GHENT, Belgium (VN) — The Lance Armstrong doping scandal is cutting a large swath across cycling and it’s being particularly felt in cycling-crazed Flanders.
The Armstrong affair was dominating the airwaves on Belgian radio Tuesday following reports that he had admitted he doped during his career.
For riders and staff attending the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team presentation, being held inside the modern Eddy Merckx velodrome on Tuesday in snowy Ghent, the Armstrong scandal was something that was inevitable to come up.
Mark Cavendish didn’t take lightly to being queried about the brewing controversy. Following the team’s one-and-a-half hour team presentation to about 150 members of the media, journalists converged on the former world champion for reaction.
Cavendish, who has been outspoken in the past about the doping issue, lost his patience when journalists queried him about a looming Armstrong confession.
At first, he said he wouldn’t comment until he heard the confession for himself. Later, when another journalist asked him again for reaction, ITV quoted Cavendish as reacting angrily.
“Fuck off, seriously fuck off if you’re asking about this,” ITV quoted Cavendish. “Can you get him away, please. Please get this guy away. He just wants to talk about Lance, fuck off.”
Other riders and staff queried by VeloNews were more open to discussing the scandal and its wider implications on the sport today.
Brian Holm, a Danish sport director who works closely with Cavendish, says he hopes an imminent Armstrong confession can help close the chapter on cycling’s sordid past.
“It will be interesting to see what (Armstrong) says. But deep inside, everyone knew it wasn’t just cinnamon and sugar that he was winning on,” Holm said. “Most people saw something was going on. I will be happy when it’s over with. It’s a story that’s been going on for a long time.”
The 50-year-old Holm admitted he doped during his time with the former Telekom team, where he raced from 1993-1997, and has since become known for his candid remarks about the sport’s troubles.
Holm, who survived a bout with cancer in 2004, later served as a sport director at High Road before switching to Quick Step last season. He admits in some ways that cycling is getting its just rewards.
“There was a lot of shit in cycling. We deserve it,” he said. “(Doping) was part of the game in those days. It’s better to talk about it. Some people don’t want to talk about it, but we have to in order to move on. I hate all that shit with cheating.”
Holm said he understands why people are hesitant about giving today’s cyclists the benefit of a doubt, but added it’s unfair for the media and fans to paint such riders as Cavendish and world time trial champion Tony Martin with the same brush as earlier cheaters.
“Cycling has changed a lot. It’s a different sport than even five years ago,” he said. “I know that (Mark) Cavendish is clean. I would put my hand on the Bible to say Tony (Martin) is clean. I believe (Bradley) Wiggins won the Tour clean.”
Martin admitted he’s no stranger to questions about doping, saying he gets continually queried by the German media.
Germany was hammered by doping revelations involving Telekom, including scandals involving Tour winners Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich that prompted much of the German media to stop covering the sport entirely.
The 27-year-old Martin, who turned pro in 2006, says he’s paying the price for mistakes of others.
“Today in cycling, especially in Germany, when people think of cycling, they think of doping. That’s because of what guys like Armstrong were doing,” he said. “And now we have to deal with it today and answers these types of questions.”
Martin, who has developed into cycling’s premier time trialist, admits the Armstrong scandal is grating many inside today’s peloton.
“I am tired of all these stories. I only hope that whatever (Armstrong) says, it is 100 percent the truth. I hope he makes everything crystal clear,” Martin said. “The only thing we can hope for is that we start from zero and begin with the new cycling. People must believe us. We are doing things in the right way.”
When asked if today’s riders deserve an apology from Armstrong, Martin couldn’t hide his scorn.
“It doesn’t matter what he does,” he said. “I don’t care a bit about him.”