Caleb Ewan’s first Tour Down Under with his new team has become the week from hell after the Australian sprint ace was relegated for headbutting.
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The cycling fraternity will be looking on doping and match-fixing scandals in other sports with a sense of relief.
Not only has it taken the spotlight away from the fallout of Lance Armstrong’s doping confessions, it proves cycling isn’t alone in having a darker side that corrupts the sporting contest.
Doping may have tarnished a whole era of professional cycling, but recent events in the AFL, European football and tennis prove the wider sporting world isn’t so innocent.
At the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, the cycling fraternity was eager to move on from Armstrong and use his Oprah admission to close the book on the doping era and insist the cycling on show was, in the most part, clean.
“Please don’t mention Lance Armstrong,” one insider asked me. Said insider then spent a fair amount of time discussing Armstrong: why we should have been aware of the doping and why the sport has moved.
The reasons? Teams are applying more of a non-doping scientific approach to training and racing; the effectiveness of the biological passport and other anti-doping tests; and the fact there are a new generation of riders coming through, scared off doping by the ‘popping’ of former riders.
But, there’s always a but… No one could promise the current peloton was entirely clean. Sure, the majority were said to have embraced a doping-free mantra. But there were a few who still practiced the same methods as the shamed riders of the recent past.
As cycling attempts to move on and convince the sceptical public the sport has changed, it would do well to avoid the temptation of using Armstrong as the fall guy for its bad image.
But what hope is there when the governing body, the UCI, dismantles an independent commission into the recent scandals, increasingly wages war with anti-doping agencies such as WADA and USADA and fights off growing threats from reform groups, such as the Change Cycling Now organisation. In any in-fighting there is an inevitable blood spillage.
Even in Australia, the governing body Cycling Australia risks having its federal government-funding cut if it fails to meet the recommendations of an anti-doping review.
In the meantime, current sponsorships will come under the microscope and new sponsors may be dissuaded from getting involved in a tainted sport.
Given the Darwinian nature of pro-cycling, in this climate teams will be forced to fight hard for their survival. After all, money is tight in Europe in particular, the heartland of the sport and its economic epicentre. And this is an environment where old temptations to gain an unfair advantage could resurface…
Nevertheless, the mood seems buoyant among the cycling fraternity. The Tour Down Under, for example, attracted a round 757,000 people over race-week with over 100,000 people attending the final city stage.
The Australian event and the currently underway Tour Qatar are vital international destinations for a sport bidding to move away from Europe and having seemingly squandered mainstream American support thanks to Lance.
Where to from here? Cycling faces a long road to redemption. Lance can’t just be forgotten.