Cycling’s on a slow death march: Greg Lemond (With Image)

June 19th, 2009 - 4:33 pm ICT by IANS  

By Murali Krishnan
Coventry (England), June 19 (IANS) Doping continues to plague cycling which is on a “slow death march”, says Greg Lemond, three-time winner of the Tour de France. He feels administrators are doing little to contain the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs.

Often referred to as cycling’s “Mr.Clean”, the charming and unpretentious Lemond admitted at the Play the Game conference here comprising journalists and sports professionals that it was partly due to luck; he did not use performance-enhancers during his career.

“I was fortunate to get into cycling when I did,” he said. “If I had turned professional in 1993 or 1994, I don’t know what I would have done. This system corrupts everyone - even the good people.”

Lemond, who won the Tour de France in 1986, 1989 and 1990, is the sport’s most high-profile doping critic and in recent years has had highly publicised spats with cyclists Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and the Trek cycle manufacturer over his sharp comments.

Professional cycling has been rocked by several major scandals over the past few years. Some of the riders at the very top of the sport have been taken down by accusations of cheating and critics say cycling’s image has been tarnished beyond repair.

For instance, doping controversy has surrounded Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France winner, although there has never been sufficient evidence for him to be penalised.

In part, suspicion has arisen from Armstrong’s association with Italian physician Michele Ferrari, a sports trainer who has at various times admitted to practising blood doping, advocated the controlled use of banned substance EPO by athletes, and been accused by professional cyclists of providing banned substances.

Landis, on the other hand, was stripped of his Tour de France victory and fired from the Phonak team after a drug-control test suggested the presence of a skewed testosterone/epitestosterone ratio.

“I know the sport, and I doubt that there is anyone who has wrongly tested positive when they are negative,” said Lemond. “There could be, but I doubt it. Standards must be really high to ensure that athletes are not wrongly accused.”

Lemond also criticised the high-profile campaigns waged by certain cyclists to clear their names, despite what he saw as crushing circumstantial evidence pointing to their guilt.

“When you have enough circumstantial evidence, and enough witnesses, you don’t need a smoking gun,” he said.

He called for radical solutions to halt the trend, including the criminalisation of doping for riders, coaches and doctors. Cyclists, he pointed out, are often used as “lab rats” for doctors, and over a hundred have died from doping and related causes.

Lemond also criticized the International Cycling Union (UCI), which, he said, operated a policy of “punishing honesty and rewarding dishonesty” when it came to dope cheats. UCI is the world governing body with jurisdiction in the sport of cycling and oversees competitive cycling events internationally.

He advocated an independent drug testing agency, separate from UCI, to test riders competing in the Tour de France.

“Riders who come clean and admit their drug use should be welcomed back into the fold,” he said. “I believe in plea-bargaining.”

Unless a major initiative is announced to clean up the sport, Lemond said, he has the option to walk away from professional cycling.

“I still enjoy it as recreation, but I’m done following it at competition level,” he said. “I would not like my kids to go into professional cycling today.”

Finally, Lemond was asked if he thought Armstrong would ever admit to taking performance-enhancing drugs. “No way!” Lemond exclaimed. “That guy has got no conscience.”

(Murali Krishnan can be contacted at m.krish@ians.in)

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