Truth and reconciliation: Today’s pros wonder when enough will be enough

Jens Voigt says there’s no simple fix for the sport’s past. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | (file)ADELAIDE, Australia — There are no easy answers: That was the vibe inside the peloton Friday as momentum grows for a “truth and reconciliation” movement in the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal.

Racers at the Tour Down Under woke up Friday morning to news that the UCI is suddenly pushing for some sort of amnesty program that some believe will help the sport to clear out the skeletons from cycling’s closet.

Details of how the program might be framed remain unclear as the UCI promises to hash out a blueprint with the World Anti-Doping Agency in the coming days.

Riders and staff queried Friday agreed that confronting cycling’s past is a good idea, but many had questions about how the issue would be handled.

Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur, who also serves as president of the UCI’s track commission, said the truth-and-reconciliation issue has many implications that need to be thoroughly considered.

“The principles … I agree with, it’s the amnesty part that worries me. I don’t know how it will work,” Turtur said.

“Where do you draw the line? How do you get full disclosure? Only when people are honest enough to come forward, or when you have people with axes to grind?

“You gotta be really careful. At the end of the day, when you have a list of names, how are you going to act on them? Openly? Privately? There are a lot of unanswered questions.”

Based on statements Friday from UCI president Pat McQuaid, it seems that the cycling federation has abruptly become enthusiastic about the idea.

It’s unclear how quickly the UCI plans to move on truth and reconciliation, but officials said a first blueprint of how it would be framed would be drafted over the weekend to be ready by Monday.

That’s a sharp U-turn from last fall, when the UCI road commission shot down calls for amnesty during its annual meetings, which coincided with the road world championships in September.

Some also wonder how effective the UCI would be able to handle such a complex and potentially explosive issue, especially when there are lingering questions about the UCI’s complicity in the Armstrong affair.

There’s a sense of exasperation among many of today’s pros, who feel they are being blamed for the errors of cycling’s past.

Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Trek), speaking to VeloNews in an interview this week, insists that today’s peloton is vastly different from the EPO group.

“What do we have to do with Armstrong? I didn’t race with him until his comeback in 2009,” Schleck said.

“If I go on YouTube and watch a stage from the Hautacam and how they rode up in the 1990s, how they rode up on the big ring the whole way. Today, we do not ride up those climbs in the big rings. It’s changed so much from the days of EPO and high hematocrit.

“I know cycling, and I watch it every day my whole life, and it’s changed.”

Teams have struggled to find the best way to handle the fallout of the Armstrong scandal.

Garmin-Sharp openly encouraged its riders to collaborate with investigators, with Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie all playing a key role in the USADA case. They will return to the team when their bans end in March.

Other teams have taken a different tack. Omega Pharma-Quick Step sacked Levi Leipheimer and Orica-GreenEdge jettisoned sport director Matt White. Team Sky adopted a zero-tolerance policy, requiring its riders and staff to come clean on their past, with sport directors Bobby Julich and Stephen de Jongh both leaving following confessions.

Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford, speaking to Cycling Weekly, wondered out loud what many are asking within the peloton: How much more needs to come out and how do you handle the information?

“My personal opinion is if you get 25 guys to tell you how to rob a bank, and then 100 guys tell you how to rob a bank, the majority of what you learned on how to rob a bank would have come from the first 25. It’s the law of diminishing returns,” Brailsford told Cycling Weekly.

“Truth on its own is only half the equation. You’ve got to decide what your outcome goal is. If it is to minimize the risk of doping in this sport then you know what information you may need. I’m not sure anybody’s got the outcome worked out yet.”

Riders echoed Brailsford’s comments, wondering how deep it’s necessary to dig into cycling’s past before the sport can start thinking about moving on.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “reasoned decision” blew the lid off doping practices during the Armstrong era. Other revelations have provided a detailed picture of how dopers cheated the system.

Speaking to VeloNews in an interview this week, Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) said many pros want to hear the discussion shift toward how the sport can move past the Armstrong scandal.

“I hate seeing what the sport is going through right now. It’s a necessary evil. We are dealing with our demons. I also feel like it’s all out there already. I would like to start moving forward,” Farrar said.

“The demons have been revealed. Now it’s time to find solutions and make the changes. We cannot just rehash history forever. I saw somewhere they’re bringing up stuff in the 1980s. How far back are we going to go? We cannot do this forever.”

Farrar said he was not condoning anyone “having doped in any way,” but added: “At some point, it stops being productive. It’s not a secret anymore.

“That stuff was rampant back then — obviously — it’s come out. Everyone knows that now. To keep talking about how rampant it was stops accomplishing anything. I would like to focus on the next step of the process.”

Some riders were hesitant to answer the question ahead of the start of Friday’s decisive stage at the Tour Down Under. With the GC hanging in the balance, many were focused on the race and some passed on a chance to comment when approached by VeloNews.

Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Trek) offered his views, saying he had not yet heard about the UCI’s sudden fondness for a type of “truth and reconciliation.”

“There is no simple answer. I have said it a million times. It’s not good to cover up things, of course not. At the same time, we cannot kill ourselves forever for what happened 10, 20 and 30 years ago,” Voigt said.

“How far do you go back? Jacques Anquetil? To Henri Desgrange? Are you going to ask a kid on my team, George Bennett? I think he is 22, in the dark years of EPO, he was only 10 years old. The only thing he cared about was the next bowl of ice cream. What does he know about all of that shit?

“We need to find a balance. Yes, being open about the past and clear that, but also find a moment to say, that’s enough, we want to move on.”

Voigt was just getting started.

“I think it’s a good idea, because if you’ve done something in the past, it’s a burden to carry that. I believe every normal human being would like to clear his conscience and feel free again,” he continued.

“But there are technical issues. Is there a difference if somebody says, ‘I smoked pot once on a rest day,’ and the other said, ‘I did blood transfusions, EPO and growth hormones.’ Is that the same thing? Are we going to go, ‘Okay, we forgive you,’ and that’s it? Yes, it helps to clear the past, but you cannot live forever in the past.”

Voigt paused, collecting his thoughts. Then he voiced the frustration of many within the pro ranks: They’re damned if they say something about cycling’s past and damned if they do not.

“People will burn me if I talk. Maybe the cynics will start sharpening their knives. ‘Yeah, Jens just says that because he’s old and he doesn’t walk to speak about his own past,’ blah, blah, blah.

“The subject is so delicate and complicated, that you might sound like a complete idiot to some people and others might say, ‘Oh, he’s a savior.’”