Landis, Lemond, Lance and Leinders: Why it has to be all or nothing

Floyd Landis talks sense sometimes. (Note the sometimes). He’s one of the former EPOlogists that actually has something worth listening to. Sometimes. Yep, he denied his arse off when he got busted, denied it for way too long and messed around with a lot of people who supported him, but his contrition since then has been as complete as it can get for someone who did all that. He’s annoying, sure, he might benefit financially if (or when) LA gets the beating many feel he will on the Whistleblower case, he doped his arse off but, it has to be said, there’s more clarity to what he says than the likes of Hamilton et al.


So when he headlined on CyclingSnooze recently, having  a pop at Greg Lemond, I had to read it. He felt that Lemond’s insistence that a lifetime ban for the guy who never won 7 Tours de France was absolutely spot on but that his record on other dopers sent out a mixed message and made it look more like Lemond was anti-Lance than anti-dope.

“I can certainly empathize with his personal distaste for Armstrong,” said Landis. “However, his inconsistent treatment of riders who doped is troubling and undercuts his argument that Armstrong should be banned for life.”

He cited the 3-time Tour winner waving to crowds at the Tour alongside Indurain – which basically meant Landis was saying the Spaniard was a dope cheat – and his statement that Pantani, the coke-riddled Pirate, was “one of the greatest ever” (bike riders, not dopers, though the latter is plainly true).

All this got me thinking about Lemond’s position and then of mine. Lemond has a very personal connection to Armstrong – the guy cost him his business, for chrissakes, he ridiculed and belittled him and obscured Lemond’s record as the only winning American of the Maillot Jaune with his chemically-enhanced march to Tour de France dominance.

who let this guy in?
who let this guy in?

So I kinda figure Lemond has reason to be emotionally-invested in all that. What got me thinking though was his views on Pantani. He’s wrong on that one, right? I mean, Pantani was not bad and all but what he was really good at was taking EPO. Some will read this and say ‘Well they all did it so yeah he was the best climber in those days’ but like many a good non-doping pro will tell you, that is no excuse – the decision to cheat is made not just once and ‘Oops, sorry bout that, I made a bad decision’ – no, it’s made every single day, every time the vial gets opened and the srynge inserted, the pill popped and the blood taken out of the refrigerator.

Pro cycling is like the financial industry – the top of it – in that its culture rewards dishonesty. Pantani may have been great but we will never know because another three guys who might have been better may have quit early on, disgusted at doping, and gone to work in insurance. We just will never know.

But then it came to my own position on doping. If you read cp regularly you’ll know I am pretty much against it and against accolades for riders who have been busted, and yet I, perhaps like Lemond too, was drawn into the romance of the sport, of the history of legendary rides and heroic riders, like Eddy Merckx.

For sure I was.

And in a sense I still am. There is a wall in my head that stood between two realms, one that thought that the EPO-era guys were terrible cheats, but that the guys from the amphetamine-era were somehow ok. Thankfully, that wall is rubble now, thanks to the massive holes in it, but the remnants of it are there still. Maybe I subconsciously don’t want to clean it up so that I am reminded of how easy it is to see those older riders as somehow ‘less bad’ than the guys like Armstrong, Pantani and Ricco.

I have a photograph on my ‘aboutapunk’ page that has me with Merckx at the Tour of Oman. I was in absolute awe of seeing this legend still breathing and moving. Since then I have changed my position. Merckx doped, he cheated, he was busted more than once, as did so many of his generation. Bartali might have been one of the very few – certainly amongst the elite – that didn’t dope, but the rest? Some things never change.

But the picture will stay on there, to remind me, as the battered ruins of that wall do, that this sport is and has been corrupt since very beginning.

Looking for heroes? Look hard.

It was not easy to admit to myself that I had been in awe of cheats, and that I had been misleading myself when it came to the older generations. It stripped bare the history of the sport all at once. I even had to go back and look at the very Tour stage that made me fall in love with cycling and the guy whose image was all over my little bike room when I was 16.

