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.

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  1. e-RICHIE

    [QUOTE]…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.[/QUOTE]

    McQuaid is a former racing cyclist who now has a desk at Pro Cycling Inc. and it’s no different than the ones Vaughters and others sit at. There’s a revolving door there, and when folks leave, more of their ilk arrive. This goes back a century atmo.

    When I was younger, these people were my entertainment – even though I never believed it then. Now that need is filled by the news stories about the sport’s darker side. Reading about the corruption and investing nothing at all in the actual players, current or past, is more enjoyable than watching a live race feed.

  2. gmknobl

    Glad you came out in favor of the T&RC. A point you missed is if everyone admits what went on (or most all as some will never come clean) then it is much harder to hate those who admit to wrong doing. Yes, some people will no longer follow the sport but it’s the only way to build a foundation for the sport to grow again. And there may be a well known, liked biker that will be shown to have remained clean. Sure, it’s not likely, but such a person, a cycling Cal Ripken, could bring people back to the sport.

    From what I’ve seen the management of the sport, both on a national and international level is set up in such a way that it lends itself to corruption. From takeovers of the sport by those wishing to have only their guys win and making it so others, not matter how gifted, can’t win a race or even enter a race (national) to Old Boy’s royalists running a system so convoluted in its rules and regulation so that only their hand-picked friends can run and therefore make money from it (international), the system is currently corrupt. They call it democratic very vocally but what’s democratic about a system where one person or country is inherently worth more than another? Nothing is and we are fooled if we believe it is.

    A T&RC is a starting point for bringing not just bringing down the current or recently passed corruption of doping, it is a way to start the disassembly the entire system and perhaps even kill off the IOC’s current structure. And THAT is the real reason so many say we can’t have it; it threatens many, many people in power, not just those in cycling or the sport’s management.

    So, what can we do? Just as we fight all the wrong perpetrated on us by our “elected” officials, we can speak out, email, write letters and talk and finally, if things don’t improve, vote with our eyeballs or simply not watch the televised sport.

    1. Author

      e-Richie: I’m dismayed to note that what I have a passion for is writing about the governing of the racing, not the racing itself. Sad. While I respect that you see Vaughters and McQuaid as of-a-kind (certainly true enough in their backgrounds), I think how they function in the sport is vastly different. Dislike Vaughters all you want for his doping, but you gotta admit he runs one of the cleanest programs in the sport. I think that means something. I’ll also agree that there is a century’s-worth of McQuaid’s ilk going back in the sport, I believe we are at a point where our voices are showing that we won’t put up with it anymore.

      Gmknobl: I’ve always been for a TRC. I don’t mind (okay, I enjoy it) reminding people that not only have I been in favor of a TRC for six years, I was the first person to put forward the idea in cycling, in an Op-Ed for the LA Times, a piece seen by more than a million people, among them those gentlemen in Aigle. I do disagree, though, that if everyone admits doping it’s harder to hate them all. I think we’ve seen enough irrational resentment out there that I’m willing to bet that more admissions will just beget more anger. At least with some folks. So while it may be that we’d be better off without the full truth in public, WADA needs to know what was done and how in order to help build a structure that won’t permit doping in the future. The system will never be perfect, but had we been chasing admissions like Jesus Manzano’s and Jorg Jaksche’s ages ago, the sport wouldn’t be in quite the pickle it’s in.

  3. Alan Canfield

    It is a complicated thing, this sporting fandom. As a youth I loved playing tennis. Running around chasing a ball–great fun. I moved to Florida after college and developed a love, and affinity, for beach volleyball. Two-man, like in the Olympics, not the hack league stuff. Later I was introduced to cycling and realized I like it too.

    Through all these sports I enjoyed watching the big pro tournaments and races. Even top amateur events showcase some awesome talent.

    If my other sports had been rocked to the core like cycling has, I would do the same thing I am now: focus on my own development, enter or watch some local events/races, and remember that watching any pro sport is just entertainment.

