both guys, they both did a lot for my career,
just a shame one cannot keep his mouth shut" – I do find slightly
paradoxical.

Then again, after what has transpired between the
two and their subsequent exchange of views (which, it should go without
saying but are poles apart) since the ignominious outing of Floyd Landis
less than a week after we thought he'd won the 2006 Tour de France,
being a fan of Armstrong and LeMond is slightly paradoxical in
itself.

While I see Watson at races all the time and whenever we
see each other, we engage in a handshake and exchange pleasantries, it
doesn't really go much further than that. So I can't claim to know him
at any great depth beyond what one would normally expect of an
acquaintance or colleague in the business.

Like many of you judge
me on what I write or say, I can only do the same for Watson – who,
although he hides behind the lens of a camera some 250 days a year to
take his often superb images, doubtless has a public face in the sport
because he is almost always there to capture those defining moments.

This
brings me to the recent exhibition he staged during the course of the
road world championships, held at the National Wool Museum in Geelong,
and what he said about certain riders he'd photographed, in what was a
lifetime of cycling photography.

Asked by Mike Tomalaris who were
his favourites, Watson replied: "Jan Ullrich – one of my all-time
favourites. I don't really care, the stories you hear about him; as a
physical person, he was incredible to photograph – he was a monster. I
used to love his challenges, his battles with Lance Armstrong.
Wonderful, wonderful, stuff."

Later, about Armstrong, he said:
"We always knew he was going to be good – but we never knew he was going
to be as good as he became."

In theory, photographers are bound
by the same ethical principles as journalists – among other tenets,
reporting the truth, reporting it fairly (that is, balanced journalism),
and reporting it accurately – for the plain reason they are part of the
media, and should (again, I say in theory) respect the rules of
journalism and what it stands for, if not obey them.

Because in
this age where cycling's credibility is being questioned every day by
those inside and outside the sport, if our elder statesmen adopt the
laissez faire "I don't care what he's done, he's still a champion in my
eyes" attitude, how do we convince the new generation that a true
champion is one who, win or lose, plays fair?

Watson also said:
"Cycling reflects life. It's a very hard sport but very honest sport."
But for much of the last 20 years, it hasn't been, unfortunately.

Thankfully,
with certain figureheads from the UCI and WADA, and teams like
Garmin-Transitions, HTC-Columbia and Team Sky, who accept how it was and
want it to change, the omerta is lifting, albeit not fully
exorcised.

I'll leave you with a passage from the last chapter in
the no-holds-barred autobiography of the late Laurent Fignon, who
admitted using banned drugs on occasion but nothing to the extent he
witnessed at the time of his retirement in 1993, titled: "A Whiff of
Authenticity".

"There is now a fight being waged against
'no-limits' doping which was the rule in the 1990s and the early 2000s.
That's being done partly thanks to advances in drug-testing but above
all by the inception of new rules of which the biological passport is
the most complete and efficient form.

"For a little while now,
it's looked as if cycling is returning to more normal ways. We are again
seeing exhausted cyclists. Their exploits are more coherent. And so is
my passion for the sport. At a certain time, despair was gaining the
upper hand, I have to admit. […] With the doping years, all the old
signposts were hidden.

"Now, it feels as if the sport is
regaining its classic side, and the foundations are a little cleaner.
Let's say there is a whiff of authenticity. Sniffing the wind, my eyes
sparkle a little. Passion is a happier thing than pessimism."

Hear
hear, Laurent.