Landis is making a valid point, and that is that with Lemond saying that LA deserves a life ban but others can still be considered ‘great’, there is an inconsistent message being sent out there that actually gives validity to LA saying he shouldn’t be banned for life and that his treatment amounts to a witch hunt.

Should it be a lifetime ban for all serious drug abuse? Yes, I’m with Will Routley on that one. Personality should not come into it. Yes LA is a sociopath but as far as I know WADA don’t test for that – yet.

And let me reiterate something I’ve said many times but keep needing to repeat. These guys fully deserve to live their lives with something as close as they can get to contentment, for sure. They should be allowed to rebuild and to move on – but they should not be allowed near either the bureaucracy of cycling, nor the development of young riders, nor the management of teams at any level. Once you make that decision to cheat you should lose your seat on the bus.

Would you want a bent accountant managing your cash? Not a tough decision there.

Which brings us to Leinders. Proper dodgy, administering dope to (it seems) just about everyone on Rabobank, employed by Sky (‘We know nothing!’), banned for life by USADA for trafficking and yet still denying it on Dutch national TV and wherever else he can get a word in. How did he ever get onto Sky? I know that is not the first time that has been asked. Why not have an agreement between teams not to employ former dopers or those heavily implicated in doping? Leinders had been fingered by ex-Rabo manager Theo de Rooy as having been part of a decision to dope riders, before Sky employed him.

Some teams have been using stuff that is not yet banned but is said to bring big benefits – such as ketones – then saying ‘well it ain’t banned’, and it’s the same deal with employing people who they can say ‘well he ain’t been banned’ – in this, they are adhering to the letter of the law and not its spirit.

Then you have the UCI guy, Dr Mario Zorzoli, said to be giving Rabo a heads up when the testers were closing in and suggesting a particular steroid for Leinders to administer to Rasmussen.

Want to talk about corrupt? If that isn’t it then I don’t know what it. This is the same guy that sped through Froome’s TUE at Romandie. Had the UCI been doing its real job over the past 20 years – and just to clear this up, their real job under Verbruggen and McQuaid was not in fact to make sure that 95% of the peloton doped in massive measure – people like Zorzoli would have been identified and kicked out. And there lies the problem. We have so many – so, so many – dodgy characters in this sport that everything is, if you will excuse the language, royally f*cked up.

The UCI has unveiled its new anti-doping policies and yes, they are an improvement, but still are a galaxy’s width away from being what is absolutely necessary.

I’m reading Nicole Cooke’s autobiography at the moment and she talks a lot about the ineptitude and outright villainy that she encountered as a young rider trying to make an honest, dedicated go at being a professional. I read it realising that this wasn;t just true of women’s cycling, and that nothing has changed. With so many former blatantly dodgy characters still in the sport, nothing ever will, because this era is stained by the last one and it will continue until the culture, embodied by these individuals, is finally rooted out and a new education system is brought in for young athletes.

Cavendish wants everyone to stop talking about doping? Yeah, real change there. Gotta love that Omerta.



Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

19 thoughts

  1. I empathise with you – with so many of my hero’s from the pre-EPO generation, i believe it’s hard to judge them in the same way. We can argue about “playing fields” until we are blue in the face, but the trangressions of the pre-90’s riders really to pale into insignificance versus the heamocrit-rich generation from the 90’s onwards. the real tough one though for me are the riders that bridged these 2 era’s. no names no pack drill….

  2. I agree with you (and Landis) in that it should be consistent with the punishments and handling of offenses. And I do think that there should be “extra” punishment for those who have attacked others in defense of themselves, and especially doctors, coaches, directors and management who “force” riders to choose to dope.

    The sport is getting really hard to follow as a fan. You have up and coming riders (or even current top riders) on teams managed by people who directly and indirectly led, helped doping and/or doped themselves. Sometimes there’s no evidence other than “how could they not know?” They are still in the system and it makes almost everyone currently riding a suspect of cheating. I want to be excited about riders and yet, because of who they ride for or the company they keep I have suspicions in my mind about their performance. Even when I don’t “believe they would,” there’s always a little doubt.

