Professional cycling may look all doom and gloom but now’s not the time to abandon the sport, urges Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

First, let me preface this blog by saying there is no commercial interest attached to what I ask of you, the readers and viewers, below. Over the past decade, regardless of website traffic, television viewership, or number of magazines or papers sold, my income from cycling differs little depending on the state that professional cycling finds itself in.
As for keeping my job, it's always been a fickle industry for a freelance journalist, and besides, my foresight rarely extends to beyond the present year.

The sentiment among a large number of cycling fans at the moment appears to be that they are on the cusp of giving up.


Not cycling altogether – although some are so disgusted, they may well be inclined to do so – but giving up on following professional cycling.


The only way to kill a king cobra is to cut its head off or step on its head till its dead, and from the commentary I've read so far on Riccardo 'The Cobra' Riccò, there seems plenty willing to do just that. But as my colleague Phil Gomes wrote in his recent blog post, do we want his already sorry life to descend the insidious path of José María Jiménez, Marco Pantani and Frank Vandenbroucke?


Don't get me wrong. Riccò is far from being beyond reproach (as Stuart O'Grady once said of the pugnacious Italian, "You can't turn a donkey into a racehorse", and as I tweeted this week when someone asked me what I thought of him, Ricky is a CERA-fied idiot) – but to vilify someone to the act of suicide, what is the point in that?

While Riccò may not be an isolated case, remember the situation when I first pinned a number on my back in a club race almost 20 years ago and was blissfully unaware of the goings-on of those I admired: amphetamines was no longer the drug du jour; it was EPO (erythropoietin) and HGH (human growth hormone), two anti-venoms against the pain and suffering in what remains the world's toughest sport – the exposure of its use reaching a zenith at the '98 Tour de France.


Those two PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) are still in use today and not just in cycling. In exactly what quantities, no-one really knows. They have been trumped by more refined, more potent versions of their predecessors and the wicked practice of blood-doping; a method Riccò, upon his return after a two-year ban for EPO-CERA at the '08 Tour, experimented in, and, as we read last week, with near-fatal consequences.


But do not take the cases of Riccò, or the pithy comments of Bernhard Kohl ("people know in cycling that's it's not possible to win the Tour de France without it) and Floyd Landis, or the 'caso Contador', or the Novitzky-led FDA investigation into alleged systematic doping practices at the US Postal Service cycling team, as absolute proof cycling is fighting a losing battle.


At the same time, don't think cycling – or any other bona-fide Olympic sport, for that matter – will ever be rid of doping, corporate malfeasance, or other nefarious acts.


We now live in an age where sport is big business, and as the stakes grow, so does the propensity to cheat, it seems. Money can really be the root of all evil.


Right now, where cycling is let down, in my opinion, is in the length of the bans – two years is a bloody joke and is a euphemism for 'take a holiday, we'll see you soon'; that certain team personnel in positions of mentoring and influence, with chequered pasts they haven't owned up to and who remain unrepentant, continue to demand results above all else, and ask their riders to race more than is humanly capable on a doping-free diet; pharmaceutical companies who, with their billion-dollar budgets, do not more readily work with agencies like WADA to alert them of products that have the potential to be abused; and inane political manoeuvres that shelve cases like Operación Puerto, which become an embarrassment rather than a show of force that discourages would-be dopers and punishes those involved – not just a few, but all of them.


UCI president Pat McQuaid was right: there is a problem with Spanish cycling; there exists more doping cases than any other major cycling nation, and from the way they've handled each, it's abundantly clear there is no consistency.


Thankfully, the overwhelming proportion of Australian cyclists have gone through this era largely unscathed and unblemished. Our reputation for producing clean machines – and winning ones – is second-to-none and matched only by Great Britain, except on the road, we've been infinitely more successful. We just can't seem to do it when it comes to the bat and ball and something called 'The Ashes'.


The creation of the GreenEDGE project, with its multi-tiered approach that, in harmonious marriage with the Australian Institute of Sport, provides a clear pathway from aspiring junior to elite amateur to Continental pro to ProTeam rider, I'm most excited about.


Sure, they'll still be those Aussies who will ride for other teams and as we've seen at the Tour Down Under and Tour of Qatar there's nothing wrong with that. But it's in one's formative years where eggs can turn bad, and I believe the GreenEDGE ethos, at least on paper, provides a route so, in the future, we can guarantee our guys are home-grown, organic, and in no way are PED-inclined.


So what I'm saying is this: don't expect some seminal moment to occur where all you see can be believed – but do expect to see a day where you see an Australian on the Tour de France podium, in Australian livery, and because it's Australian made, you know it was made clean.


It's not yet time to give up. If you do, you may miss out on something big.