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.


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.


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?


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.


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.

Friday Feature special: Lance Armstrong

Image courtesy of RadioShack

Unsurprisingly, the key topic of discussion – okay, the only topic of discussion – at VeloVoices Towers today has been a 40-something former cyclist and his not-quite-admission of guilt. Yes, we’ve frittered away our Friday by breaking into the VeloVoices drinks trolley early and talking about Lance Armstrong.

Unfortunately Jack is away on holiday this week, but Tim, Kitty and Sheree Skyped Panache in our Washington DC office – the Peloton Pentagon – to bring you a Friday Feature special of our thoughts and reflections on the day the cycling history books were rewritten. Want to know what we thought? Then read on …

The facts

The chess match is now all but played out as we finally arrive at the endgame. Last night Lance Armstrong announced that he would not contest the charges levelled against him by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). As a result, USADA have issued a lifetime ban and stripped him of all results dating back to 1998, including the seven Tours de France he won between 1999 and 2005. USADA’s announcement cited the following doping violations:

1. Use and/or attempted use of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents.

2. Possession of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions and related equipment (such as needles, blood bags, storage containers and other transfusion equipment and blood parameters measuring devices), testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents.

3. Trafficking of EPO, testosterone, and corticosteroids.

4. Administration and/or attempted administration to others of EPO, testosterone, and cortisone.

5. Assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering up and other complicity involving one or more anti-doping rule violations and/or attempted anti-doping rule violations.

Armstrong’s statement was typically forthright. He attacked USADA CEO Travis Tygart‘s “unconstitutional witch hunt” and his “outlandish and heinous claims”. He talked about his refusal “to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair” against an organisation which “at every turn … has played the role of a bully” – a comment which will have raised an eyebrow among those who have been on the receiving end of Armstrong’s strong-arm – and frequently litigious – actions in the past.

Nowhere in the statement is there anything approaching an admission of guilt, nor is there ever likely to be. We can only infer and speculate as to why this most combative and competitive of individuals has chosen to step away from the fight at this point. We do not know the facts. But we can certainly draw our own conclusions.

What happens next?

We have arrived at the endgame, but in reality it may be some time before we reach check-mate. USADA may pursue further sanctions against other riders and staff involved in the alleged conspiracy – bans have already been issued in a number of cases. Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, had earlier challenged USADA’s jurisdiction, and may yet take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) is maintaining a watching brief.

ASO, the organisers of the Tour de France, have issued a holding statement saying they will take no action until the situation between USADA and the UCI has been resolved. They might choose to promote the runners-up in the seven Tours Armstrong won. That would be uncomfortable to say the least: Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso have both been convicted of doping. Alex Zulle admitted taking EPO while with Festina. Andreas Kloden and Joseba Beloki have both been the subject of (unproven) doping allegations  in the past. Alternatively, ASO may choose to declare that those races had no winner – an embarrassing reminder for all time for the history books.

As for Armstrong, the story does not end here either. With his reputation severely damaged, he is likely to face multiple lawsuits from sponsors, business associates and individuals which will, at the very least, keep him busy for the foreseeable future, and could result in financial ruin.

All this, however, is idle speculation. Here’s how the VeloVoices reacted to the news today.


Armstrong’s statement is a masterpiece of obfuscation, but really this was just the full-stop at the end of a sentence which has been written over a period of years. The true believers will still believe. The armchair prosecutors will bemoan the lack of an admission of guilt. ‘Twas ever thus.

In that respect, nothing has changed. In many others, though, everything has: history will record Lance Armstrong as a no-time Tour de France winner. The all-American hero has been unmasked as the devil.

So while this is closure with neither conclusion or conviction – and I doubt the story will truly end here – it’s still a pivotal day. Some fans are sad, some are still mad and others are grave-dancing. A few will always believe, no matter what. Like many, I’m somewhere in between.

To me, he is still the greatest cyclist of his generation. He is also a cheat. I’m conflicted. Sue me. (Please don’t.)

