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Letters to Cyclingnews - August 6, 2004
Michelle Gallen has provided an insightful and interesting analysis of the doping allegations that have recently surfaced - Lance, Cofidis (can somebody spell "Festina"?) - and raises a valid point, that several riders on this team may have been unfairly tarred with a broad brush (Cedric Vasseur, Stuey O'Grady, Matty White to name a few), simultaneously being denied the opportunity to earn a living and being denied the philosophy of "presumption of innocence until proven guilty".
This is true. And I am not about to make accusations of doping, because, frankly, I have no clue how rampant it is. However, Ms Gallen omits another legal adage that she is most likely familiar with: "Not guilty is not the same as innocent". Translate this into cycling parlance: "Have never tested positive" is not the same as "Have never used performance enhancing drugs illegally". Many riders have stated that they have "never tested positive". Whether this is careful phrase selection to avoid being caught out in a lie, or simply an innocent choice of words, is purely speculative. And if I am wrong, I will gladly be corrected, because I do not wish to make unfounded allegations.
Bradley McGee appears to stand out in the crowd, stating vociferously that he has "...never used performance enhancing drugs". Bravo, Brad! You have put your honor at stake, and I applaud you, and take you at your word.
Now, whether other riders will show the same courage to step forward and make a similarly unambiguous statement remains to be seen.
Witch hunting in the 21st century #2
There seem to be a lot of people out there who can't see the forest for the trees. Here in the US, it shouldn't be about Lance v. Greg, or for that matter, Lance v. the World (though there is no question that accusations against an individual need to have proof, and privacy rights respected -- I understand and support Ms. Gallen's analysis and am not supportive of witch hunts... yet until confronted, athletes will say and do whatever they please). It's about our sport, it's about riding the bike. It's about the thing we loved to do most as little kids and then found we could love as much or more as adults. It's about what we want to pass on to our own kids as cycling's' legacy.
I, for one, want to leave Lance alone -- let him glory in his amazing triumph. I want to believe Lance. I want him to go on and win the Giro/Tour double and/or pick off some Classics with a squad as focused on that result as Postal was on No. 6 (although none of that at the expense of his kids). And please, folks, let me keep admiring Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten. In the USA, they helped pave the way for Lance, and their hearts look to be in the right place. In fact, I believe Lance agrees with Greg's and Andy's motives to clean up professional racing. (Also, I find it hard to believe that America's cycling idols--LeMond, Hampsten and Armstrong--would take personal jealousies to such public heights at the expense of our sport.) But I digress.
It is patently naive to believe that the Festina affair--and all the revelations since, whether Rumsas, Cofidis, Manzano, or otherwise--was anything more than the calving of an iceberg whose tip has been revealed many times over the last several decades. Until professional cycling's governing bodies are prepared to go after the big and small names alike with the kind of proof that forces retirement, poor performance and/or lawsuits so that the proof is publicly aired (e.g. the USADA's efforts in the track and field arena prior to these Olympics has been remarkably effective against some of the biggest names in the sport as well as those less well known), I will always have lingering doubts about these incredible athletes. Unfortunately, and until then, I suspect it will be money that talks, and the rest of our incestuous bullshit that walks.
Witch hunting in the 21st century #3
Recently cyclingnews.com compared the current folderol about doping in the Peloton to 15th century witch-hunts (http://www.cyclingnews.com/features/?id=2004/witchhunt1). This analysis fails on several levels. First and foremost in the 15th century there were no witches to hunt, only innocent men women and children brutally tortured and forced to confess to crimes they could not possible have committed. Clearly there are currently riders who dope. The concern among fans and officials about the level of doping in professional racing, indeed professional and amateur sport generally, is based not on a series of bizarre beliefs about natural science and causation but rather on the existence of a very real search after a chemical aids for performance by athletes at all levels of the sport. Secondly, to find a witch guilty of being a witch, or in any event to begin the process of torture leading to confession, accusations from "honorable" men or women were all that was necessary. If the current situation was a witch-hunt, the recent book, LA Confidential, would result in Lance Armstrong's expulsion. This has not happened. Mr. Millar's recent banning, for example, resulted not from unfounded, unproven accusations but from his admission of doping. There are, of course, those who engage in an unfounded pursuit of great riders, like Mr. Armstrong, who bandy about scanty evidence and put the worst interpretation on success and so on. But again, this results not from irrational fear but from the fact that doping exists. There is likely no way to catch all dopers as humanity's pharmacological skills seems always to outstrip ability to police the same, cf BALCO.
