Can Professional Cycling Ever Escape the Cloud of Suspicion Cast by the Armstrong Affair?

January 18, 2013 7:37 pm

In the wake of the Lance Armstrong confessions to media tycoon and acknowledged cycling novice Oprah Winfrey, the eyes of the sporting world have once more fallen upon cycling. Old wounds have been opened, and the spectre of doping lingers around a sport seemingly on the up. Making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Armstrong has not only confessed to his crimes, but highlighted the inherent fallibilities of a sport which has suffered a puncture on its own road to redemption.

British Cycling

After a year in which British Cycling and Team Sky enjoyed a true annus mirabilis, this is an unwelcome setback in their pursuit of perfection. Having made all team members sign a document declaring that they do not use performance enhancing drugs, and have not done so previously, Team Sky took a stand that has been all too rare in the world of cycling, by publicly declaring their position and taking active steps to enforce it, through the resignations of their sporting director, Steven de Jongh, amongst others. With the team achieving unparalleled success with a one-two finish in the Tour de France for Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, as well as multiple stage wins for sprinter Mark Cavendish, the ongoing drama within the cycling fraternity will undoubtedly cause great scrutiny for Team Sky and any other elite level teams.

Whenever a team achieves great things, there will always be some who think it’s too good to be true; Armstrong is a prime example. However, the continued success of the British Cycling team, through its total dominance of two consecutive Olympic Games, suggests that they have genuinely innovated and worked harder than others. It is extremely unfair that their groundbreaking techniques, work ethic and the patriotic fervour it aroused over a golden summer, should be tarnished, but Team Director and newly appointed Knight of the Realm, Dave Brailsford, is long enough in the tooth to acknowledge there will always be doubts.

Nicole Cooke

The recent retirement of 2008 Olympic Road Race champion, Nicole Cooke, does raise interesting questions about the nature of team cycling and its capacity to rid itself of the doping scandals. Cooke felt “robbed” by drug cheats, yet it may have been more prudent to raise such issues in the media when she had a greater public profile as the current Olympic Champion, rather than taking a parting shot on the day of her retirement. Suggestions that men’s scandals undermined the growth of women’s cycling may have some truth, but the disparity between genders across all sports, though wrong, is no secret.

Acknowledged as a fierce competitor who sometimes sacrificed the team for her own success, Cooke was criticised for her comments by 2012 Road Race silver medallist, Lizzie Armitsead. Tensions between the two are well documented but they have publicly acknowledged respect for one another, so the comments are still damning. Armistead did not “understand the benefit of bringing it up”, believing Cooke was opening old wounds to fit her own agenda.

Whether this is the case or not, cycling has once more been faced with the ugly truth that forms many cyclists stories. Without Armstrong’s acknowledgement he would not have been caught out, had he not returned from retirement in 2009. It is particularly galling as he seems more embarrassed about being caught, than committing the initial offences.

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