Blaming Lance – Is it the Answer?


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.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images: Travis Tygart is the chief executive of the USADA.

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.” 

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.
 
 

Reeling From The Ride

 

Breaking Away

I heard of this great event and I thought I should share…

Sunday 11th September 2011

6.45-8pm
Have-a-Go Cycling:
Ride the track on your own bike between

8.30pm
Free bike-powered cinema
Screening: Breaking Away & The Best Seat In The World

Herne Hill Velodrome
Burbage Road, Herne Hill, London, SE24 9HE, UK

 
This weekend sees “Save the Velodrome” host an evening of free green entertainment, first on the bill  is “have-a-go” cycling on the newly laid track at Herne Hill Velodrome followed by a bicycle powered outdoor cinema night as part of the Peckham & Nunhead Free Film Festival. The screening will be showing the cycling classic “Breaking Away” it will be accompanied by the premiere of “The Best Seat In The World,” a new documentary about Herne Hill’s Velodrome and it’s long history and struggle to stay open, it’s peppered with interviews from cyclists young and old, past and present.
It promises to be a great night for all the family, volunteers will take it in turns to have a go at powering the cinema on the special bikes provided.

For more information on the event please click here to be taken to the Free Film Festival Website.

Herne Hill Track League Grand Finale Image ©Copyright Martin Dixon

Those of our readers in the UK who compete at any level or follow professional cycling will be aware of the ongoing battle to keep the wonderful Herne Hill Velodrome open, for our readers from further afield who are less familiar with Herne Hill you may be aware of similar stories of cycling venues near to you. Herne Hill is in London, it’s been at the heart of British cycling since 1891 and manage to survive the damage it sustained during blitz of the Second World War. The velodrome was a venue in the 1948 Olympic Games, it has an amazing history and many passionate people who use the track and fight to give it an amazing future. When Herne Hill was repaired after the war it was given permanent grandstands and buildings, these are now unfortunately closed to the public because of the upkeep costs and health & safety, but if the velodrome can be given a more secure financial future and a longer lease can be obtained, then one day the grandstands will hopefully be restored to their former glory.

Herne Hill Supporters Club Image ©Copyright Pete @Fixedgear

The velodrome still continues to attract cyclists and supporters to it’s grounds, including the ever popular Good Friday Meeting that attracts cyclists of all levels from all over the world to compete.

Herne Hill is one of the oldest velodromes in the world and it has seen racing from many cycling greats including Jaques Anquetil, Fuasto Coppi and Tom Simpson. Bradley Wigginsfirst raced at Herne Hill when he was just 12.

For more information on the Save The Velodrome Campaign and events please click here.

This event is presented by Free Film Festivals in association with Herne Hill Velodrome, Electric Pedals, Hackney Bicycle Film Society and Save the Velodrome. Free energy drinks and snacks for cyclists kindly provided by Vaidas Bicycles. Future Projections provide the inflatable screen for the event.

 

 

 

 

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