What now passes for the “they” and “them” that comprises the broad opinion of the world—that indeterminate body of the Interwebs and blogosphere—has belched up a new opinion about pro cycling: A Truth and Reconciliation Commission will never happen, that it’s not possible.
Let’s unbox that one a bit: The truth is not possible.
This opinion has been presented by cynical friends, by an occasional contributor to RKP, even by none other than Lance Armstrong. The popular reason has usually been that Pat McQuaid stood in the way, like nuclear waste.
Nah, dude, I don’t need it that bad.
Oh, but that may no longer be the problem it once was. Thanks to a not “vocal minority” that showed up to Cycling Ireland’s recent Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), Pat McQuaid has failed to secure a third nomination to the office of president of the UCI. It’s little wonder that McQuaid thought he had the nomination sewn up initially. While the vote (91 against vs. 74 for) seems on the surface to be fairly close, what emerged in the aftermath of the meeting is that Cycling Ireland’s board members (almost uniformly cronies of McQuaid) had the ability to exercise two votes each. That’s as shitty an old-b0y network as I’ve encountered.
There’s no telling if this outcome will domino his potential nomination by the Swiss federation, but in a truly democratic process he wouldn’t have such an opportunity. Hopefully, the Swiss will heed the cry of the outraged mob and will distance themselves from the real blight behind our doping problem.
The irony here is that just as it seems like we may have the chance to throw off the McShackles, the new scenario proffered by the naysayers is the threat of prosecution for any rider who confesses. Neverminding the fact that Spanish cyclists have hitherto been lionized for winning, no matter the method, pointing out the reasons why a TRC can’t work is a bit like peeing on your own feet before walking in a New York subway restroom, which as a category are some of the foulest places I’ve ever been, but that’s no reason to decide that urine-soaked feet are so inevitable that you take matters in your own hands.
As cyclists who profess to love this sport I think we—each of us—have an obligation to spread good ideas when we hear them. I believe that Pat McQuaid would have cruised to a third nomination were it not for the worldwide outcry against his leadership. The Irish (God bless their souls) heard us and joined the chorus. One CI board member noted that the vote was largely split along generational lines, with younger cyclists voicing their opposition against McQuaid. It should be little wonder then that Stephen Roche came out in favor of the current UCI pressdent. Lest we forget, Roche was one of Paul Kimmage’s most vocal critics when Rough Ride was first published. Kimmage was frequently called a traitor to the sport. History has finally proven that it was Roche, not Kimmage, who betrayed the ideals that the public had been led to believe were how their favorite pros lived and trained. Let’s not forget two things about Roche’s past: He threatened to sue Kimmage (though he never did) and he was proven by Italian courts to have taken EPO while working with Francesco Conconi.
So while we may manage to remove McQuaid from his office in Aigle, we are unlikely to be completely rid of him; he’s likely to return to race promotion. If we get lucky, potential sponsors may shy from him they way they shy from some teams currently. It would be a fitting outcome.
Brian Cookson may provide a fresh direction for the UCI, should he be elected as the next president. However, it would be somewhat ironic to have him run unopposed if the Swiss federation pass on nominating McQuaid. It would be helpful to have an actual election in which at least two candidates face off for the simple reason that the competition would force each candidate to sharpen their thoughts. I’ve heard plenty of snarky responses in response to the interview we ran with Cookson. I’ll defend the interview in as much as I think we needed to start to get to know Cookson, and find out about his background. I wasn’t terribly surprised that most of his answers were somewhat canned; I suspect we’ll hear greater depth once he has finished composing his manifesto. I think he would do well to note the snarks out there; the cycling world is too angry about how things have gone to simply rubber stamp him into the next presidency.
No matter what happens with the election, we will need to make our voices heard about what we expect for the depth and pace of reform.
