Monday, May 23, 2011

Comment: The Lance Problem

As far as comments go, this is probably going to one of the more uneducated ones around.  Nevertheless, the situation cycling finds itself in at the moment is a worrying one and it truly scares me to think of the uncertain future of my sport.

Lance is facing drug allegations, as he has throughout his career.  This time people are really dropping him in it, with two of his ex-team-mates (who have already lost their careers due to drugs) coming out against him and in doing so implicating the UCI (Union Cycliste International) for their part in a potential cover-up as Lance has never failed a drugs test.

This is what I understand. 

I am scared because of the implications this has for the UCI and the sport.  Lance is the most well known cyclist in the world.  All he has done for cycling and his prolific campaigns in the fight against cancer have ensured this.  Some would say that he stunted cycling's growth by being so dominant in le tour and the way his team operated, which in reality should have pushed the sport on to compete with him.  This is a poor excuse to dislike the man in my eyes.  I can't say I'm his greatest fan, I found some of his riding dull due to his dominance, but that wasn't really his fault.  I also found him a little turgid in his interviews during his career (he's no Bradley Wiggins...), but that doesn't stop me wanting him not to be guilty.

I am wholly for strong drugs charges and anti-cheating measures, don't get me wrong; if he is guilty then it should come out, but if he is then he is going to take the UCI down with him, and with it the sport of cycling as we know it.

I don't think this is overstating the consequences, yes cycling will survive, but our sport will forever be tarnished even more than it already is.  Not only would we be known to have cheating riders, we would have the highest profile drugs cheat in the world, coupled with a cheating governing body.  The FA will survive it's current under-the-table World Cup stories because of the fan base around football and the belief people have in the sport on it's own.  But cycling fans and cyclists are already skeptical as to how clean out sport is.  Many of my peers have been quick to discredit Contador and his wins (in fairness I am not firm in who I believe in this case either, but it doesn't hold quite the same level of consequence), there is general banter about drug use within the Sunday bunch rides, and there is always an underlying feeling of suspicion after any 'unknown' rider wins a big race (and even the known ones; Cancellara and the 'engine').  Even as we try to push drugs out of our sport, the common belief of cyclists as drug-taking-cheats will remain.

I hate every year having to explain to people that not all cyclists take drugs, and explain what we (and I say we because I feel that as a cyclist I have a duty to actively oppose drugs taking in my sport, if every cyclist doesn't then the nay-sayers will find out and feel vindicated) are doing to remove them from our sport.  It hurts me every time someone tarnishes us with the brush of a cheater.  I have never cheated in my sport, I will never cheat in my sport.  So how will we explain and justify our sports existence if it turns out that it is corrupt to the highest levels? 

People will still ride bikes, that is unlikely to change; but would racing be the same?  Would there be professionals? Would there be sponsors? Would anyone ever want to touch our sport again?  There isn't enough money in cycling as it is for the amount of work that our athletes have to do; the day-in day-out hardships that they endure to reach their goals is on a scale unlike most other sports, and yet the pay for all but a select few is often not enough to support them, let alone let them live in the luxury of a footballer.  This is far more evident in mountain biking, with so many fighting for the elusive win and with less television coverage and subsequent sponsorship there just isn't the money there.  MTB XC is already suffering, I would hope that people would realise that there are far fewer drugs scandals in MTB than on the road and support us, but I can't in all honesty see it happening.  I think that this would likely kill XC as a professional sport.  It may be resurrected, but I can't see it happening in my lifetime, the memories would be too raw.

So what am I scared of?  I'm scared of the loss of professional cycling, not only for my enjoyment as a fan, but also because it would signal the loss of my dreams.  It will be the saddest day of my young life if Lance was to be found guilty.  Ironically the only way I can think to cope is to ride my bike.  Maybe there is hope yet.

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