Friday Feature: What next for cycling?

Image courtesy of RadioShack

Over the past two days an inordinate number of column inches, broadcast minutes and online chats have been dissecting the US Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) statement and 202-page summary report into the doping conspiracy centred on Lance Armstrong and the US Postal team. Is the evidence conclusive? What was the UCI’s role in all this? Why have other admitted dopers got off so lightly? Why was the federal investigation dropped? How will this affect Lance – a minor PR inconvenience or utter ruination? Why the hell did Sky News interview F1 driver Jenson Button about the affair? Soundbites from Bradley Wiggins, Samuel Sanchez, Alex Dowsett and other riders have been picked apart and scrutinised in detail.

Here at VeloVoices we’ve done our fair bit of navel-gazing and reviewing of history. We have shared our views about how we felt about Armstrong’s decision not to contest USADA’s charges, and we have shared your views via Tweets of the Week specials on USADA’s decision to proceed against Armstrong and his decision not to request a hearing.

To be honest, we’ve had enough of the past. We fully respect, support and recognise the importance of USADA’s persistence and thoroughness. It is an immensely important moment for cycling. But what we believe is equally important – arguably more important – is what happens next. The past is history, while the future is yet to be written. It’s time to move on and find solutions.

Kitty will post up a special Tweets of the Week over the weekend, but for this week’s Friday Feature we have been contemplating one question: what next? It’s a simple question, but one without an obvious, easy to implement answer.

Unfortunately Panache is currently away from the Peloton Pentagon in Washington ‘on business’ – rumours that he is facilitating meetings to set up a breakaway UCI are completely unfounded – but the rest of us have been busy trying to fathom what the implications of USADA’s ‘reasoned decision’ are for the medium-term future of the sport.

Tim

Let’s be clear about this. The USADA report is a landmark document in the anti-doping movement for all sports, not just cycling. The collated testimony is as exhaustive as it is unambiguous. To all but the most one-eyed of Lance acolytes, the weight of evidence is overwhelming.

But the job is only half done. Naming and shaming Armstrong is the ‘easy’ part of the battle. Indeed he is not even the main issue – the key is the extent to which the web of deceit and complicity, of which he sat at its centre, extended through an entire team, an entire peloton, an entire sport.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing over which rider punishments and how other national authorities should also take a long, hard look at themselves. (In particular, I would start with Spain.) All that is good and it is necessary. But, to draw an analogy with Armstrong’s charity work, you don’t cure cancer by treating the symptoms – you have to address the root cause. The key to a 100% clean sport is to first have a 100% clean governing body which is beyond reproach. The UCI – or to be more precise the men at the top who treat it as their personal fiefdom – is a long way from that right now. Without fundamental changes in the way they operate, the cancer will spread again and the sport will be destined to repeat the sins of the past.

It’s easy to say Pat McQuaid (and Hein Verbruggen) need to be ushered out of the door, but will the 42 members of the UCI Congress ever bite the hand that feeds them? And who could replace them and bring a credible vision to drive real change to clean up the sport? These are the real hard questions that need to be answered. Personally, I would bring in someone from outside who can bring fresh ideas, fresh credibility and a fresh start. Someone who can be both an honourable figurehead and a political operator who can make things happen: Lord Sebastian Coe, for instance. That is probably no more than a pipe dream. But something must be done. Cycling can go one of two ways – and backwards is not an option.

As for what should be done about Lance’s seven Tour titles, I say ASO should declare them as races without a winner. Let that stand as a beacon to the sport’s dirty past – and a warning reminder to its future.

Sheree

As Marcellus says in Hamlet: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” There was a very good reason why he said ‘state of’ and not just Denmark. Frankly we could substitute Denmark with the word ‘cycling’ or ‘sport’.

Last time we discussed this topic on VeloVoices, I said I was ambivalent. I was in two minds because for there to be any real benefit from the unmasking of Lance Armstrong there needs to be wholesale changes in the way cycling is run and organised. When reading the USADA documents, the word that immediately sprang to my mind was ‘collusion’. From the top (which Tim has addressed) to the very bottom. No one escapes approbation, not even sponsors. Yes, cycling’s seedy underbelly has been fully exposed and it’s not a pleasant sight. But what are we going to do about it?

It’s easy to be swayed by the ‘everyone was doing it, it was a level playing field’ argument, but it wasn’t. Some people never have – I’m thinking David Moncoutie here – and they’ve been cheated of glory and monetary rewards. This can never be put right. I commend those who have ‘fessed up – whatever your motivation – but you owe it to those clean riders with whom you rode to put back something into the sport for the current generation. After all, you don’t want them to go through what you did, now do you?

Kitty

I agree with both Tim and Sheree – it’s the change in the UCI that has to be made for anything to be lasting. And in particular any official body that is in charge of promoting the sport (and making money out of it and for it) must be absolutely and completely divorced from policing that sport. Because, let’s face it, they’re not going to kill a cash cow, are they? The right hand cannot know what the left is doing in doping cases – testing, the biological passports, disciplinary hearings and bans have to be administered by a completely objective and independent body who makes their findings known simultaneously to WADA and the UCI so that the UCI can never sweep things under the rug.

As for what happens now to riders who have confessed to doping in the past and so on. I like the truth and reconciliation idea – everyone comes clean, goes into great detail as to how they were able to dope, where they got advice, supplies, etc, and the facilitators begin to get weeded out. Then it’s a case of if you get caught doping after that, you’re out. Done. Adios. But even that kind of thing can’t happen until the UCI is cleaned up from top to bottom, so that riders don’t fear retribution (as it seems they do now). There has to be a drastic change in all areas of the sport – otherwise, we’re just going to be going through this again in a few years, only with some name changes. And that would be depressing.

Jack

I completely agree with Sheree that the ‘everyone was at it’ excuse just does not wash. There are undoubtedly riders like Moncoutie not just cheated out of wins, but cheated out of rides and ultimately careers because of this issue, with some of the witnesses’ affidavits saying as much.

I think that those who helped expose the full horror of the events – even those involved in committing such crimes – such as Tyler Hamilton, Michael Barry and Dave Zabriskie must be commended for their testimonies. I think that now the crimes of Armstrong and his teammates have been laid bare for all to see, it sets a precedent for the future: doping will not be tolerated.

As we have seen through the advent of teams such as Garmin-Sharp and Sky, and thanks to Dave Brailsford, Jonathan Vaughters, David Millar and others, the culture within cycling has begun to change. I think – I hope – I’m not being overly naïve when I say that unveiling the full extent of Armstrong’s cheating will help cycling’s recovery from these dark days.

In light of the revelations things may look terrible, but in reflecting so badly on those at the top it can’t help but be a catalyst for change. I completely agree that the UCI needs to be completely cleaned up, so that the dodgy transactions and supposed cover-ups will never occur again.

What do you think needs to be done to ensure cycling cleans up its act in the future? Let us know in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Friday Feature: What next for cycling?

  1. Thanks as ever for the velo voices of reason. I’m saddened but not surprised – everyone assumed there was a lot of it about and there probably will be some in the future.

    Unfortunately it taints the whole sport, and anyone who dares to stand out from the peloton or attack on a hill will cause muttering in pub corners.

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