- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 25 August 2012
While most media savvy cyclists will be well aware that Lance Armstrong is giving up defending himself against the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA) and that this means the World Anti Doping Agency can strip him of his seven Tour de France wins a well as his Sydney Olympic Games Time Trial bronze and other victories since 1988 plus gets a lifetime ban, what does it all mean for Lance and for cycling?
With Lance’s announcement to stop defending himself against the USADA allegation it creates in interesting scenario that Armstrong is conceding without admitting to doping. On the one side it is a clear signal to his accusers that he is guilty of systematic doping and conspiracy charges; if he is clearly innocent why not allow proceedings to start and defend the allegation? On the other there is an element of doubt left in the minds of the public, there is no clarity, a man hounded so heavily surely has his limits as well?
The USADA however will release its evidence which will give the media and public another change to find how how damning and convincing their evidence is, which is said to include testimony against him from a number of former team-mates.
What does it mean to lose the seven Tour de France? Consider when Contador lost his title, it was a sad day for cycling and one of the most unsatisfying wins for Andy Schleck who was denied the glory and sponsor and media value that he would have on the first place on the podium. In he 1999 Tour de France it would mean the Swiss Alex Zülle of team Banesto gets the title but in 2000, 2001 and 2003 the disgraced Jan Ulrich of Telekom would be next in line. Looking through the ranks there are plenty of dopers and editing the history book will not necessarily right the wrongs.
A big message for cyclists, it will be harder to get through the system. Though it is often suggested that dopers are always ahead of the system with, for example, newer undetectable doping and strategies for detection, if anti-doping organisations and courts can go back, find and convict riders on past doping activity, then it is harder to escape the system. Though the USADA is only active in the United States and the USA Cycling body, as one of the most influential nations this surely sends a signal to other countries who are more protective of their athletes.
Another message is that doping processes and convictions need to be faster, it becomes a farce when it takes years until someone is banned. This says a lot for the power of Anti-doping agencies compared with national sports bodies, not to mention the UCI. While national sporting bodies can be understood for defending their countrymen such as with Alberto Contador, the UCI is a surprisingly closed organisation where more transparency and actual movements against doping would benefit the sport.
The biggest losers are the cycling fans.
Lance Armstrong is one of the most celebrated sports people in history, a man who is credited with bringing cycling to a general audience in America. His book, the resolved determination against allegations, the millions earned in sponsorship and the hundreds of millions raise for the LiveStrong charity foundation all a lie?
The cycling enthusiast well versed in the history of cycling knows that doping has always been a cancer of this sport though may show understanding because ‘that is how the system is’. But for the non-cyclist and the outsiders who have been drawn to the sport, this is biggest betrayal yet. It is the sport of cycling the potential of cycling in general that suffers. In Australia cyclists are on the receiving end of angry motorists and when the sport has a bad name, this is yet another argument against cyclists and cycling.
Credibility also plays a huge role in the ability to attract publicity, sponsorship and funding for the sport. The German team Milram was disbanded as the sponsor Milram could no longer continue support in a sports arena with so many doping issues. When professional road cycling looks bad it doesn’t help women’s cycling, amateur cycling and even other disciplines such as Mountain Biking or BMX, when a company looks at cycling as a tainted sport the more than just the professional road teams are affected.
Life will go on, cycling will take a hit and loose credibility. Perhaps because Armstrong’s last Tour de France win was six years ago it makes it easy to move on. But even in this years Tour, Frank Schleck, brother of Andy Schleck who won by default, was sent home for doping.
As cycling fans perhaps we should look towards organisations such as Bike Pure which promotes clean cyclesport. The more support that these organisations get, the more that the sport and the athletes hear this voice: bikepure.org
Photo © Eugene