Tim Manson gives his opinion on one of the most shocking revelations in the history of sport
The United States Anti-doping Authorities’ damning 1,000-page dossier has rightfully left cycling’s biggest celebrity, Lance Armstrong’s reputation in tatters, and has left a bitter taste in the mouths of most in the cycling world.
His journey from promising cyclist cut down with cancer with a 50/50 chance of survival to seven-time winner of the Tour de France inspired millions. It is a terrible shame that the story was built on deceit and lies.
There can be no denying he was an incredible cyclist. As much as one likes to think so, no amount of blood doping is likely to ever turn me into a tour winning machine. Some will argue that this Armstrong-branded ‘Witch Hunt’ is singling out one man from a peloton that was predominantly using the same performance enhancing drugs as he was; his use simply levelled the playing field which he then dominated. As much as this argument may hold some weight, it doesn’t make it acceptable or right.
Since its inception there has always been the impression that to even complete the Tour de France was near impossible without the aid of drugs. It begun with recreational drugs as competitors looked at ways to provide energy and a pain buffer. Britain’s very own Tom Simpson died on the climb up the Col du Galibier in 1967 having pumped himself full of amphetamines, whereas other competitors were known to have used speed. With the emergence of Armstrong it seemed as if cycling finally had someone it could believe in as a clean winner.
There appears to be disbelief at the sheer quantity of evidence gather against the Texan, with both Team Sky’s Principle Dave Brailsford and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins having commented on being overwhelmed by it. There is much to be overwhelmed by, bearing in mind that this is a man who has never failed a drug test in the 500-plus he had been subjected to in his career. To discover that Armstrong’s victories were earned through cheating and deception is shocking.
People forget that as much as the USADA revelations center on one man, it also affects the lives of 11 other cyclists who all lost out as a result of the investigation into doping.
Fair play to these 11 riders, all former teammates of Armstrong, for coming out and giving the evidence which also incriminated themselves. Some would argue that they were obliged to by law, yet most had been denying it for the whole of their careers and had a lot to lose from confessing. Some were Armstrong’s most loyal servants; George Hincapie, for example, was there on all seven editions of the Tour in which Armstrong finished first.
One of the most shocking revelations of the report, given Armstrong’s clean image, seems to be the portrayal of him as a bully, bending people to his will and forcing them to dope. Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, while both disgraced riders themselves, were the first to publicly claim that they had doped with Armstrong – brave, considering that Armstrong had previously caused French rider Christophe Bassons to leave the 1999 tour in tears by isolating him from the rest of the peloton for remarking on the need for change regarding the drugs culture.
Asked why he had said these things, Bassons claimed he wanted to change things for the future generation. It seems that most of the riders who confessed in the USADA report have voiced their desire to change things for the younger generation of riders coming through. This is what cycling as whole should be focusing on now that the truth has come out.
The current director of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme, has called for there to be no winner of the Tour de France for the Lance Armstrong years when the International Cycling Union (French: Union Cycliste Internationale) ratify the USADA findings. A line must be written under it, not forgotten but remembered as part of cycling’s dirty past – a place to which it should never return.
Cycling has changed massively over the last decade, yet we still see big names being pulled up for drug use, which suggest that while cleaner, drug use is still prominent. It is always suggested that the anti-doping authorities are always having to play catch up to the cheats. While hugely damaging for the sport, the cycling world can turn the revelations of the last few months into a force for positive change within the sport.
Armstrong will still remain a legend, but for very different reasons. A few months ago he was a legend for winning seven consecutive Tours. Now his legend is that of the best sporting conman ever. At the victory ceremony of his seventh victory he said “I’ll say to the people who don’t believe, the cynics and the sceptics – I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.” Well, Lance, you’ve certainly made it that bit harder to believe in miracles again.