Should Lance Armstrong be allowed back into the realm of professional cycling?
That, of course, depends on who one asks. The one-time seven-time Tour de France champion is currently banned for life, after an exhaustive effort by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) dropped reams of affidavits from former teammates, who admitted to their own doping and implicated Armstrong.
UCI President Brian Cookson has a nuanced take on the man who was once the sport’s biggest star and who has given information to the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) panel, which is investing the systemic doping culture that existed in professional cycling.
“I think that there is potential for redemption for him and anyone, really. I think it all depends on what [Armstrong] said to the commission and if he was prepared to talk about his or other people’s involvement and whether he’s genuinely contrite and deserving of redemption,” Cookson said. “I think it has to be said that what Lance did, not that he was the only one or only one involved, but it all depends on what Lance said to the commission and what they come up with. … we have to acknowledge and approve of any redemption in the sentence in the sanctions that he got. I think that [USADA CEO] Travis Tygart has been saying the same sort of thing anyway and I don’t think there is any conflict there between USADA, but let’s see what Lance has been saying to the commission.”
The CIRC commission is expected to make its findings known and release a report in January of 2015. The CIRC efforts dovetail with the work already done by USADA. Eight active riders were sanctioned after the anti-doping agency’s “reasoned decision” came down. Of the eight total, six were American riders. Did they pay a higher price than others of their era, many of whom have neither confessed nor been caught? Cookson is measured in his response.
“I think that is a narrow way of looking at it. The American rider [Armstrong] was also the biggest rider in the world, and was also the only one win seven Tours, he was the one who climbed highest and ultimately fell the lowest. If you look around as well, there were people who gave evidence and received reduced sanctions, so that arrangement was worthwhile from their point of view,” he told VeloNews in a lengthy interview.
Cookson said some have paid more than others, given the fact that “Armstrong and U.S. Postal weren’t the only team involved in doping,” he said. The UCI president has also asked the CIRC panel how those involved in past cheating should be dealt with now, in the modern iteration of the sport. For example, Cookson wants to evaluate how those with previous doping issues function on teams now.
“I want to be able to look at that again, in light of what comes out of the independent commission. All of the information that comes out of that will be helpful going forward. We need to have a mechanism that can look at the sport and decide who can stay in the sport and who needs to be thrown out,” Cookson said. “And when we have that mechanism, it needs to be robust and sustainable in court, and I can guarantee that if we excluded someone from their main source of income, that they’ll challenge it. So we need to make sure that what we do is truly defensible.”
Cookson also said the current relationship with USA Cycling is solid. The connection between the American organization and the UCI strained as the sport’s governing body found itself at odds with USADA; USA Cycling attempted to stay in the middle.
“It’s very strong,” Cookson said. “ … I don’t think there are any problems there at the moment. We have a few Americans on our commissions, so all of those people contribute very positively and I think that the USA is a very major part of cycling now and we need places like the USA to help the sport and I’m glad that we have a very good working relationship with them.”