Not long after news broke that Lance Armstrong would not formally contest United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) proceedings against him, the media came alive. Some commentators focused on the idea of the seven times Tour winner as a doping cheat who master-minded methods of hoodwinking the authorities and brought discredit on the sport. And some saw events in the USA as a positive marker, which finally drew a line under the murk of the past, separating it from a new, bright and drug-free future.
Rob Draper, in the Mail Online, is a good example of some of the perspectives that were on offer. His thundering article bore the emotive title ‘Arise, Travis Tygart, in Armstrong You Finally Nailed the Biggest Cheat in Sport’ (Mail Online, 25th August 2012). He argues strongly against any who may be tempted to say “…that because all were doping in this era, Armstrong is a true champion.” To do that, Draper says. “… would be to surrender to the malign forces that would reduce sport to a circus designed to enrich its participants and hangers-on.”
And why is he so emphatic? Well, for him.
“Somewhere in the peloton in the Nineties was a man who was clean, who finished perhaps 30th in the Tour de France. Who knows now if he would have been Armstrong’s equal? Who knows if he might have been an even more charismatic champion? Maybe he grew depressed and quit as numerous team-mates eventually surrendered to the curse of the needle, because they saw a sport in which so many colluded with cheats that it had become the norm.
That man was suffocated by cynicism and we never got to know his name. It is for him that Travis Tygart pursued this fight, and his ultimate victory was as important as anything celebrated in the Olympic Stadium this month.”
Paul Gilham/Getty Images: Travis Tygart is the chief executive of the USADA.
The trouble, of-course, is that it isn’t quite as reassuringly clear as that. Life often isn’t, particularly when it comes to the difficult areas of blaming and excluding.
Let us suppose that the USADA allegations are true. (And, that we can still only suppose is itself a lingering problem). But, for the sake of discussion, let us suppose.
Can we now claim, as Rob Draper seems to, that because of recent events affecting Lance Armstrong, that Draper’s honest rider in the peleton has had his rights restored, that virtuous sporting performance has, at last, been vindicated?
It would be heartening if we could. But it’s just not plausible to think so. Knowing our cycling history, we understand that drug misuse has been a feature of the sport from its earliest days, when men from poor backgrounds were paid to undertake almost impossible feats of endurance on track and road, and were supported by cycling impresarios, with mixtures of strychnine and heroin, to do so.
And if honest with ourselves about the history of the sport, we would also know how deeply engrained drug misuse has been. We might even recall that when Fausto Coppi was asked whether he used the preferred drug of post-war cycling, amphetamine, or as he called it ‘La Bomba,’ he replied. “Yes, whenever it was necessary.” And, to the follow on question as to when that was, replied. “Almost all the time.”
And, from such an honest position, it would be easy for us to recognise that it was only when the money from sponsors looked like leaving the sport for good that a really serious approach to dealing with the problem began to emerge.
In making that recognition, we would not be falling into the nihilistic trap of branding all professional bike riders of the past as drug misusers. Draper is right to say that there were honest and virtuous riders who resisted pressure to dope from; team mates, soigneurs, directeur sportifs, and, yes, from the system and culture of the sport itself. And he is right to point out that these honest riders probably failed to win races because of their integrity.
But, if we are really serious about seeking justice for those riders, would it not be better to be honest about the flaws in the system and culture that failed them? Rather than, as Draper and many other commentators seem to be ready to do, focus discussion, almost exclusively, on demonising the rider who dominated the sport when the culture of drug misuse was at its highest point as though by heaping the ills of the sport on one dark force we could expunge the wrongs of an inglorious past.
And, perhaps if the wrongs of the past were properly recognised in this way, we might be more effective in supporting the new systems and the new culture of fairness and openness that the honest rider of today’s sport is entitled to.
This month at CyclingShorts.uk.com I’m bringing you an exclusive, we’re excited to feature a great article by my friend Fitzalan Gorman from www.usprocyclingnews.com She caught up with the riders of BMC Racing to get their thoughts on teammates and how that will play a part in their continued success on the world circuits of the UCI Pro-Tour.
American Riders on BMC Racing: Larry Warbasse, Taylor Phinney, John Murphy, George Hincapie show off 2011 team colors at Spain Press day - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
Training camp is often the only time of the year that all riders, directeur sportifs and staff are all together in the same place. While officially it is work, these few weeks are the calm before the storm that is the long professional cycling season. At the end of January, BMC Racing held its training camp along the Spanish coastline near Denia. This area has fairly quiet roads with lots of options including flats and undulating, hilly terrain. While here, I got a chance to talk with various members of BMC Racing to find out a little more about the teammate side of cycling.
