LAST week, when the credits rolled on the Four Corners expose on the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, I received a text message that said, “I don’t want to do this sport any more”.
It came from a keen young cyclist who is determined to make it as a professional touring the world, putting his body to the test.
But in the face of this scandal, he is beginning to question the sport he loves.
How many other young cyclists are considering walking away from the sport, because this scandal has planted a seed of doubt in their minds, a seed that will have them questioning if the hard work and training is worthwhile if there are drug cheats who will continue to claim all the sponsorship, prestige and honour artificially?
As a cancer survivor who went on to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles and raise millions of dollars for cancer research, Armstrong became a hero, an idol and an inspiration to thousands of people around the globe.
He was world cycling’s golden ticket, drawing huge crowds wherever he went. He was too good to be true.
But now Armstrong’s golden glow is gone, lost in a dark and seedy underbelly many people don’t want to admit is there, Armstrong included.
When the US Anti Doping Authority (USADA) released its dossier of evidence against Armstrong last week, it went a long way to proving an old saying to be correct — if something seems too good to be true, it generally is.
During his career Armstrong was constantly fending off rumours and allegations of doping, which many people passed off as a case of tall poppy syndrome. He still denies the allegations.
When USADA charged Armstrong with using illicit drugs earlier this year, stripped him of any titles won after August 1998, and banned him from competitive cycling for life, some of his supporters clung to a belief that this was all part of a wider vendetta against him.
The USADA sanctions on Armstrong are yet to be ratified by cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste International (UCI), and while Armstrong still officially holds the titles, his supporters still have something to cling to.
But surely the evidence released in the USADA report flushes away his denials. The USADA dossier is more than 1000 pages long and includes emails, financial records and sworn testimony from 26 individuals, including 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates.
The document says Armstrong was part of “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
That’s a pretty big claim, and one not to be taken lightly. There are so many questions that it raises, questions like how far back does the doping program go?
How far do its dirty tentacles reach?
Already a number of his former teammates have admitted to taking drugs, including Australian Matt White, who was sacked from his role at Cycling Australia after admitting to doping during his time on Armstrong’s US Postal Team, and just yesterday Cycling Australia vice-president Stephen Hodge resigned after admitting to doping during his professional career in Europe.
How many more people will come forward in light of this scandal? How many more scalps will it claim?
The impact on cycling generally cannot be underestimated.
The Armstrong deception will forever be ingrained in the minds of people around the world. When someone does something extraordinary, there will always be doubt.
While he hides away and continues to deny everything, the sport will continue to lose its glow, and millions of fans, and up-and-coming cyclists around the world will continue to lose faith.
What a shameful legacy.