by Neil Browne
Bringing back the credibility
There’s been a lot of talk about Team Sky and their dominance. Some have made the suggestion that the Sky team is similar to the U.S. Postal Service team and we all know what that means...
The grumbling continued when Chris Froome won the Criterium du Dauphine over his teammate Richie Porte. Froome told the assembled press that his results prove that cycling is cleaner.
“The fact that I’m able to finish at the front in the mountains and in the general classification means that the sport has changed since ten years ago,” Froome told L’Equipe.
Recently 39-year old Fred Rodriguez won the U.S. Professional National Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Almost immediately there were some negative reactions to his victory as Rodriguez is part of the Lance Armstrong era when doping was integral to the training plan.
Like Froome, Rodriguez has never been suspended for doping, had a code name attached to a blood bag, or been part of a redacted list. Can I say with one-hundred percent certainty that Rodriguez, Froome, and Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali are clean? Of course not. All we have is guilt by association, and to be honest that’s all it has taken to be lumped in with other unrepentant dopers like Danilo Di Luca. Fans of the cycling sport have been burned so many times that any extraordinary performance is equal to a positive doping test in our eyes. “Not normal” is the new buzz phrase.
It is easy to stay angry at the current situation in cycling when we still have riders being popped. It’s even easier to become cynical when the Paul Kimmage fund disappears. Heck, this was created by people who were trying to help professional cycling and that got screwed up! Before you ask, I have no idea what is going on other than both sides have retained lawyers. Anyways...you can see how easy it is to just go Amanda Bynes crazy and conclude cycling is as legit as WWE Wrestling.
I’ve been thinking about this change in attitude for a couple of weeks. We are nearing the start of the 2013 Tour de France. Rumors and innuendo about riders gets whipped up into frenzy - this rider is riding “too good” or another rider has been away at a training camp only to return even stronger than before. I’m going to take the bold step and TRY not to think every awe-inspiring performance is brought to us by performance enhancing drugs. However, I might relapse into believing a statement from an anonymous Twitter account claiming to have proof someone is riding dirty.
I’m freely copying from Outside Magazine’s Aaron Gulley, who is also taking a similar approach. I love the sport way too much to let every rider’s win taint my enjoyment. I’m not going to put my head in the sand and naively think everything is okay in the sport because Jonathan Vaughters tweeted something positive. I’m still going to be critical, but I’m not going to waste my energy pointing fingers at riders for nothing more than winning. Di Luca and his teammate Mauro Santambrogio are both examples of why we still need to be very aware of doping, but not so far as to paint the whole Vini Fantini-Selle Italia squad as dirty. At this point I’m willing to think it was an isolated case of two riders who thought they could get away with it.
There’s a time to dial back the huge amount of negativity I see on the Internet and as we enter the final weeks before this year’s Tour de France, now is the time to do it.
I don’t expect to convince everyone to take this new approach. Some have made their cause célèbre to point out any and all riders for anything that might slightly hint at doping. I’m going to resist that urge. Let me repeat - I’m going to try and resist.
Like many cycling journalists out there, we’ve all been lied to directly to our faces regarding doping, so we’re a little gun shy - that’s understandable. I’m going to try and be open-minded about the current situation in cycling and not paint the current riders with the same Armstrong era brush I did in the past.
We watched Armstrong and company smash the competition on the way to seven Tour de France victories and for several of those wins we clapped as they took a celebratory lap around the Champs-Elysees in Paris. I’d be happy if his legacy would be a transparent and honest account of the doping he was a part of. I’m doubtful it will happen as there’s something in his DNA that won’t let him admit defeat. But if he could cowboy-up and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it would go a long way to salvaging his reputation - something he needs to remember as time marches on. Soon Armstrong will be nothing more than a doping footnote in the history of sport. If he was to come forth to USADA or WADA or even a credible journalist who wouldn’t let Armstrong walk all over him or her, it would go a long way in restoring some accountability to cycling.
Maybe I’m naïve and I could look ridiculous if Nibali is suddenly popped for doping. Regardless, I’m going to quote Mr. Gulley’s last two sentences when he references Rodriguez’ win, “If those things don’t excite you - if all you were thinking was, ‘I bet they’re juiced,’ - perhaps you should consider tuning into a new sport. There’s always baseball.”
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