    1. Agreed and I think that is what Cavendish misses, whereas Kittel and Terpstra do. It doesn;t work to say ‘OK from now on we’ll all be good,” becuase we’ve heard that before. Cavendish thinks the sport exists because of the riders alone but it is not that simple.

  3. One problem area? Definitions. “Should it be a lifetime ban for all serious drug abuse?” Not that I’m against it, I just don’t know: what exactly is meant by ‘serious’?

    And, before automatic lifetime bans, we have to guarantee that the tests are foolproof and there is no possibility of a false-positive, other than just, “The lab is very skilled”, which leaves open the door of possibility.

    1. “Serious” could be EPO use and blood transfusions. You don;t accidentally fall on a needle full of EPO or accidentally get hooked up to a bag of blood. Nicole Cooke – who also supports lifetime bans – has said that she realises that there may some wrongdoings but that it is a price worth paying. You also have to realise that of all the riders who have been caught doping there is a very very small percentage that did not knowingly ingest. I think myself that yes, there could be an appeals panel, but it has to be run by experts in doping, not bureaucrats with vested interests.

  4. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree Axel training kids in Canada, ex.Rock Racing pro coaching kids in Mexico,nothing will change.

  5. Since you posted this article, LA has been back in the news. Reading his comments on Riis, Vino, Cookson et al, and with your “all or nothing” statement ringing in my head, a few what if’s have come to mind;

    Imagine if LA finds his ban reduced.
    Imagine if he wants to re-integrate into the sport (as opposed run in the odd sponsored event as is his argument).
    Imagine if he wants Cookson’s job – or to head a governing body seeking to replace the increasingly discredited UCI!

    The ultimate poacher turned game-keeper. Stranger things have happened….

  6. Axel Merckx is a puzzling one. A doping son of an ex-doping legend running a development team that people laud and even has a Gran Fondo named after him (as an aside, is any eponymous Gran Fondo NOT named after a doper?). In any case, I think LeMond has always come across as anti-doping rather than anti-dopER, Lance excluded, but if he’s calling for Lance’s lifetime ban, that has to apply to anyone guilty of a similar level of doping for their career (I’d not be sorry to see Levi and George vanish from sight). Personal animosity can’t play a part as the flip side of it is that for mates, you make excuses or brush things under the carpet and you end up back with the UCI trying to cover things up.

    For what it’s worth I’d also like to see races exclude people with lifetime bans from being part of media crews as their lazy excuses end up muddying the discussion and provide space where doping seems okay. I would also like to see the back of people like Liggett and Sherwen but that’s another story entirely.

  7. As an aside, did you see Talansky slamming DiLuca at the same time as posting photos with his BFF Leipheimer? Admittedly Leipheimer isn’t crazy and airing that crazy in public but it’s still a double standard.

  8. I agree with you in that Cav could take much more of a proactive stance a la Kittel etc, but in the recent case I think he was just answering a dumb question in his typical style – which is broadly, that as a professional journalist, you should have the good sense to think about what you are asking in advance… ‘can you guarantee that 100% of the peleton is dope free?’ – which is a pretty dumb question… there are a thousand ways he could have phrased a question on doping to get a more sensible reply…’are you concerned that there appears to be a general mistrust that 100% of the peleton is not dope free?.. etc etc’

  9. Thanks for putting into words exactly why I am so conflicted about this sport these days. I’ve been following the sport since the late sixties (from inside the industry from the 80s) and I’ve never had more of a “could give a shit” about the 2015 season starting. Like you I also separate the “old days” from the EPO blood doping. Sure it was cheating, but sooner or later dropping speed wasn’t going to work anymore. I wasn’t the same level as the bloody EPO era where you could effectively start from scratch on week 3 of a GT. My biggest issue with the old boys is their inane comments regarding this generations cheaters. And yes, if you have ever been popped for doping, no team/DS jobs when you leave the sport.

    1. I don’t think the UCI or WADA need to ban them from the sport entirely, I reckon all the UCI has to do is say “The ethics committee will look at whether you employ former dopers as staff as a criteria for your license” and they’ll go away. One tiny rule change and all those guys go away.

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