Cycling is burning.
The Reasoned Decision that was recently made public by USADA is a damning indictment of the most elaborate fraud in sports history. The fallout is far-reaching, and will effect cycling in the United States in ways much more important than Lance Armstrong’s legacy: Sponsorship dollars are going to be more elusive, every international victory by every American cyclist will be viewed with sharp uncertainty, local bike shops will sell fewer bikes, and races will have thinner fields.
In their tunnel-visioned quest for glory and riches, Lance Armstrong, his team, his enablers, the cycling press, and companies like Trek, Nike, and Oakley sacrificed the sport of cycling on the altar of ego and power. We were each played for fools. Every yellow wristband, every US Postal jersey, every utterance of defense (“he passed 500 tests!) is founded on a lie. It’s remarkable that in this era of performance-enhanced scandals—baseball, the Olympics, and coming soon, the NFL—that it would be cycling, ignored for a century in the United States, that would produce the most sophisticated cheating that has ever occurred in sports.
However, I’ve written many times that the fate of Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Johan Bryuneel, and all the rest of the professional cheaters doesn’t have to change who we are. We are the heart and soul of cycling. We are the people keeping local bike shops busy. We are registering for local races, and we are representing industry and local sponsors at those races. We find time to train and race and ride in between soccer games, dance recitals, honey-dos, and day jobs. We stay fit without “team doctors”, and we find ways to compete at high levels without ever knowing our hematocrit percentage, secret training camps on deserted islands, or midnight deliveries of “recovery” vitamins.
We are cycling. And we will rebuild this game from the ashes.
I’m happy that the cheating that so many of us suspected was happening is being admitted to. The confessions are long overdue. But they’ve come after riches were secured, races were won, and careers established. There’s no honor in confessions without consequences.
If the 11 riders in the USADA report have any shred of character left, they will retire (if still active) write large checks to development teams, bike shops, or charities, and then disappear. No more Gran Fondos. No more charity rides. No more coaching clinics. At least not for a few years. Let us rebuild without the shadows of cheaters looming over our heads.
The up and coming American riders are not going to be given much credit for their successes. They will not enjoy six-figure endorsement contracts, an adoring public, and a sycophantic press. Everything they earn will be scrutinized and questioned. Theirs will be careers of anonymity in the United States. The Lance Effect has spoiled. Professional cycling (as an investment) is poison.
Nevertheless, if these riders can ride well, and ride clean, they will help rebuild American cycling into what we thought it was in 1999.
Cycling is burning.
But it’s not too soon (nor too late) to start rebuilding.
What to do?
Ride your bike. Ride it well. Race and train. Explore. Find out what your limits are, and then exceed them.
Be a cyclist.
The outside world thinks that our sport is rife with cheating. But we know better. We know that the professional peloton is only a small part of cycling. It doesn’t represent us. It isn’t who we are. If we want a clean sport, then ride cleanly. Follow the wheel of Christophe Bassons. Don’t cheat. Stop cheating.
Go ride your bike. Race ‘cross. Ride singletrack. Learn how to bunny-hop. Buy lunch for your local bike shop staff.
There’s no need to pout about Lance Armstrong or anyone else. Let them toil in whatever moral ambiguities they’ve arranged for themselves.
We’ve got work to do.