You’ve read the five of us discussing our thoughts on the 2012 season throughout the year. Now it’s time to make your voices heard as we open the voting for the inaugural VeloVoices Awards. Over ten days in ten categories – some serious, others less so – we’re asking you to select your choices of 2012. We’ll publish the final results in the run-up to Christmas. (Hopefully next year we’ll have a grand gala dinner in central London …)
Yesterday we revealed our shortlist for our Flop of the Year. Today it’s the turn of our nominations for the Lifetime Achievement Award:
Panache: I know he’s not a rider and I know that he’s not retiring but Travis Tygart deserves all our respect, praise and gratitude for pursuing Lance Armstrong after federal investigators walked away from their case. Finding the truth and bringing it to light was an achievement of a lifetime and will change the culture of cycling for the better. The USADA reasoned decision came with incredible risk – both personal and professional – to Tygart, but he and his people got the job done anyway.
Sheree:Alexandre Vinokourov. Winning Olympic gold in this year’s road race was a fairytale ending to a career which has divided cycling fans the world over. Whether you think he’s a villain or a hero you’ve got to hand it to Alex, he was in the right place at the right time. Others hesitated but he didn’t. And that pretty much sums up his career. He endeavours to be in the right place at the right time with a swashbuckling style of attacking riding. Okay he’s been unapologetic about his blood doping but I think we all understand why. He’s allegedly paid for wins but again you have to be in the right place to pull that off. He’s a chancer who’s made the best of every opportunity. If he were a businessman, he’d be feted for his achievements.
Tim: I’m stepping outside of the men’s ranks for once to nominate Judith Arndt, who retired after this year’s World Championships after securing back-to-back rainbow jerseys in the individual time trial to add to her silver in the Olympic ITT and a victory in the women’s Tour of Flanders. She won pretty much everything there is to win during a professional career spanning 18 seasons, including a third rainbow jersey in the Worlds road race back in 2004. An outstanding professional and one of the true legends of women’s cycling.
Kitty:He’s not retired yet and everyone hopes he keeps putting that fateful day off but he already deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award: Mr Jens Voigt. He’s 41, he still has teams clamouring for his signature on a contract and he still rides with a fierce joy that’s breathtaking to see. The look on his face when he’s putting down the pain and breaking everyone behind him is priceless.
Jack:David Moncoutie has always been distant in the peloton – almost an outcast, alone in the sea of 200 riders. “David is a loner,” former Cofidis chief Eric Boyer once bluntly said. But, perhaps partly because of his own quirks, and certainly because of his honesty and integrity, he is one of the most likeable riders in the peloton. Unfortunately a crash forced him out of his final Tour de France, and ultimately prevented him from making history at the race with which he is most notably associated: the Vuelta. Sadly his designs at winning a record-breaking fifth consecutive mountain classification were in vain, though he shall forever remain in the hearts of cycling fans after his mystical 16-year career, which included two stage wins at the Tour.
Tomorrow we’ll unveil our shortlist for the Sartorial Elegance Award.
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 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.