ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Jens Voigt (RadioShack) stepped off his bike following an afternoon training ride ahead of the Tour Down Under when a phalanx of TV cameras pressed in around him: “What, did I win a race?”
In a way he did. Voigt was among the first cyclists spotted moments after the broadcast of Lance Armstrong’s admission to a career of doping.
Voigt, who at 41 is the oldest rider in the bunch, said Armstrong’s public confession would help the sport turn the page on the EPO era.
“We hope now we can close this chapter. The truth is out. Maybe we can move forward, without forgetting it. We must learn lessons and not let it happen again,” Voigt said. “But there is also a moment that we must move forward.”
Voigt is among the sport’s elder statesman and has seen it all during his career arching back to 1997, but he said that today’s generation should not be held accountable for actions by dopers like Armstrong.
“I raced a few years alongside Lance, but the young pros today were 10 years old in the mid-1990s when he started. What do they know about it? He is just a name in the history books for them. Do they deserve to be punished for actions of the past? They do not,” Voigt told VeloNews. “The new generation has grown up in a different way. We had some dark years in our sport. I would be an idiot not to admit that. Cycling is very different.”
The Oprah Winfrey interview broadcast live in Australia starting at 12:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Most of the pros were out on training rides ahead of the WorldTour opener Tuesday at the Tour Down Under, but the confession was certainly the hot topic of conversation.
Reaction was strong among riders here on the ground. Stuart O’Grady (Orica-GreenEdge), another veteran who raced during the Armstrong era, said the confession was long overdue.
“Lance deceived everyone in the planet, us included. We all suffered up the mountains and wanted to believe that he was working harder than everyone else,” O’Grady said. “How do I feel? Deceived, annoyed, frustrated.”
When asked him if we would have a beer with him (a pressing question in Australia): “No way.” Forgive him? “Probably not.”
“I think he said it, he was an arrogant prick,” O’Grady said. “The problem with people like Lance is that they say everyone else is doing it, when in fact, not everyone is doing it … I am very glad that he has finally come out and confessed. As much as it’s been shocking to the cycling world, hopefully something good can come out of this.”
As the first major race of the season, the Tour Down Under —Armstrong’s first comeback race in 2009 — kicks off as the Armstrong scandal continues to churn.
Dozens of Australian media members have descended upon Adelaide ahead of next week’s start, not to cover the race but rather what’s become one of the biggest stories in the world.
Organizers said a pre-race press conference for Saturday was expected to draw a huge gaggle of media. Armstrong is sure to be the focus of most of the questions.
Many of today’s pros are growing weary of the Armstrong affair.
Defending Tour Down Under champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) said the scandal was unfairly casting a negative light on today’s peloton.
“It’s disappointing that all of this is taking the focus off the work we are doing now,” Gerrans said. “I think there’s quite a bit of relief that it’s all come out. We all want to move on to better things in the sport. It’s been an elephant in the room for quite awhile.”
U.S. champion Timmy Duggan (Saxo-Tinkoff) said that he hoped fans and media could differentiate between Armstrong’s era and today’s cycling.
“That’s the million-dollar question right now. That’s what everyone is trying to figure out, how we can rebrand cycling’s image. How can we prove to the public that it’s clean?” Duggan told VeloNews. “It is frustrating. What happened 10-15 years ago is not us now.”
The Armstrong scandal has cast doubt on everything associated with cycling just when some insist the sport has made legitimate progress.
Many say that cycling’s changed, both from within and from pressure of better and increased doping controls, but that message is being overwhelmed by the Armstrong story.
“We have a totally different mentality. I hope the public can believe in us. I wouldn’t be in the sport if I couldn’t race clean,” Duggan said. “Before, the cool guys doped. Now, to be cool is to be clean. That is the vibe now. I know I can be successful clean and I know most of my peers feel the same way.”
The second part of the Winfrey interview will air just ahead of Saturday’s main press conference for the Tour Down Under. Whether they like it or not, riders better be ready for more questions about Armstrong.