“Somebody said the mob left Vegas and it took over US Postal Pro Cycling team. That’s how they operate. The evidence supports it. Our notice letter used terms like ‘enforcer’ and ‘omerta’ and ‘code of silence’. They are powerful and strong and serious words. But the evidence that supports that is serious too. If anything it was an understatement.”
Travis Tygart’s a driven man. credited with being the guy who finally stood up to Lance Armstrong and the UCI, you might think he’d be reveling in the attention and basking in the accolades offered up to him by true cycling fans, the ordinary men and women who had been waiting for years for somebody to lift the lid on the cesspool that pro cycling was allowed to become – but no. in truth, hoping that LA would ever own up to his past was a long shot, but still there’s no disguising the disappointment he feels about Armstrong passing up the opportunity to come clean.
“Remember, we gave him an opportunity to come in and be truthful. That was probably the lowest point for me, because I really thought the change for sport and the legacy of this effort could have been huge, far bigger if he had embraced being a solution rather than an ongoing problem.
“I just know the power of an athlete in that predicament. We had 11 athletes come forward and their stories are what has allowed this to happen and they’re very powerful.
“To be the one, with the reach and the appeal he has, could have taken it to a whole new level as far as the good that could come from it is concerned. It would be as big as we’ve ever seen in terms of promoting the integrity and the values of sport.”
but then Armstrong’s idea of exactly what constitutes the ‘integrity and values’ of this particular sport are not those that Tygart refers to. LA proved that for him, adhering to the Omerta defined a rider’s integrity, and that winning by any means necessary – even if it meant cheating on a systematic and institutionalised level that saw several people’s careers ruined and their sanity questioned – was the only thing with any real value. worryingly, the international federation designated to lead the sport appears to have silently approved of Armstrong and his gang – what else are we to assume when the unwritten but overt policy was to look the other way and ask no questions?
if it helps to put into perspective the effect that Tygart’s investigation has had, note that he has had received three ‘credible’ death threats that have been taken seriously by the local police. we’re talking here about sport, something that seems, at the end of the day and in light of tragedy and natural disasters, essentially trivial, but that has come to bring massive wealth, fame and power to the athletes involved. Tygart spoke of Marion Jones hiring her own private detectives to follow the USADA officials who were investigating the BALCO case, sent out to intimidate the men and women uncovering the scandal who were steadily getting closer to bringing Jones down. in many ways, Tygart and his team appear to be more like the FBI agents who worked to bring down mobsters like Al Capone back in the 30s and 40s.
Speaking of the methods of intimidation used by these athletes, Tygart says:
“There are PR operatives who are paid a lot of money to set it up like that. Their MO, forever, has been to find whoever the individual is – whether it’s a witness coming forward or a federal agent doing their job or whether it’s us doing our job – and make it a personal attack. We’ve seen it in other high-profile cases. That’s why we’re here. We want to take that anger, that venom. We’re here to take the heat for clean athletes. We should be the safe harbour.”
that USADA has had to take this stance is atrocious – this ‘safe harbor’ is exactly what the UCI should be, the first line of defense against doping for young riders brought into a highly pressurised and competitive sport. presented with the facts however, the UCI has at best been sluggish in its response to the developments over the past few months and is still dragging its feet, refusing to embrace change or to offer up any real solutions for the future of the sport. instead, the sport sits drifting rudderless on a sea of despair, with the chief characters huddled together and intent on protecting their own interests.
how exactly can McQuaid survive as the president of the UCI?
“The answers need to be determined,” says Tygart. “How in the world does this happen on someone’s watch and that person not feel any sense of responsibility about it? That’s an obvious question that should be pursued.”
for those who say that cycling is being unfairly vilified as a sport and that others are just as bad but not as deeply investigated – which sounds dangerously apologistic – Tygart had this to say:
“I’ve heard that and I’ve heard UCI say it quite a bit and it’s just excuses. It’s time for bold action for a clean sport. There might be some short-term negative publicity but it will be for the long-term sustainability of the sport. There is no logical reason not to do it.”
those who say that LA won fairly because all the others he raced against were also doping are also missing the point, says Tygart:
“If it’s a justification that it’s OK, they’re pros, they all do it anyway – then the question becomes, for mums and dads out there, at what age are you willing to inject a steroid or other performance-enhancing drug into your child because that’s what it takes to get to the next level. Eventually, that next level is going to be the 10-year-old soccer team, the junior high team.”
is there anyone still out there who will argue that LA did more good for the sport than harm? maybe for the bike business that could be proven to be true, but it is not even a remotely valid nor coherent argument when it comes to the health and integrity of the values at the core of this sport – and indeed all sport. LA was not the only gunslinger in town but he certainly was the biggest, and his fall was absolutely necessary if the sport of cycling has any chance of surviving as anything more than a farce.
all i can say is this – thank f**k for Travis Tygart…