Cadel Evans and Tim Roe at Press Day in Spain 2011 - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
So what do you think of your new teammates?
Brent Bookwalter: “These guys add a certain level of class and experience to the team. Many of the new guys have serious Grand Tour experience and are veterans at the pro tour level in both age and experience. I’m rooming with Ivan Santaromita. We are the same age, he was born in 1984, but he has been racing in the pro tour longer than I’ve been racing road bikes. Guys like that, guys who have been around the block, are very capable, classy and accomplished riders and there is a lot of depth there.”
Cadel Evans: “I’m rooming with Yannick Eijssen. He has so many questions and is so motivated. I can only hope that I am giving him good advice. Along with Tim Roe, I hope that I can help develop these young riders better. I’m also excited about having Manuel Quinziato for the Tour de France. He will probably have the biggest influence on my results.”
What do you think of your mentorship with Chris Butler?
George Hincapie: “I have a bit more mentorship role with Chris than with the other riders because I train with him all the time. He has a ton of potential. He had one of the highest watts per kilo at camp for this time of year, which I was excited about. He needs to learn how to ride in the peloton and how to ride on the flats, but when it comes to his climbing, he is definitely world class.”
George Hincapie at BMC Press Day interview in Spain - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
As a rookie, how do you take advantage of the wealth of experience offered from your veteran teammates?
Chris Butler: “I definitely try to soak it all up. I live 2 kilometers away from George in Greenville, so I am definitely biased towards him but there are so many resources on this team. I feel like Karsten Kroon can ride a bike better than anyone else in the peloton. I just want to follow him around and learn all of that information.”
BMC Racing feels different from so many other pro tour teams: There is no other agenda here other than racing. Do you feel this way?
Brent Bookwalter: “Obviously the objective here is to win and to get results but I think we are really fortunate that our head sponsor, Andy Rihs, the head management, Jim Ochowicz, and the heads of this team are not “win at any cost” kind of guys. They place a lot of value in creating a team more than just bodies pursuing results. They are creating a real family with the hopes that true results will arise from that. I feel that we are fortunate to be in this type of environment over one that demands winning.”
John Murphy: “I feel that if you took the same group of guys, and put them first in a situation that demanded they win, and then you put them in a situation where the team provided everything they needed in terms of products and support, 9 times out 10, the supportive environment is where the riders will succeed. I think it is the best approach to anything competitive. Demanding winning isn’t the right psychology.”
Many hours are spent riding for someone else. Tell me a little bit about the mental side of riding in support of one of your teammates.
Brent Bookwalter: “Whether it is George, Karsten, Cadel or anyone else on this team, you step up. I think anytime you care about a person, on a personal level–more than just a coworker level – there is a greater incentive; there is more at stake than career success. There is personal success because you can honestly be happy about that person stepping up on the podium at the end of the race instead of yourself.”
How hard is it to put your personal agenda aside to support your teammates?
John Murphy in Spain at BMC Press Day - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
John Murphy: “You work for the team and know that you will get your time. It has to go both ways and it is a constantly revolving circle. As much as you want to be the one winning and putting your arms up in the air, nobody does that by himself. If you are lucky enough to be that person, then you have to appreciate everything that everyone else is doing for you.”
Brent Bookwalter: “At this point, we are all professionals. You create longevity and professional success in this sport by fulfilling that role. To some extent, you can have satisfaction in it. You can think, it is not my job to win at the end of the race but it is my job to cover the pack for the first 100 km and I am going to turn myself inside out to do that. It definitely isn’t a thankless job.”
Final Impressions on Teamwork and BMC Racing:
While here in Denia for the BMC training camp and press day, I was impressed by the individual strength of each rider, but it was the overall spirit of cooperation amongst the team that left a lasting impact with me.Cadel Evans explained the uniqueness of BMC Racing perfectly when he said; “I am allowed to be myself on this team”. This team just feels different; the respect and attitude between the staff, riders and coaches can be seen in every interaction they have with one another. While everyone’s goal is for BMC to win races, it feels like they are working towards this goal collectively, much like a family.
BMC riders: Jeff Louder, Chris Butler, Brent Bookwalter, Chad Beyer, Chris Barton at Press Day 2011 - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
Many thanks to John Murphy, Brent Bookwalter, Chris Butler, George Hincapie and Cadel Evans for taking a few moments to talk with me about the team and for giving us an inside look into how teamwork plays into the fabric of BMC Racing. Best of luck to BMC Racing with all their goals in this upcoming season!