Beyond the dark ages: Why the Armstrong scandal could be good for cycling

Rebecca Thomas takes a broader perspective on the Lance Saga...

Lance Armstrong has confessed. He took performance-enhancing drugs, he sued those who accused him of cheating and was ‘a bully'. He was however, and still is, good for cycling.

During the ‘dark ages' cycling had a problem; Armstrong conceded that it would have been impossible to win the Tour de France seven times without drugs. At the time he didn't feel that it was wrong.

He claimed: "I kept hearing I'm a drug cheat, I'm a cheat, I'm a cheater. I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat and the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don't have. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field." Everybody was doing it.

Yet, in 2009 he raced the Tour de France and came third. He claimed, without drugs.

Critics will be sceptical. In this case, however, he should be given the benefit of the doubt. If you take drugs now, you get caught; the testing is more rigorous, less riders slip through the net. Rather amusingly, the Tour is completed in a time that would have been positively slow in Armstrong's era.

What the interview seems to strongly suggest therefore is that the problem no longer exists. Critics who call for cycling to move on should look at the statistics, look at the sophisticated testing in place and realise that cycling has already moved on. It is no longer the ‘Age of Armstrong'. Cheating is no longer acceptable.

Speaking exclusively to TCS Sport, cycling Blue's captain, Christian wPreece, commented: "Cycling is the most tested sport in the world, and with biological passports, is much cleaner now than ever before. This is shown by Wiggins' victory in the Tour this year, which would never have been possible in the mid-00s."

We can now draw the line. Any ambiguity that existed in the minds of die-hard fans can be erased. The media want more details; who, how, when. Such details are almost irrelevant. We need to concentrate on here and now, and what is fast becoming an incredibly popular sport. The Tour is coming to Britain in 2014 (coming to Cambridge specifically), this should be the main focus in all British cycling magazines, rather than hidden away in a corner, pushed aside by Armstrong. He should no longer take centre stage.

There are lessons to be learnt (maintaining sophisticated doping tests, but I'll leave that to the UCI and their vastly greater budget). Armstrong thought he was bigger than the sport. Other competitors thought he was bigger than the sport. The public thought he was bigger than the sport. How many tuned in to watch coverage of the Tour de France just to see Armstrong deliver a few cutting remarks in a brief interview at the end of the show?

Armstrong hopes to be able to race again. It is unlikely. Now facing a lawsuit of $12 million from a US insurance firm, and with his sponsors all turning their backs, his future is far from secure. It is now his problem. He is no longer a hero, he will receive very little sympathy.

Before cycling chooses a new champion it should always remember Armstrong. He should act as a lesson: sometimes it is, and should be, just about the bike.

Rebecca Thomas

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