Cycling is at a crossroads

News & Results

12/31/2012| 1 comment
by Neil Browne

Cycling is at a crossroads

In these tough times, tough decisions need to be made.

I met the general manager of Wonderful Pistachios, Josh Horowitz, at his booth during this year’s Interbike. Not really a booth – more of a location inside the convention center. It was a good location – just across from the SRAM area which was teeming with people checking out the new components or a pro’s SRAM equipped rig.

But parked a mere 20 feet away from the bustling SRAM area was the Wonderful Pistachios team van. Racked on the roof of the vehicle were the team’s bikes – “Broken Bones.” They were brightly colored with an “in your face” vibe not typically seen in the bike industry. I spoke to Josh and he was hoping that the Broken Bones bike line would take off. I knew it was going to be a challenge for a small company like his to battle against the Big Three of Trek, Specialized, and Giant.

I asked him what he would do if Broken Bikes tanked. He replied he’d get a job and spend more time with his family – not a bad option – but one he was trying to avoid. Not because he enjoyed weeks away from his family, but because he was a fan of the sport of cycling and like a lot of us who make a living in it, was trying to stay in it. I wished him well and walked the 20 feet to the SRAM area to take my next meeting.

Along with several other domestic cycling teams, Wonderful Pistachios is not returning for the 2013 season. And it wasn’t with any surprise that I read the interview with Josh on Cyclingnews that he was frustrated with the UCI (International Cycling Union).

“I’ve decided that pro cycling in the US is not a viable way to make a living. With everything that’s been going on with Lance (Armstrong) and all the other turmoil in the sport, there was just no way I was going to waste my time and try to find new corporate sponsorship in this environment.”

He’s not the only one. Rabobank, the Dutch bank with several locations in the States has pulled the plug on title sponsoring their WorldTour road cycling team. They didn’t want their image associated with a sport they considered severely damaged.

“We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future,” said Bert Bruggink - a Rabobank board member.

At a televised news conference Bruggink said that the USADA report that outlined all the charges of doping and intimidation by Armstrong, “was the final straw.”

Another co-sponsor of a WorldTour team also jumped ship. The Japanese car company Nissan was, effective immediately, no longer on the RadioShack-Nissan jersey. Like Rabobank, they had a financial commitment with their respective teams for 2013 and would honor them, but didn’t want their names associated with the squads they had only a few months ago sponsored.

And who could blame either of those companies? Both Rabobank and RadioShack-Nissan have been hit with either strong allegations or proof that organized doping was part of their managerial structure.

Interestingly, UCI president Pat McQuaid stated to the Irish Examiner that he has fought against doping ever since becoming UCI president. He takes aim at former pro and now journalist Paul Kimmage saying he has a personal vendetta against him. McQuaid says that “mischievous statements” have come from Jaime Fuller, chairman of Skins compression gear as well as board member of Change Cycling Now (CCN).

McQuaid makes some fair points stating that the UCI isn’t a police force and can’t kick in the doors of athletes in the dead of night to demand testing. There wasn’t a test for EPO and the UCI was doing the best it could.

There are counterarguments that doping was obvious and the signs were there that Armstrong was as dirty as a pig in slop. However, for me the statement that shows McQuaid still has his head buried in the sand is, “I do believe, either way, come 2013, Lance will be forgotten anyway. The sport will move on.”

He continues by saying we should look at Brad Wiggins’ amazing 2012 season: three overall stage race wins (Paris-Nice, Romandie, Criterium du Dauphine), overall win at the Tour de France, and gold medal in the time trial at the London Olympics. From the month of March to August, Wiggins was unstoppable.

The Irishman cites the success of the various cycling disciplines at the Olympics and how the sport of cycling is growing outside its historic European boundaries.

The interview with the Irish Examiner ends with McQuaid saying, “So I don’t think this is going to have any huge negative effect on the sport. Things are going in the right direction.”

Respectfully Mr. McQuaid I don’t subscribe to that point of view. The former manager of the RadioShack-Nissan team, Johan Bruyneel, is expected to face a hearing sometime next year. This is only going to drag out either more names or at the minimum put the doping story back into view. I have a feeling that more redacted names from riders’ affidavits will become public and we’ll have a wave of “I did it, but was under pressure” type of admissions.

And let’s not forget McQuaid’s passive approach to using what authority he did have to at least try to curb doping. Instead we have stories of backdated prescriptions and pay-offs to conceal positive doping tests.

Yes Mr. McQuaid we have a long way to go before the ghosts of Armstrong’s past no longer haunt the sport of cycling. Perhaps this independent commission whose purpose is to investigate the claims that the UCI was complicit in organized doping when it came to the Golden Goose known as Lance Armstrong will get to the bottom of the whole seedy situation.

