UCI President, Pat McQuaid, took centre stage yesterday as the latest chapter of the Lance Armstrong saga unfolded.
McQuaid backed USADA’s findings in their investigation into organised doping on the Lance Armstrong-led US Postal team of the late 90s and early 2000s, and said that Armstrong had no place in cycling.
His stance on Armstrong briefly deflected attention from his organisation’s governance of the sport during the Armstrong era and from criticism that ranges from accusations of incompetence to complicity – the latter vehemently denied.
Few will disagree with McQuaid’s analysis of Armstrong as a man who deserves no place in cycling, but his denunciation of Armstrong’s teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, as “scumbags” cuts to the heart of a quite separate issue: are former dopers invaluable guides on a path to changing the sport or individuals who by cheating have proved them untrustworthy and forfeited their right to any further hearing?
The different interpretations are manifested in the philosophy of two WorldTour teams: the first at Garmin-Sharp, and the latter at Team Sky.
Jonathan Vaughters, CEO of Slipstream Sports, owners of the team sponsored by Garmin, was one of the riders who testified to USADA in its investigation into Lance Armstrong and organised doping on the US Postal Service team, one for which Vaughters rode for two years from 1998. He is a self-confessed former doper, and yet one of the most respected figures in cycling; manager of the first team in the WorldTour peloton with a “no needle” policy (UCI law since May 2011), chairman of the International Association of Professional Cycling (AICGP), and a man with the courage to spell out his past misdemeanors in the New York Times.
Vaughters’ believes his own experience, and that of riders who, like him, chose to dope, is valuable to a sport with a desperate need to heal itself after the latest scandal to end all scandals. His belief is most fully expressed in his partnership with David Millar, among the first he recruited to the top-tier incarnation of Slipstream. Millar’s road to redemption has been perhaps even steeper than Vaughters’: a conspicuous talent who admitted to doping while reigning world time trial champion. Eight years later, and Millar’s authority seems to rise almost daily. He has fought the good fight, and from outside the peloton at least, appears to be winning.
Millar’s close friend, David Brailsford, one who refused to abandon him on the night of his arrest in Nice on suspicion of doping, does not believe in hiring ex-dopers, no matter how reformed.
The Team Principle at Sky Pro Cycling, Brailsford is another of cycling’s most respected figures, a manager whose unprecedented success with Great Britain’s track cycling team at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was built famously on “marginal gains” rather than the estimated 20 per cent advantage offered by EPO and who set out a ‘zero tolerance’ doping policy at the foundation of Team Sky in 2010.
In the light of the Armstrong scandal, the policy has been reaffirmed, and strengthened. Brailsford and the team’s celebrated psychologist, Dr Steve Peters, will interview each team member, rider and staff alike, before asking them to sign a declaration confirming that they have never been involved in doping. Those unable to do so will leave. It’s a high risk strategy, one that has been criticised as naïve, but few will question Brailsford’s sincerity in formulating the policy, or in implementing it.
The two approaches could not be more different. Vaughters and Millar believe that the past must be embraced if lessons are to be learned from it. Brailsford is pursuing an uncompromising vision of a clean future. The sincerity of each is to be celebrated during this darkest of periods for cycling.