What then is the cycling fan to do? I suggest ignoring those who accuse but do not prove, regretting the decision of those who cheated and were caught and, as a paean to the advantages of our modern legal system, assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Calls for harsher punishments may be warranted but will likely have little effect, but fans can stick to the worldview made famous by Joe Friday: Just the Facts. Journalists can aid them in this endeavor by demanding that anyone who makes a claim of illicit behavior provide, then and there, facts to support their position, verifiable facts, or make clear that they will report the unfounded accusation as just that: a claim with no evidence. When, for example, Mr. LeMond said that "Lance will do whatever is necessary to see that his secret remains secret" (a paraphrase), he should have been pressed to produce the goods. Mr. LeMond's status in the world of bike racing does not translate into the authority to make unfounded accusations stick.
Witch hunting in the 21st century #4
This was an interesting article, though the first paragraph draws a grossly inaccurate parallel to a historical event.
Witch hunting and the current state of drug use and testing in cycling have little in common. Witch hunting was propagated by fear and misunderstanding, aimed at capturing an imaginary and elusive beast. Witches don't exist-they didn't then and they don't now.
In contrast, in cycling dopers are all too common. To pursue the cheaters of our sport and to work to clean it up is not a witch hunt. Aggressive testing has already implicated many big names in the sport. Yes the pendulum can swing too far and the media circus around athletes who have never tested positive (Lance Armstrong and that trashy new book) can leave a bad taste in your mouth-but a witch hunt it is not.
Perhaps the over zealous journalism is the price the clean cyclists must pay in this era-not unlike the increased scrutiny paid to the personal lives of politicians in the US following Nixon's Watergate scandal. Unlike the witch hunts of a former era, the hype and excitement is unfortunately flamed by reality-that there are dopers in cycling and that they are ruining the sport. And that fact may be even scarier than the imagined witches of yesterday.
I'm humored at all these letters concerning Armstrong and LeMond stating that LeMond can't say anything about Armstrong because LeMond didn't have cancer. On that note you could make the same claim that Armstrong should never make an accusation towards Greg LeMond as he did in 2001 when he accused LeMond of using EPO in the '80's before it was even in use at all. After all, Armstrong wasn't shot in a hunting accident nor does he have a degenerative muscle disease and so could never understand what it's like to be LeMond.
In truth, they're both professional cyclists, unlike most of the people who look at this website, including duffers like me. Greg LeMond understands what it is like to live and work in the European peloton as does Armstrong. He knows about the need to perform and the stress that comes with it. So, LeMond has every right to say what he wants about another rider and that's just too bad if it hurts the feelings of anyone in the "Lance is the Greatest Ever" crowd.
To make another point, LeMond didn't openly accuse Armstrong of doping either. What he said was "The problem with Lance is that you're either a liar or you're out to destroy cycling. Lance is ready to do anything to keep his secret but I don't know how long he can convince everybody of his innocence." The first sentence is true as proven by Armstrong's explanation after his temper tantrum at Simeoni. The second sentence may be underhanded, but does not make the overt claim at all that lance is using EPO.
Finally, the claims that LeMond is only saying what he is because of a bruised ego is laughable and false. Anyone who has ever read about or met LeMond will state that he is a humble and not at all pretentious former pro who is happy to see American success in the pro cycling world; even if it isn't him doing it anymore.
The Bush and Kerry debate is going to be far too painful. The only question is whether we'll turn away out of embarrassment for Bush, or will we just fall asleep as Kerry drolls on?
Instead, what we need is a two-stage race. One stage mountain biking, and a road race. May the best man win.
Perhaps surprisingly, the point that Mr Kunich makes about David Millar's problems has some validity: the pressures on top riders are extraordinary and we should not rush to judgment. But it is not clear why the pressure on David Millar is any different to the pressure on other top riders.