  4. Gary

    e-ritchie said: “There’s a revolving door there, and when folks leave, more of their ilk arrive. This goes back a century atmo.”

    McQuaid public image is so damaged at this point, it’s really difficult to think ANY successor would be a downside.

    There appears to be a lot of money the UCI takes in so vacating the position comes at quite a price(pun). You’ve seen their building in Switzerland…

    That always struck me as a fundamental conflict of interest in the same vein as the doping governing within the sport.

  5. valsidalv niksul

    It’s not the cheating, it’s the lying. You cheat, you get caught, you admit, you’re contrite, you move on. OK, maybe I can live with that. On the other hand, if you cheat, get caught, deny and claim it was tainted steak, then I don’t like you so much anymore.

  6. Randall

    For the first time, I think I might want a USA cycling license.

    As the tide turns against McQuaid, for the first time, I think that it might be worth having.

    I only wonder if there are enough people like me to be statistically significant, so that USA Cycling would have a profitability-based reason to vote against him…

  7. gmknobl

    Let me rephrase that. It seems in the beginning of the piece that you’re not entirely sold. A simple reading of your history would have disabused me of such an idea. I didn’t know you had originated it though.

    You can disagree with me but I think you can see I’m only pointing at what I view are probabilities. It’s not an either or thing. Some will hate, some will hate more people and some will hate some people more. But it is truly harder for you to hate many people when you actually get on with them on some level. You can, certainly, but it’s rather futile and most people reconcile themselves to living with those who are imperfect rather than seeking a life of exclusion. I think Roger Williams exemplified this in his decision to make Rhode Island the first state where there was religious freedom. It’s a stretch, I know but he did find that rather than exclude everyone but himself, it’s easier to find a way to get on with them.

    Maybe I’m way off the mark here but a good manager and in fact, anyone who lives long enough and values human contact, finds a way to get along with others and not find that their faults, and we all have many, drive them say “to heck with you all!”

  8. Captain H

    Because of cycling’s leadership (or lack thereof) the sport I love has been relegated to the likes of professional wrestling. We all watch it but really, does anyone have any faith that the “best guy or gal” won? EPO use and transfusions are the modern day equivalent of sleeper holds and foreign objects; albeit more deadly.

    However it’s done, cycling must have a day of truth and reconciliation. A critique needs to be held and all of the facts laid out bare for all to see. Necessarily, we will finally come to grips with the fact that our cycling heroes doped, their heroes doped and it’s not until now that anyone has had the courage to admit it and try to end it. Want to see a real change in behavior? have someone like Merckx admit that he doped and I guarantee the floodgates will open wide. Furthermore, we will come to better understand the cultural pressures on young racers to win and seek to put policies and procedures in place that ensure transparency, and a level playing field.

    I am a retired Navy submarine Captain and know that if this situation existed anywhere in the submarine force, the entire fleet would have been tied up until we had uncovered and removed every bit of the cancer. If everyone is truly on board with fixing this mess then the riders, teams, sponsors and fans need to make it clear and accept that the party is over until we come to grips with the facts.

    Like you Padraig, It is unlikely that I will watch the tour this year. As ambivalent as I am though, it would only take about ten seconds watching the peloton snake through a beautiful Canyon in the French countryside for me to realize that to resist is useless. July and Tour are synonymous and will remain so for quite a long time. So, can we please find some adults to fix this mess?

  9. scaredskinnydog

    I’ve been a fan of pro cycling for decades. My perspective is a little different from that of your average “can’t believe they lied to me” fan. If you’d asked me 20 years ago how many of the peloton was on dope I would’ve said everyone. If you’d asked me 10 years ago how many are on dope I would’ve said everyone. Ask me today and I’d say about half. Moving forward more emphasis should be on education about anti-doping efforts i.e. Have an anti-doping expert as one of the TDF commentators, then have them break down the numbers as part of the post stage show. It would make for much more interesting commentary for sure, “Our test rider just did mount ventoux at 5.8 w/kg and got dropped by 5 minutes, oh boy looks like some red flags are going up, someone’s got some explaining to do”.