It’s time to move on. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Lance was just the public tip of a large pharmacological iceberg, but let’s learn the lessons and march forward without constantly looking back. I hope ASO will declare ‘no winner’ for the 1999-2005 Tours as a reminder to future generations. I suspect that won’t happen, and Messrs Zulle, Ullrich, Beloki, Kloden and Basso will inherit those titles without turning a pedal. That might just be the greatest crime of all.


I’ve had a couple of hours to digest the news but am still feeling somewhat ambivalent. Lance has thrown in the towel to avoid a long, costly and damaging court case. But it doesn’t change my opinion of him, or of his achievements. He’ll always be a seven-time Tour de France winner. I do however believe that he – and many other prominent riders – cheated and were never caught. The really sad thing is that if no one had cheated the outcome of the races might not have been too dissimilar.

If he is stripped of his titles, unravelling the financial implications is going to be a complicated exercise. As an accountant, I await the financial fall-out with interest. Let’s not forget that a number of US companies profited from Lance’s wins. Will they get off scot-free? I am, of course, referring mainly to Nike, Oakley and Trek.

And what of the UCI’s role in all of this? Maybe the best outcome would be a thorough look at the roles and responsibilities of the various bodies – USADA, WADA and UCI – leading to greater clarity of their respective responsibilities plus better segregation of duties. You just know that this is going to continue to rumble on.


My biggest concern is this: will the evidence that the US Anti-Doping Agency has compiled ever come to light? Surely everyone who has been involved in this systematic doping should be held up to the light. If not, what good is this doing? If the doctors, the directeurs sportif, the personal trainers, other riders and everyone around them who are facilitating doping aren’t sanctioned just as harshly, this type of thing will go on and on and on and on.

As for Lance himself, I’ve never had this hatred of him that half the world has, nor do I have blind faith in him like the other half of the world seems to have. He was the reason I started watching cycling but not the reason I continued to watch it – I found the whole sport fascinating, not just an individual rider. And looking back at footage of his wins – do I have to asterix them? – they’re not any less exciting for what we know now, at least not for me. It was the race on the day.

I want cycling to be clean but I’m worried that this chance to really clean house will just pass the sport by – again. Ding dong, the witch is dead – but the witch didn’t work alone.


In order for cycling to flourish it needs to be planted and nourished in healthy ground. Lance Armstrong polluted the soil of cycling with his cheating, lying, manipulating and bullying for too long. There is plenty of evidence/data and eyewitness testimony to show this.

I applaud Travis Tygart and USADA for being relentless in the pursuit of clean competition despite overwhelming political and financial pressure.  After all, that is their job.  The UCI would be wise to follow USADA’s recommendations for disciplining Armstrong.  The fact the sport’s greatest fraud of all time happened under their watch should be a signal that the UCI needs drastic changes, especially in leadership.

One cannot deny that Lance is an inspirational hero to millions who are fighting cancer. I feel for these people. I do not revel in seeing their disappointment. That said, I rejoice for Frank and Betsy Andreu, Greg Lemond and many others who have been destroyed by Armstrong for telling the truth.  These people ooze panache for sticking to their principles.

I cannot deny that I enjoyed watching Armstrong race. He is a supremely gifted endurance athlete and competitor. I believe he trained and worked very hard to achieve his results. But I also believe that he – like most of the cyclists of his era – used performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping too. He cheated. He should face the consequences.

I say the seven yellow jerseys should go to the lanterne rouge from each year – because those are the only riders who might have been riding clean at the time.

How do you feel about Lance Armstrong after today’s developments? Let us know in the comments below.

Friday Feature: Is cycling feeling the recession?

Cycling is first and foremost a sport, but it is increasingly also a business. And while 2011 was a thrilling year from a competitive standpoint, there were also worrying signs from a commercial perspective that the sport’s current business model may be unsustainable.

The UCI would certainly have you believe otherwise, as it trumpets the sport’s commercially successful expansion into new territories such as Oman, Qatar and most recently China in recent years. Continue reading