While the prosecutorial and jurisdictional concerns make it seem like a TRC is unworkable, the fact is that WADA could conceivably cut agreements with agencies in the largest cycling countries. Honestly, there aren’t that many governments at stake. Agreements with just a dozen countries—France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Canada—would cover more than 95% of the current road pros. Immunity from prosecution isn’t the biggest hurdle we face. The bigger problem is backlash from sponsors and fans. Even if team management negotiated contract clauses that excepted riders from confessions made as part of a TRC, that’s not to say the sponsor couldn’t just not renew the contract once it expires. And the fans. The fans.
Recent history has shown that cycling fans (cue the Jack Nicholson clip) “can’t handle the truth.” Prior to the nosing around of Jeff Novitzky and Travis Tygart, George Hincapie was one of the most beloved American riders there was. Even as Lance Armstrong’s star began to fall, the cycling public continued to dote on Hincapie. Most of us were still able to main an uneasy fandom even as the allegations surfaced. What’s been most interesting to my eye is the backlash that ensued against Hincapie and his co-confessors, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie and Tom Danielson. Two years ago these riders were beloved, even if Hincapie’s Pla d’Adet development in suburban Greenville hadn’t panned out. If you doubt that, all you need to do is check out a Youtube clip of Hincapie from relatively recent history, such as this one (just fast foward to about 7:45 for the desired effect). Given the backlash against his revelation, one wonders how his B&B will fare.
The message we’re sending is pretty clear: Don’t confess so we can still pretend you’re clean so we can still like you. The term for this is dysfunction. Such pretending is going to be much harder in the wake of a report just issued by the Dutch Anti-Doping Commission. The commission interviewed a number of riders active during the period the Armstrong dominated the Tour de France. Their conclusion was that a conservative estimate suggests 80 percent of all Dutch cyclists were using EPO, though it’s possible that percentage was as high as 95 percent.
What this points to is an overall cognitive dissonance I think we, as a subculture, have yet to reconcile. The report suggests that the odds are every cyclist who won a stage race from 1996 to 2005 was on EPO and/or blood transfusions. It’s a safe bet it’s true for most of the one-day races as well. If only 20 percent of the peloton was on EPO, the laws of probability hold that some clean cyclists win. But the advantage of oxygen vector doping is so great that if 80 percent of the peloton (and that seems a reasonable, as in not overboard, number) was using, the chances that a clean rider might win a race fall between mince et non.
These revelations have come at a price for at least some of us. On Sunday’s ride, a friend said that he was less excited by the prospect of the looming Tour de France than any in memory. I told him I was relieved to hear that because I have to admit, I just don’t care the way I normally do. I credit Pat McQuaid, not the doped cyclists, with my disillusion.
Writing off all the dopers and ex-dopers is more difficult than it seems; it ignores the complicated past of cycling. It’s hard to rail against a guy like Hincapie while we still wear T-shirts glorifying Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi. The only difference between those two giants of the road is that Coppi admitted to doping. Can we maintain a double standard for pros as if we collectively agreed to some sort of grandfather clause regarding all wins prior to 1996, rather than to simply make our peace with what happened and move on? Coppi may not be a fair example; he hails from a time so long ago it’s hard to get upset about anything he did because it took place before a great many of us were born. But what of Miguel Indurain? Are we really going to draw and quarter Armstrong and yet give a pass to a guy who was 6′ 2″, weighed 176 pounds and could chase Marco Pantani up the Col du Galibier?
Yeah, that’s naturally occurring.
My point here is that in giving a bye to certain riders, we demonstrate our uneasy relationship with the truth. We are probably more comfortable not having the full truth, but that doesn’t eliminate the good that could be gained were the UCI and WADA to have the benefit of in-depth interviews with riders who have doped. The bottom line is that you, I and the rest of cycling fandom want the sport cleaned up. To get there requires finding the button for Pat McQuaid’s ejector seat, as well as learning how to prevent doping in the future. Detailed, sealed testimony is the best path to that. It may be that some cyclists will choose to make their testimony public. If so, God help them—I mean, great. Either way, we need to give our vocal support to the idea that the UCI and WADA need as full an accounting of the past as they may achieve. A truth and reconciliation commission remains an indispensable tool in moving forward.