it’s a strange, almost disembodied state that we find ourselves in now, in the midst of this fug that has enveloped us. like a plastic bag trapped swirling in the wind, we, the lifeblood of this sport, the fans, are waiting for a path to be cleared, for decisions to be made, and yet those we have no choice but to look to are busy scurrying off through the brush in all directions with one hand clamped over their mouths and the other over their backsides. pro cycling is lost, the GPS is on the blink and the dog’s pissed all over the map.
the UCI President Pat McQuaid on Monday formally ratified the USADA decision on Armstrong and stripped the Texan of the 7 Tour titles that he held, a move that was quietly if cautiously applauded by commentators and fans alike. that the UCI had no choice but to do so plainly obvious, but this is the UCI after all, and had they declared that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, Ann Coulter is a model of humanity, EPO is now to be legalized and LA to be allowed back, crankpunk would have not been too surprised.
and then, lo and behold, just a few hours later the UCI released a document entitled ‘Decision‘. like a spoiled brat having to have the last word – no, worse than that – like a criminal being led from the dock turning to taunt the relatives of his victim – the UCI had the bare-faced audacity to call the evidence and methods used by Tygart and USADA into question, and – are you sitting down? if not, please do, i’ll wait – ok here goes – the UCI ‘Decision’ went on to raise grounds for a possible appeal, either by Armstrong himself, or by the World Anti-Doping Agency – against the report’s conclusions.
slap me in the face with the large rotting carcass of a tuna, just to help me get rid of the stench that that statement left in my nostrils. the word ‘integrity’ apperas to mean nothing to Verbruggen, McQuaid nor, we must assume, the rest of the upper management at the UCI. and who exactly are those people? where do they hide? behind McQuaid’s unfeasibly large reserves of gall?
so, if previous events – Festina, Puerto, Landis, Rasmussen etc – and indeed current events – are anything to go by, we would have to be a particularly thick village idiots to trust the future of this sport solely to the UCI. same can be said, sadly, of most of the mainstream media. Steve Madden, Bicycling magazine’s editor from 2002-2008, wrote something akin to a confessional the other day in which he claimed that the LA ‘story’ was “almost impossible to report”, and then states that one of the main reasons he steered clear of ‘negative’ LA reports was that he didn’t want to be the guy “who bled hope out of cancer wards across America.”
let’s extrapolate that logic. does that then mean that Lemond, Kimmage, Betsy Andreu, Simoni, Bassons and David Walsh were ‘bleeding hope’ out of cancer victims? and ‘almost impossible to report.’ that clearly is an attempt to obfuscate the issue at hand. it was not almost impossible, it was quite clearly possible, as Kimmage and Walsh proved over and over. that kind of argument, that something is too difficult to understand, too ‘impossible’ to report on, is the same logic that was used by the British government during the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland, when keeping the British public – and in particular the English – in the dark was exactly what they needed to cling onto power in the troubled state. it happens now too, as is the case with Iraq and Afghanistan. these things can be understood, it’s just that to explain them takes longer than a 3-minute news slot – and they can be reported on, they just need dedicated journalists who are true to their calling and who will have to fight nail and tooth to be heard and are prepared to be shunned by many of their colleagues.
what it really took, in the case with Armstrong through those dark years – was something else – a hardy set of nuts. Betsy had a pair. Bassons too. the lot of them, they had them, Madden didn’t. why he feels the need to publish this kind of disingenuous trash now is beyond your friendly neighborhood crankpunk.
you may have noticed that Michael Ashenden’s name has been coming up again and again. the man who was working on the UCI’s biological passport and quit because of what he felt were shortcomings in the program is one person who has the expertise and, perhaps even more crucially, the integrity and credibility necessary to help get the sport on its knees again (i say knees because at the moment, the body is on its back in ER with the defibrillator plugged in and ready to go. let’s get it on its knees first, then we can think about feet after a lengthy stint in rehab). Ashenden needs to be involved – if not central – to whatever rebuilding the UCI’s anti-doping program goes through, and if McQuaid were to announce his appointment – if indeed Ashenden would take it is another matter – then we’d be at least facing the right direction.
and what of the riders? Mark Cavendish says that cycling “is the cleanest sport in the world.” that, i am sorry to say, is not what we want to hear right now. the top cyclists may be the most tested athletes in the world, but to claim the majority aren’t still doping, in the current climate, i just feel that it’s not something that need be said. it’s unquantifiable in any case, the claim to be the cleanest sport, unless we test every athlete in every sport in the world. statements like this have that air of indignation that suggest that the current plight of the sport is ‘unfair’. the fan in the street doesn’t care if it’s fair or not, they just want riders they can cheer without having that slightly nauseous sensation in the back of their throat.
Ashenden said something in The Guardian that Cavendish might want to read. “Everyone seems happy to declare Armstrong’s years a dark era,” he said. “USADA talked about 70% of podium finishes through to 2010 being tainted by doping. Blood passports were introduced in 2008 and, from 2008 to today, 30% of podium finishers are implicated in doping. So, yes, it’s better. But you’ve still got a third of your champions doping. If cycling wants a gold medal for that, or a free pass from media scrutiny, they’re kidding themselves.”
and there’s the rub, and this is why, amongst all this palaver, no one is writing about who to look for within the sport for guidance, because, quite simply, we still have no real idea who is clean and who isn’t. that is not because we lack faith – that twisted logic insults the fans’ intelligence, which has taken a harsh enough beating already – it is because of what has been going on. it’s because of positive after positive, denial after denial. it’s because the core is rotten. it is not ‘in the past’. it’s still here. the tentacles of Dr. Octo-Strong are still writhing, still spasming – and though they’ve been cut down the corrupted DNA still lingers. the UCI (at best) stood by and (at best) ignored the warnings, the management of many teams were either complicit in doping, looked the other way or actually administered the dope, the majority of journalists did nothing whatsoever to challenge the athletes suspected, and the great majority of riders did nothing except tut-tut when another guy was caught. more fool you, those doping must have thought, you should have used my doctor.
what we need now is a united voice, from the ProTour riders. we need a new body, led by the riders. if anyone knows the true extent of what is going on it is them. let the UCI and others argue about truth and reconciliation. if the majority of riders would welcome that then say so, but what we need so desperately is to start a process where we can begin to trust these guys (trust is a big word, i know, but we have to start somewhere).
and here we stand, on the verge of something. here is our chance. Ashenden and Shane Stokes have both noted that this must be a pivotal moment or the sport will, in Stokes’ words, become little more than a two-wheeled version of the WWF. we need everyone, the journos, the managers, the presiding body, to man the **** up and get ready to ride – but we need the guys that make it all possible to step up too. we need the stars of the show to stand up, and to stand together.
i’ll leave you with the words of Tennyson, from his epic poem Ulysees:
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
boys – sort it out.