Big news yesterday about Lance and I would be remiss in not writing a little something about it. Sad news frankly, for cycling certainly. It’s not so much that he has finally been ‘outed’, but that he is defiantly holding onto his PR soundbites of the past decade and denying all responsibility and all guilt. Really? There comes a time, surely, when you have to man up to your decisions. We all make mistakes. Granted this is a biggie, what with it being on the world stage and all, but it’s a mistake nonetheless, and everyone deserves a second chance. At least, I believe you deserve the second chance if you show some remorse and regret for your poor decisions.
What do I mean by that? Well, take David Millar. Top cyclist, medal winner, multiple stage winner in grand tours. He was caught doping. Quite sensibly he admitted it, asked for forgiveness, did his time out of competition (helping young athletes while off), and came back to a peloton who respected him and welcomed him back. Heck, he was part of the Team GB cycling squad at the London 2012 games. He went to the bottom of the barrel, decided he did not want to stay there, and did the right thing to come back. Hats off to him.
Others have been less graceful. A good example is London 2012 gold medalist in the road race Vinokourov. Testing positive for the winning performance in the 2007 Tour de France time trial, he was banned for two years. To my knowledge he has never admitted any guilt, nor has he apologized to fans, for why should he? According to him he did nothing wrong. Now he has come back and won a very unpopular gold in London. Why was it so unpopular? Well I’ll hazard a guess that him being a total arse about the ban and being ‘too good’ to admit any wrongdoing has left a very bitter taste in people’s mouths. I am not a fan. Not because he doped, but because he couldn’t strap his balls on and admit he had made a mistake.
So onto Lance, the hot topic of today and surely for weeks and months to come. Another one who has so far denied any wrongdoing. His mantra of “I have never tested positive for blood doping” is not actually entirely true. In 1999, during the tour, he did return a positive test but was able to somehow blame a saddle sore (rather the cream used to treat it) and the matter was quickly swept under the carpet. More recently, many former teammates, masseurs and journalists have come out and either said they used with him/saw him use/received evidence of usage so it would seem that he’s going to have to find a new line now. Simply denying the allegations is no longer enough.
Some call this latest USADA investigation a vendetta. It certainly looks like that to someone on the outside. But I think it is more about a genuine wish to see the sport loved by so many cleaned up. It is horrific to see a seven time champion stripped of his victories. It shakes the sporting world as a whole. The impact of this is not confined to cycling. But I think that it is necessary. If you cheated, you need to accept that there are consequences. That’s true in life as it is in sport.
So even Lance knows that he cannot maintain a basic strategy of denial anymore. It just doesn’t cut it. So what does he do? He throws the towel in. Quits. No more fighting. He won’t ‘dignify‘ the accusations any longer. He is now the martyr of professional cycling. But he’s not though, is he? I think if he was really innocent then he would take it to the bitter end. I know I would. To me, and many others I am sure, it smacks of a desperate move to limit the already considerable damage. By refusing to participate he can continue to profess his innocence as he would never officially have been proven guilty. Yeah, he’ll have the titles taken away and be banned for life, but he can always stand back and say “Look what they did. They just took it all away without even proving anything. They conducted a witch hunt!” What was the word he used in his statement? Heinous.
But onto the more interesting question: who should be crowned the winner of the 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 tours? Well, the bloke who came second right? Yeah, well, may be not. Let’s take a look at who came second and why perhaps they are also not worthy of the title of the world’s greatest cyclist.
- 1999 – Alex Zülle: linked to Team Festina (1998 scandal that was the biggest cycling scandal until this one came along) and later admitted to using EPO extensively. Ha! Wait, he admitted it. Anyone know if he apologized? He may deserve the win.
- 2000, 2001, 2003 – Jan Ullrich: The ‘Kaiser’. Man who loves his sausage and usually started the season looking more like a doctor with too much disposable income than a professional cyclist, but a determined rider and hey, finishing 2nd three times is quite an achievement. Oh but wait, he was linked to Operation Puerto in 2006 and the stripped of his 3rd place finish in the tour in 2005. Just recently he admitted to having a connection to the doctor at the centre of this scandal, Fuentes, and said it was “a big mistake” but he did not admit to doping. So there – no apology, he does not deserve to take the victory spoils.
- 2002 – Joseba Beloki: implicated in the aforementioned Operation Puerto, he retired in 2007. He was cleared by a Spanish court (was this the same court that cleared Alberto Contador??) and to my knowledge has never actually been prosecuted, so that would put him in the lead so far.
- 2004 – Andreas Kloeden: wait we have a new ‘cleanest of a dirty bunch’ winner. In 2009 allegations emerged that he had undergone a full and illegal blood transfusion during the 2006 tour, but I cannot find anything that would confirm it went any further than that.
- 2005 – Ivan Basso: this one is brilliant. Another rider linked to Operation Puerto, he admitted being linked to Fuentes and further admitted to ‘attempted doping’. So, he didn’t actually do it, but he was really thinking about it. He was banned for two years as a result, the ‘attempt’ considered as grave as actually doing it, and he is now back in competition and being a bloke that did admit wrongdoing and behaving in a contrite-like manner, he has kept a certain level of respect from me.
So, what a motley crew! In the light of the above synopsis (not professionally executed I might add!) I would say none of them really deserve it. Is there not one rider in the last fifteen years who doesn’t have a syringe-like skeleton in their closet? Bloody hell, when you do a little simply internet research it’s remarkable what you can learn. What has happened to this sport?
I tell you, if it ever comes to pass that Wiggo played dirty I may just throw the towel in. Not because he is British and cheated, although that would be a dent on the national pride, but because it would be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
Let’s hope that cycling continues to learn from all of this. We’ll talk again as soon as the powers that be confirm how they plan to rewrite history. I can hardly wait!