In my town of Greenville, South Carolina there is the Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park. For those who may not know the history of baseball, Jackson was a Major League Baseball player in the early 20th century and grew up in Greenville. He was an accomplished player holding several records for the time and still holds the third-highest career batting average in major league history. He was also a cheat.

Jackson was a member of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team which conspired to lose the World Series. This scandal rocked America, was front page news, and as a result Jackson was banned for life from America’s favorite past time.

Presiding over the scandal was Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He was a federal judge and the first Commissioner of Baseball. He was a tough judge and had fined Standard Oil of Indiana for twenty-nine million dollars and during World War I threw the book at draft resistors. He carried that iron-handed attitude to professional baseball. Despite repeated appeals, Landis never reinstated Shoeless Joe back into the game and is considered to be responsible for cleaning up baseball, which had been plagued by gambling problems. Public perception was that professional baseball was riddled with thrown games. In order to accomplish that change, strong, unyielding decisions had to be made and Landis stepped up to the plate.

The “Black Sox Scandal” as it was called is over 90 years old. Now there is a park named after Jackson, as well as a museum with a gift shop (purchases are cash only) just across the street from Flour Field, the home of the Greenville Athletics. Will time wash away the destroyed image of Armstrong the same way it did for Jackson and leave us with the man who fought cancer and survived?

To this day supporters of Jackson claim there is some depute he threw those games.

Jackson told The Sporting News in 1942 and posted on the official Shoeless Joe Jackson website, “Regardless of what anybody says, I was innocent of any wrong-doing. I gave baseball all I had. The Supreme Being is the only one to whom I’ve got to answer. If I had been out there booting balls and looking foolish at bat against the Reds, there might have been some grounds for suspicion. I think my record in the 1919 World Series will stand up against that of any other man in that Series or any other World Series in all history.” Sound familiar?

I’m not optimistic that in Armstrong’s lifetime there will be a park named after him. Contrary to what McQuaid says, this dark time in professional cycling won’t go away so soon because quite frankly it hasn’t run its full course. Another reason it won’t go away anytime soon is due to the continual failure in leadership at the UCI. Hard choices need to be made and one of them is to gut the governing body from the head and work our way down. By this I mean managers and riders who continue to their complacent behavior towards doping starting now.

If there is strong evidence that shows a rider or manager continues to be part of the doping problem they should be banned from the sport for life. The window for immunity is gone. The sport needs to move on. Any future doping issues need to be dealt with severely and that means lifetime bans.

Even as I write this I can think of a few situations that might allow for a suspension rather than a lifetime ban. But the sport is at a crossroads. Sponsors look at cycling and say, “We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future.”

It is only when we find someone who can make the tough calls, no matter what, will we see change. Who will be professional cycling’s Landis? Maybe we already have one ...

Follow on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Your comments
Your comments
sign up or login to post a comment

I see our sport from the point of view of a life long fan of the sport. I had a few heroes over the years, I got to see the Coors Classic a few times as well as the S.F. Gran Prix and now I get to share this wonderful sport with my son's 12,9 and 5 are my boys ages and they know more about cycling than 80% of America. I have never been accused of being a fan of LA but I will always respect the Livestrong movement. Me and the boys have gotten to meet a ton of huge name guys and MOST of the time (like 99.9% kind of most of the time) they were super nice and would always focus on the kids. Big George and DZ were excellent, every single time. DZ sitting in dope tent cracking jokes with my 12 y/o about some doofy old dude trying to touch DZ. After a extremely cold and wet stage that finished in Modesto, Big George came rolling into the bus parking and ride directly to my kids, said hello and offered them his bottles off his bike. It was freezing and he is still that kind of cool.... Thanks again for that by the way George.
You cant get an American athlete to act like that on their best day let alone "one of the worst days ever on a bike"-Levi.
so as I see it, cycling should survive just fine. The riders treat the fans like they matter and the fans will continue to follow. If UCI or the teams change the way they interact with the public and cycling will suffer. Look back at NASCAR when the drivers were asses and had very little contact if any with the fans. They made a small change in access to the drivers and the fans came flying out of the sheds and outhouses to get a pituer with Dale or JR.
Now should be the time when a company considering sponsoring a team should strike. Getting in when cycling is turning and claiming a spot in the clean up is priceless free advertising.
JV is no idiot, Garmin is as respected and feared for a reason.
I would kill to get to work in professional cycling. All you people that are ruining our sport should step aside and let those of us who love the sport take over and let it be the epic adventure that cycling is.