BY RYAN MALLON
The head of world cycling’s governing body, UCI President Pat McQuaid, has declared that “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling.”
The UCI has ratified the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to ban the seven time Tour winner for life, and strip him of all achievements. The 1,000 page USADA report condemned Armstrong and his U.S. Postal team as the leaders of the “most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
The likes of Armstrong have created a world in which drugs are not only common but essential to survival in the professional ranks. For twenty years, riders have been forced to come to an astonishing decision – dope or quit.
As is seemingly always the case in cycling when doping rears its head, the response has been muted. While David Millar and those who appeared in the USADA hearing, such as Jonathan Vaughters, have been vocal in their condemnation of Armstrong and in particular the UCI’s handling of the drugs issue, the omerta still remains deeply entrenched.
Unrepentant Spanish dopers Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador have even expressed support for their old rival. Five time Tour champion Miguel Indurain still believes in the Armstrong myth. Confession after confession from ex-dopers is one thing, actual positive anti-doping responses from current stars is another entirely.
But perhaps most disappointing is the ambivalent nature of the likes of current Tour champion Bradley Wiggins. He compares Armstrong to Father Chr
istmas but insists: “cycling isn’t like that anymore” – this all happened “ten, fifteen years ago”. The sport has changed; nothing to see here, move on. Maybe the effect of all the post-Tour and Olympic champagne
is still affecting Wiggins.
Was it not the same Armstrong that beat the Londoner to a podium place in the Tour merely three years ago? Perhaps he’s towing the Team Sky line. Perhaps he’s unwilling to tarnish his own yellow jersey by persistent talk about doping. But the contrast between Wiggins’ demeanour now and five years ago is stark. Where’s the Wiggo who railed against “the cheating bastards”? Where’s the ‘angry young man’ that Kimmage so adored? Cycling needs that Bradley Wiggins now more than ever.
So how does cycling move forward from its longest running controversy? The zero-tolerance policy adopted by Team Sky has already witnessed one casualty in the form of Bobby Julich, but is it naïve to purge anyone formerly involved in doping in a sport so heavily tainted in recent years?
Perhaps Jonathan Vaughter’s suggestion of a South Africa style Truth and Reconciliation Committee, independent of cycling, is a better proposal for the long run, though the consequence of cheats walking free without punishment may be difficult for some to swallow. Whatever happens, cycling cannot just continue on blindly with no regard for its past, however murky it may be.
Armstrong once ruled cycling with an iron fist, competitors and journalists alike frightened into submission by his immense power, a withering stare and a fiery legal team. His cancer and miraculous comeback made him transcendent of his sport, of any sport in fact. Awed by greatness, fans reached for the slightest touch, journalists bowed their heads subserviently and rivals merely retreated to anonymity.
He was champion, messiah and dictator all at once. But now it is all over.