What is clear is that David's penalty, by comparison to other top riders, is excessive and unfair. Virenque did not confess to investigators, he had to be put in court before he admitted doping. It seems also that Virenque's doping may have been a lot more extensive than David's.
Virenque got nine months (and the CAS fiddled with the start date to make it an effective 7 1/2 months). Virenque's comeback has been courageous (Axel Merckx might not agree), but if honours obtained while doped are to be stripped, how many KOM titles has Virenque really won? Two? Four?
It is not consistent to give Millar two years and to strip his title. Even if bans should now be longer in light of the Festina affair and it now being clear that EPO use is wrong (as if there was any real doubt before), it is hard to see why Millar got more than a year.
David Millar #2
Mr. Kunich, you state that David Millar "came clean"? You have got to be kidding us. Millar only confessed his sins AFTER he was so clearly and obviously BUSTED. Millar is now no better than Virenque -- a talented rider who cheated and got caught. Millar now claims that he wants to cooperate with the UCI, give up other rider's names, and explain how he was able to thwart the doping controls. Truly "spitting in the soup", if ever there was. (I wonder if his good friend Lance will try to "destroy" him, as he promised Simeoni?)
Well in regards to "coming clean", it seems many English-speaking fans and cycling reporters have been unmercifully hard on Richard Virenque, unwilling to ever forgive his past or give credit for his recent achievements. I believe this attitude is petty and wrong. But now the shoe is squarely on the other foot -- David Millar is Virenque's equal, and thus all vindictive "fans" of the sport should have the courtesy to treat Millar as such: No forgiveness, ever. That's your modus operandi, right?? (By the way, anyone hear the recent allegation that Tyler Hamilton went looking for EPO in 1997??). All the Virenque bashers had better get their stones ready....
David Millar #3
David Millar's two year ban is completely unfair. While serving punishment for his crime is admirable, he should not have such a harsh sentence as opposed to someone who actually tested positive. Did he cheat to win the worlds? Yes he did; however he, unlike many other riders, actually had the morality and the guts to come clean. Rather than trying to find the needle in the haystack within the pro peloton, we in our sport need to do our utmost to encourage riders like Millar to admit to the usage of performance enhancing substances. In order to accomplish this there needs to be a less harsh sentence for those who turn themselves in and expose how they got away with it. This will result in a snowball effect in the way that other riders will come clean; a phenomenon known as peer pressure. This will also result in more effective ways to test any rider.
David Millar #4
Mr Kunich states "As for David: let's remember that he came clean. He has publicly confessed"
Sure, but only when two empty syringes were waved in front of his face.
Millar was cocky, stupid and didn't have the brains to make the most of his natural talent. When the Cofidis affair came to light he said it was "absolute bullshit" which basically makes him a bare faced liar. Millar seemed quite happy to receive his salary and bonuses (800,000 Euros isn't bad for an average rider). It isn't unreasonable to think that he should lose this. Wasn't his drug use effectively stealing from other clean riders?
The ironic thing is that I thought there was no way he was on drugs given how terrible he was on the hard stages in the major tours!
Good riddance to bad rubbish. If the UK team come home from Athens with a load of medals everyone will be thinking that the only way they could win is through drugs. Thanks a lot David. As part of your rehabilitation I'm sure Chris Hoy would be happy to show you what it's like to live on a WCPP grant and train the hours that those guys do.
Dr Jonathan Roberts
In regards to Adam Bergman, where does a twenty three year old cyclist from Minnesota acquire such a costly and volatile drug and who taught him to administer it? Not to excuse Adam's actions, but he would appear to be the tip of the iceberg.
Adam Bergman #2
Geoff Rapoport feels the cycling world is better off without Adam Bergman, and hopes that love of sport will henceforth prevail. It might be better if we didn't involve the rider's personal qualities in our assessment of these situations. The no doping rule stands by itself, and doesn't need any moral support. By all means, do the crime, do the time, but let's leave it at that.
If we start to assess the personal qualities of riders, we should think about what makes a winner. The will to win has a lot of negative energy locked up inside it, and over time has the power to transform the personality in all sorts of bad ways. Love of sport is a great ideal, but if winning enters the equation, love probably has nothing to do with it.
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