Why won't the dopes of professional cycling take the hint and bugger off?


Lance Armstrong reminded everyone that he has not done the decent thing and just gone away

It has been a bad winter for cycling, and I don’t mean the weather – it felt long, for sure, but not especially wet and not especially cold. No, the badness of this winter has nought to do with the season. Except metaphorically, which is much, much worse than the sensual gloom of any January or February.

In cycling, the real winter, between autumn and spring, was neatly bookended by doping. First came positive tests from the Astana team, whose leader Vincenzo Nibali is the defending Tour de France champion. Without belabouring the details, the situation was so bad that the UCI world governing body may yet rescind the team’s licence to compete.

Come March, Lance Armstrong reminded everyone that he has not done the decent thing and just gone away. After getting in trouble with Colorado police for letting his girlfriend take the rap for his car crash, the lifetime-banned champion doper declared, to the displeasure of the UCI, that he would ride this year’s Tour de France ahead of the actual race. For charity, naturally.

In between, the UCI published its Cycling Independent Reform Commission report into the doping problem. The report, UCI boss Brian Cookson warned, would make unpleasant reading. Sure enough it did, telling us that doping is basically endemic in cycling.

That report blows a few holes in the notion that, with a stake finally driven through Armstrong’s heart, a “new generation” of clean riders has been free to lead this beautiful sport into its rightful, bright future. Seriously, there were quite a lot of people saying that. Funny how short memories can be. Back in 1998, the Tour was just about blown off the road by the biggest doping bust and scandal in history – followed in 1999 by the so-called ‘Tour of Renewal’, won by a bright new champion named Lance Armstrong who, being an American and a cancer survivor, would naturally have nothing to do with anything sordid like doping.

Brian Cookson, who took over the UCI’s top job a little over a year ago with a vow to clean up following predecessors who, to put it kindly, could have done a bit more about the problem, deserves support. If nothing else, he published the CIRC report in full – maybe he should run FIFA.

But human nature being what it is, none of us should be surprised if even best intentions and determined effort fail to prevent the next huge scandal.

So, what we – and by “we” I mean us normal, non-elite/non-pro amateurs – should do is remind ourselves just why we ride. We ride because it’s fun and hard and beautiful, and if we remember that we realise there is a simple solution to the doping crisis.

That solution? To ride – and to hell with them.