So, the worst kept secret in world sport is out. Oh, wait, it wasn’t a secret at all. Thanks mainly to the courageous and inspirational efforts of journalists like David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. Lance Armstrong’s extremely belated, haphazard admission and apology, to many at least, will have carried about as much sincerity as what he achieved on the bike and much of what has emanated from his mouth since.
Frankly, very little. But what does it all mean now?
Well first off, chances are, many will have doubted how someone like Oprah Winfrey could handle such a gig. It smacked of letting John Bowman interview Henry Shefflin. To be fair to Oprah, though, she was surprisingly good. She evidently had a fair degree of research done and – despite missing a few opportunities to go for the jugular – managed to put him in a position he never was before. He still managed to come across as disgusting, mind you.
Armstrong can feign all the apology he likes, it won’t change the fact that he’s been proven to have lied, cheated and did untold damage to his sport. To people around him too. Former team-mates and others like Emma O’Reilly, Walsh and Kimmage. Other riders like Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis were of course independently thinking humans free to make their own choices, or so you’d think.
Seemingly not, though. On top of everything else, Lance has emerged as a manipulative control freak. He was the team leader and, naturally, dictated policy which the others followed. Put it this way, if Shefflin tells a youngster trying to make his name in Nowlan Park he needs more shooting practice, he’s going to stay swinging a bit longer.
By going along with the nefarious scheme, of course they were guilty too, but, for the lid to be lifted on the whole thing, some effluent had to leak from the pit. Somebody had to uproot the stinging nettle for the likes of Walsh and Kimmage to grasp. For that, if nothing else, Landis and Hamilton deserve credit.
Tier two of repugnance towards Lance comes from knowing that somebody in the controlling echelons of the sport had to know what was going on. He had to be going about his dirty deeds with the knowledge and/or – God forbid – assistance of some big noises. How else to explain that he never – read that again never – failed a drugs test.
The most disturbing and distressing part of the whole Oprah interview from a personal perspective was a suspicion confirmed. That Armstrong hadn’t change, wasn’t contrite and was still looking for excuses. How dare he use his cancer as a final, disgraceful, pitiful attempt to justify his despicable past. That sickening ‘defence’ was the final insult and was disgustingly vile for anyone that has seen a loved one battle that terrible thing to hear.
As of now, the sporting world needs to forget about lying Lance. He’s made his bed, let him lie (how apt) in it. What’s important now is how the sport moves forward. Since this corner began writing about cycling, the point has been exhaustively made – the whole of the sport cannot be tarred with the one brush. Yes, there were other wrong ones, but there are genuine cyclists too. And many of them. I think of my friend Aaron Buggle, making a name for himself in Australia and indeed throughout the world.
In terms of going forward, many will probably agree that the position of the leader of the sport is now untenable. The UCI are cycling’s world governing body. Not only have they – at least – sat idly by during Armstrong’s antics, but, more deplorably, some statements were made, so damning about those that were found to be telling the truth that I wouldn’t even repeat them. Cycling will only change if there’s alteration at the very top of the sport.
That would be a start but, from another angle, the last thing cycling needs is to engage in kneejerk reactions. Removing it from the Olympics would be just that. Go down that road and not a whole pile of sifting, you suspect, similar sordidness could be uncovered in many other codes.
No, the solution is more regular, rigorous and – most importantly – independently verified testing. Not a system that lets a notoriously shady character like Armstrong slip repeatedly under the radar. Before going after any riders, however, those at the top of the sport could begin by taking a prolonged look in a mirror. Armstrong may have left the building, but that doesn’t mean the malaise in the sport is gone. How the fallout from the Lance/Oprah soap opera is dealt with could be the biggest test cycling has seen for decades.