Bike racing fans are pleased to welcome back the only American to have ever won the Tour de France, three-time champion, Greg LeMond!
For a while there, some of us were worried that Greg had developed a bad case of Sarah Palin Syndrome. SPS is a cognitive disorder that prevents a once famous person from relinquishing the limelight and instead establishes a new personality best described as detractor in chief. It manifests itself with uncontrolled outbursts of “he’s a fraud!” each time a camera or media personality is within earshot.
Turns out, Greg’s own investigation into Lance’s illicit activities has proven to be less an unhealthy obsession and more a parallel chain of indisputable evidence. My apologies for ever doubting the veracity of Mr. LeMond’s claim.
While Lance’s guilt has yet to be pronounced by a court of law, the verdict is in at the UCI, USADA, and the court of public opinion. It has even been upheld by Greg’s one-time business partner, Trek Bicycles.
Not content to revel in this “I told you so” moment or wait for any official vindication, Greg is now taking his fight directly to cycling’s governing body.
In an open letter to current UCI president Pat McQuaid and honorary (past) president Hein Verbruggen, LeMond writes on his Facebook page:
“I want to tell the world of cycling to please join me in telling Pat McQuaid to resign. I have never seen such an abuse of power in cycling's history- resign Pat if you love cycling. Resign even if you hate the sport. Pat McQuaid, you know dam (sic) well what has been going on in cycling, and if you want to deny it, then even more reasons why those who love cycling need to demand that you resign.” (Originally reported in Cycling News)
Greg goes on to say, and I’m paraphrasing, that both McQuaid and Verbruggen are corrupt and have ruined the sport of cycling. “The problem for sport is not drugs but corruption. You are the epitome of the word corruption.”
These are strong words. These allegations have also been made by disgraced American racer Floyd Landis and ostracized ex-racer turned journalist, Paul Kimmage. Both were sued for defamation by the UCI. Landis lost in absentia, Kimmage’s case has yet to go to trial.
LeMond is definitely on to something about the UCI.
Even if his corruption allegations cannot be proven, few can disagree that the WADA doping controls put into place since the Festina Scandal of 1998 have failed to catch many cheaters. If the field tests are largely ineffective in and out of competition, the results management process is lengthy for positive test results, and the 8-year statute of limitations can include investigations not triggered by failed controls, there really is no practical means to certify race results. Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2010 TdF and 2011 Giro d’Italia victories in February of 2012 following a failed drug test in November of 2010. Armstrong was stripped of his 1999 – 2005 victories in October 2012 after an investigation launched in 2011.
Should UCI just place an asterisk next to each race result and withhold paying prize winnings for eight years?
LeMond ends his letter with a call to all racers and racing fans:
“If people really want to clean the sport of cycling up all you have to do is put your money where your mouth is. Don't buy a USA Cycling license. Give up racing for a year, just long enough to put the UCI and USA cycling out of business. We can then start from scratch and let the real lovers in cycling direct where and how the sport of cycling will go.”
Maybe this is the solution to fixing professional bicycle racing.
Start over. Separate the sanctioning body from the promotional body. Add a real check and balance to ensure that all athletes have a fair shot.
While we’re at it, why not restructure the team licensing process and financial model? Cycling needs to be more like the major leagues and less like Little League. No more pennants pinned to fences and sponsors’ names screen-printed on a uniform to fund team operations.
More NBA and less NASCAR. No more “winner take all” prize pots that raise the incentive to cheat. Franchised teams (that last more than a year or two). Revenue sharing from broadcast media and licensed team merchandise. A riders’ union. Salary caps. Regular season and championship races.
Every race needs to be as important as Le Tour de France and no one should be allowed to only race in this single Grand Tour event. All the champions before Lance came along – including Greg LeMond – raced in most of the others.
There was a great article on National Post by sportswriter Bruce Arthur entitled The Apology that Lance Armstrong will never give. It’s worth taking a moment or two to read it. In addition to covering all the salient points of the doping scandal in this hypothetical mea culpa, Arthur does not pull any punches with the UCI and the culture it created.
While Travis Tygart tried to paint Lance’s teammates as victims of Armstrong’s unethical scheme, that same empathy could just as easily be transferred up a level to Lance himself. It’s true that no one put a gun to the head of any of these fine young American bike racers and forced them to dope, but each and every one of them knew that if they wanted to win – sincerely wanted to prevail at cycling’s highest level – they needed to compete on the playing field that UCI put before them.
The buck shouldn’t stop with Lance. Kudos to LeMond for taking the conspiracy up a level.
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Keep riding and be safe!