Is anyone really shocked that Lance Armstrong has been revealed as a drug cheat? News of his doping doesn’t come as a surprise to those of us who have followed cycling prior to the rise of Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins as British Cycling’s newest heroes. It does, however, highlight the complete and utter failure of the UCI to properly police the sport. As professional cycling tries to put one of the biggest scandals in an already-tarnished history behind it, a larger problem looms. How can Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid, the two men who it appears wilfully ignored what has been described as “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme” sport has ever seen, be trusted to clean up the mess they are at least partially responsible for?
When announcing that the UCI would back Usada’s decision to strip Armstrong of his record-breaking 7 Tour De France titles, McQuaid stated unequivocally that Lance Armstrong needs to be forgotten for cycling to move forward. He could not be more wrong. With all of the negative press and hand-wringing surrounding cycling after the USADA report broke, burying their heads in the sand and hoping for the scandal to blow over must seem like a tempting prospect. But without acknowledging, understanding and learning from the mistakes of the past, it seems that cycling is doomed to repeat them.
One of the main issues faced by the UCI is that it is responsible for simultaneously promoting and policing the sport. This is an obvious conflict of interest. Setting up an independent body that deals solely with tackling the use of PEDs within the sport should be the first step the UCI takes. Working closely with those who have admitted drug use in the past and are now committed to cleaning up cycling must be the next.
A number of ex-dopers within the sport have spoken eloquently about the pressures placed on them and how to them, the choice to use performance-enhancing drugs wasn’t really a choice at all. Is it any wonder that, when placed in a situation where they have to choose between compromising to carry on with your dream career or packing up and abandoning it all, so many chose the former? I don’t believe at all that this should be taken as an acceptable reason to cheat but it is at the very least an understandable one, especially when you consider just how thoroughly ingrained into the professional cycling culture the use of EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions were at the time.
Jonathan Vaughters, an ex-doper and current manager of the Garmin-Sharp team, has called for the UCI to work closely with the World Anti-Doping Agency and help set up an independent body that can audit all anti-doping procedures within the sport. Vaughters also strongly believes that the whole Armstrong saga should be used as a catalyst for change within the sport. Encouraging openness and honesty from those still involved in the sport that have a history of using PEDs is clearly the best way to learn and move forward. The key to making sure that the sport doesn’t face another crisis of the same magnitude further down the line is to understand the factors that contributed to such a large percentage of the pro peleton using PEDs and then working tirelessly to limit these factors in the future.
For this to happen successfully, those who do come forward and want to contribute to cycling’s must not be demonised. People such as David Millar, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis have and should continue to show contrition for their actions. Any first-hand knowledge and understanding of doping in cycling is vital in preventing it in the future. For this to happen though, all ties need to be severed with Pat McQuaid. Although the actions of any ex-doper must be scrutinised, McQuaid went as far to describe Hamilton as a ‘scumbag’ for denying that he used PEDs for years until finally admitting the truth as part of a federal criminal investigation into Lance Armstrong’s actions.
There is no place in the future of cycling for people who are clearly unwilling to shift their position and adopt a more understanding and preventative approach to the use of performance enhancing drugs. And if at some point in the future, Lance Armstrong admits his discretions and genuinely wants to contribute to rebuilding the sport’s reputation, he should be forgiven.