This week, the 105th Giro d'Italia begins when the starting gun fires in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. After COVID-related issues forced race organisers…
George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So it was a little concerning when President of the UCI, Pat McQuaid, said, “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling. He deserves to be forgotten in cycling.”
Lance may have no place in cycling’s future, but for the UCI to forget him altogether would be a terrible idea.
Lance Armstrong should be held up, loud and proud by the UCI, as a way of telling drug cheats, “No matter who you are, nor how big your reputation, we will get you.”
But more than use him as a deterrent to present and future cyclists, the UCI should remember Lance Armstrong as a cautionary tale for themselves.
Cancer-surviving hero to millions aside, Lance was a man who dominated the sport, consistently and vehemently denied ever doping and condemned in the strongest possible terms those who used. And the UCI believed in him.
They held him up as a global ambassador of cycling and are now paying the consequences. The accusations range from collusion with Armstrong to allowing one man be the exception to many rules.
Yet when Pat McQuaid sought to assure the world that cycling had changed from Armstrong’s time, he did it by dropping names.
“I was very comforted by some of the remarks this week from people like Bradley Wiggins, Philippe Gilbert, David Millar, who testified to the fact that the culture within the peloton has changed,” he said.
His big reveal that things are changing was citing the words of the reigning Tour de France and world champions, as well as those of a confessed former doper. Has he not leaned anything?
We all spent the last decade believing names like Hincapie, Leipheimer and Zabriskie were impeachable, because they were giants of the sport – looked up to as leaders of the peloton. Yet all of them were dirty.
This isn’t to imply Wiggins, Gilbert or Millar are doping (or in Millar’s case, doping again), but the word of the athletes isn’t enough anymore. It can’t be.
McQuaid went on to try and explain why the UCI didn’t catch Armstrong – nor any of the other cyclists who admitted to doping in the USADA report: “What was available to the UCI at that time to confront situations like this was much more limited compared to what is there now.
“And if we had the tools which we have now, available to us, this sort of activity wouldn’t go on.”
It’s absolutely true. Yet arguing ‘if only we knew then what we know now’ is not how you want to assure the world you’re at the forefront of catching dopers. Because dopers are always a step ahead.
Lance was able to say he wasn’t doping with such a great deal of credibility because – as the self-proclaimed “most tested athlete ever” – he never once failed a drug test. It’s the nature of the beast when it comes to doping – you can’t test for it if you don’t know they’re taking it.
And, more troublingly, once they know you’re looking for it, they find more clever and insidious ways to skirt your detection methods. Micro-dosing, saline infusions, altitude tents – these were the evasion tools of the past, who knows what they’re using today.
Or what they’ll use tomorrow, when today’s methods are discovered.
I’m not suggesting UCI are somehow going to beat the curve in global sport with regards to doping, but for McQuaid to simply say, “We’d have got ‘em if technology was five years further along,” is not the answer people wanted to hear as to how things have changed in terms of detection. Especially when he went on to claim the UCI has always been at the forefront of testing.
Really, McQuaid needed to put his hands up, admit the past had been a balls-up and things would change from here on out.
Instead, he seemed happy to simply see Lance Armstrong’s name stricken from the record books and for cycling to continue on its merry way.
One sound bite offered up by McQuaid, which has been snatched up by almost all media outlets, was “cycling has a future”.
He’s 100 percent correct. But for it to be a clean and successful future, it must be informed by its past.
And the case of Lance Armstrong may be the most important lesson of all to be learned from that past.