Athletics is the media’s new whipping boy for all matters doping, and, given the apparent complicity of certain states and the world governing body, justifiably so.
But how much of the comparative goodwill extended to cycling – now grudgingly acknowledged as the sort of cleaned-up act to which athletics must aspire – is owed to the personalities that have replaced its fallen idols?
IAAF president Lord Coe has suggested that public trust in athletics might take a generation to restore. It must hope for athletes as successful but unassuming as Peter Sagan and Geraint Thomas, as articulate as Chris Juul-Jensen and Joe Dombrowski, and as willing to share data as Laurens ten Dam and Thibaut Pinot, if it is to rebuild its image.
Cycling’s necessary period of introspection in the immediate aftermath of the USADA report struck a justifiably serious note, but the longer term project of rebuilding its credibility might lie beyond strategies and testing programmes, essential though they are.
Thomas perhaps does as much for claims for a changed mindset in the peloton with a shrug and a quip as he makes his way to the bus as any report or directive. Sagan has generational concerns of a broader kind, while for Juul-Jensen, the out-of-competition test is a subject for humour: taking the piss, as well as giving it.
When Luke Rowe says that ex-dopers don’t deserve any respect, he is, to a degree, putting himself on the line, as a member of a peloton still saddled with riders who have served suspensions. He argues that life among the riders should be made hard for those who have cheated and returned, but by doing so, he is not making life easier for himself.
Laurens ten Dam deprived himself of the shelter of privacy by inviting journalist Robin Van der Kloor to shadow him for a year, and allowing the writer to hand his ADAMS data to Professor Harms Kuiper at the Univserity of Maastricht.
Thibaut Pinot might be said to have gone still further, by allowing six years of his training data to be used in a scientific study, regarded by some as a manual for the making of a modern Grand Tour contender. Pinot is in the vanguard of a new generation of young French talent who can realistically be expected to compete for his nation’s greatest sporting prize.
The bright young things of Highroad’s all-conquering 2011 team – Cavendish, Eisel, Renshaw, Boasson Hagen, Greipel, Tony Martin, the Matts Goss and Brammeier et al – have all reached the status of senior professionals without a stain on their reputation.
They were all once heralded as members of a new, clean generation, and while it’s easy to find flaws in the gloss applied by such broad brush strokes – Alex Rasmussen fired for missed out-of-competition tests, for example – the majority are living proof that a sport can rebuild. To the generation that has followed them – Formolo, Benoot, Haas and others – the Armstrong era must seem like ancient history.
Perhaps it’s too easy to be fooled by articulacy or a self-deprecating attitude, but the CIRC report provides some reassurance that cycling, if not yet the poster boy for clean sport, has made significant strides, and now has a culture years in advance of certain other professional sports.
Of course, this might just be schadenfreude: the guilty pleasure of one who loves a certain sport seeing another exposed. But cycling’s recent history lends Coe’s generational quip a ring of truth, and in his current beleaguered position, he might be grateful even for that.
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