  10. Jesus from Cancun

    You mention Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi, and that Coppi admitted to doping. I don’t believe Merckx has ever admitted, but he was busted more than once…

    Still a legend. Still the greatest. Not an innocent soul, but then who is an innocent soul. It is now difficult to draw a line between the ones we call dopers and the ones we call legends.

  11. Jeff C, old timer

    After so many years of riding I can rarely put a leg over anymore. The sport is embarassing and demotivating. Mentally and emotionally I’ve moved on. I never thought it would happen. I used to relish the TdF and now I really could care less what these drugged up knuckleheads do. My sweet ol Serotta is mostly neglected. I will not be listening to Phil this July for the first time in forever. I’m tired of the BS.

  12. Lloyd O

    I can happily say none of this affects my attitude about cycling. Saturday (once the infernal rain has stopped) I will throw my leg over the seat and tt of my fabulous C59 and ride. I’ll ride pretty hard. I’ll be amazed at how beautifully the bike rolls and corners. I’ll be blown away by how my new wheels don’t get caught my side gusts of wind. I’ll stop for a coffee for 15 minutes and have a chat with friends. Then get on the bike for the hour and a half blast for home. I watched the Tour de Swiss last week. The scenery was great; it even made me want to go there. I enjoyed the sprints and successful breakaways at the end of each stage. But. And this is a big but. What the riders do to win, whether its epo or sticking something in another riders spokes has no affect on my love of cycling (the act) or watching races. Cyclists are not heros. They don’t really suffer on a bike. My father was a hero and suffered truly just to survive the nazis and the war and then make his way to a new continent and raise a family doing factory work when he the education he had would under different circumstances have allowed him to do so much more. I don’t make heros of or idolize bike racers. None of them has done anything significant to further the human race. Heck, except for Tulio C., none or almost none of them are likely to invent the wheel, let alone remove the tumour from my brain. If you don’t idolize people (like bike racers) then they aren’t going to let you down. They are just people with all the issues that people have. The important thing is to ride a bike for the sheer joy or riding a bike. Ride and smile. And remember you don’t ride because LA won, there is something in you that says I should do this.

  13. SusanJane

    Truth and reconciliation. Period. Now before it’s too late.

    I’ve put conditions on my TdF watching. First, it has to be more exciting then this year’s Giro. Second, the lack of live broadcast pissed me off, so if they hack the coverage into pieces in order to maximize profits I’m turning it off. Third, they did something to Bob Roll during the Tour of Switzerland and I’m really worried, the guy was reading lines and didn’t crack a single joke (the commentators who did the Giro were massively more entertaining and educational). Fourth, I just might go off my medication if there is another positive… I don’t recommend being around if I do.

  14. Jason

    I find myself lacking in interest for pro cycling overall this year. I think the peloton is as clean as its been in decades, however knowing how many riders have been punished for admitting guilt, while others continue to ride their careers out without admitting a thing (we know Jens- you’re a 10%er that never cheated on a team with a doper at the head and rife with dopers throughout) The hypocrisy nauseates me and leaves me disinterested.

    How about an article about pro cycling’s other scourge? Race radios! Ah to see racing where a competitor actually had to keep an eye on his rivals instead of listening to the action from someone watching on television…

  15. Big Mikey

    Padraig, I’m a little late getting to this article, but you did a great job illustrating the dysfunction people have with doping. Easy to armchair quarterback and despise dopers, but be willfully blind as to the doper that comes from your own country (Americans did it with LA, and the British are doing it with Wiggins/Froome). It’s always the other guys that are doping.

    But the most dysfunctional part is people’s hatred of dopers, where there is a 80-95% (taking the numbers from the Dutch study) chance that if we were there in those shoes, we’d dope too. It’s a bit too easy to condemn when we’re walking a different road.

    And let’s not even get started on the phenomenon of “there’s no way this guy is doping, he has too much to lose…” statements. Willful ignorance is painful to watch.

    Really strong article.

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