Category Archives: Cycling

Why is so much taxpayer money wasted on sport?

How much taxpayers’ money does Australia spend on sport? It appears to be a huge amount and something the governments, both federal and state, would prefer stayed hidden.

Sport is an obsession in the country and politicians know that when the country is occupied with it, then the people won’t bother about the comings and going of those in power.

Hence, they encourage sport to the hilt. Wealthy associations receive big handouts for this and that even though they do not need the money and can manage on their own. This keeps the sport and the sportsmen on-side.
Continue reading Why is so much taxpayer money wasted on sport?

Pursuing Armstrong: a journo’s tale of triumph

WHEN journalists criticise something repeatedly, those who read their offerings tend to conclude that the journalist in question has a dislike of the person or people at the heart of that issue – and that is the reason for the criticism.

But that is often not the case.

Irish journalist David Walsh was probably the only one of his tribe to be critical of Lance Armstrong when the American, on his return to professional racing after recovering from testicular cancer, won the Tour de France in 1999.

Walsh took the stand he did because he loved the sport. And he hated the idea that it was being ruined by people ingesting this drug or that and winning without deserving it.

The 1999 event was dubbed the “tour of renewal” following the drugs scandal that hit the event in 1998, when the Festina team was caught with something akin to a drugstore in a van.

But Walsh, noting that Armstrong had recorded speeds even faster than those in 1998, and also gained an incredible advantage over the rest during the most difficult climb of the Tour, reasoned that there had to be more to the story. Armstrong was not known as a climber, but even if he had been proficient in this aspect of cycling, the time he recorded was incredible.

In his recent book, Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong, Walsh tells the story of the problems he faced by taking what others saw to be a stance against Armstrong.

The book is written well and shows the depth of love that Walsh has for cycling, and sport in general. He was fortunate to have a highly supportive sports editor who backed him to the hilt and prevented him from going overboard when the Armstrong issue became an obsession.

Armstrong used every tactic in the book to discredit those whom he perceived to be against him; he would threaten, blackball and use lawsuits when he could. He did what he could to tarnish Walsh’s reputation and blacken his name.

Walsh traces the whole affair from its inception, tells of those who stood against Armstrong – people like US cyclist Greg LeMond and Betsy Andreu, the wife of another pro cyclist, Frankie Andreu. Then there was Emma O’Reilly, a masseuse with Armstrong’s team, who was made out to be little more than a whore by Armstrong when she lifted the curtain about his use of drugs.

Walsh is an old-school journalist, a man with principles. Chasing the story took a toll on him and his family, yet he did not give up. As LeMond put it, he knew that Armstrong’s win in 1999 had either to be the comeback of the century or else the fraud of the century.

As we all know, it turned out to be the latter. Earlier this year, some months after he had been stripped of his titles following an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency, a stony-faced Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey that he had cheated all through his seven wins.

He lied in that he did not confess to using drugs on his comeback in 2009 – when evidence clearly indicates he did. The statute of limits for legal action is five years – and that’s why Armstrong continues to lie about this.

Walsh’s story serves as encouragement to journalists in a world where telling the truth in print, the web or on TV is becoming increasingly more difficult. It is also an uplifting tale for anyone else, a story that reminds us that there are still people of integrity left in a world increasingly filled with frauds.

The fraud of frauds gets a chance to vent

ON JANUARY 17, US time, world sport’s worst serial cheat, Lance Armstrong, will make a confession of sorts to the world’s best known chat show host, Oprah Winfrey. Not surprisingly, both are Americans.

Armstrong was indicted by the US Anti-Doping Administration and the level of proof that the agency gathered would have put anyone behind bars. It was a dream case, one where the evidence was so startling that even a serial liar and cheat like Armstrong kept silent.

Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France titles from 1999 onwards, with every possible chemical helping him to the podium.

He has bullied, threatened and bribed his way to the top and gained a massive financial fortune, not to say a reputation that is unmatched in sport worldwide.

But he is a sad human being, a cheat, a liar, and a brazen one at that. He has ruined many lives, he has spoilt the sport of cycling forever, and he has made crooks out of many with his bribes.

Winfrey is known for soft, weepy programmes; she has built up a reputation as someone who empathises with her guests and never puts them offside.

She is no journalist.

In her early days, Winfrey was tried out as a news reporter on TV stations. But her bosses noticed that she had a tendency to come down on the side of the underdog every time, even if that individual was a convicted child molester.

She moved on to chat shows and there she found her real metier. A legend was born.

Armstrong will not be put on any rack on Winfrey’s programme. He will be treated with kid gloves and it will be akin to the Boston strangler being given a back rub.

Armstrong has already extracted about $US16 million from Winfrey for giving the interview – which will be very helpful in paying legal costs which are expected to mount when people start suing him for his lies, and sponsors start demanding their money back.

Hence this is not anything to do with journalism. It is fraud from the word go, cash for comment. But it is a big story to be covered with all the cynicism and sarcasm it deserves.

Armstrong is doing the interview because he wants to take part in sport again. Not cycling, other sports like athletics.

But given the fact that his entire sporting life has been a lie, he does not deserve a second chance. This is one case where one must lock the door and throw away the key.

For Lance Armstrong, cheating is in the blood

CHEATING runs in the blood (no pun intended). This is true in the case of the American Lance Armstrong, now known to be the king of cheats, and one who used drugs of every kind to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles from 1999.

In 1993, Armstrong participated in the Thrift Drug Triple Crown of cycling: the Thrift Drug Classic in Pittsburgh, the K-Mart West Virginia Classic and the CoreStates USPRO national championship in Philadephia.

There was a bonus of $US1 million which was available to anyone who won all three events.

Arrmstong won the first and, during the second, approached Stephen Swart of New Zealand, then a member of the Coors team, to try and ensure victory. In the presence of Australian cycling legend Phil Anderson, Armstrong offered Swart and his team $50,000 if they would allow him to win the race and the third in the series as well.

Anderson and Armstrong were on the Motorola team at the time.

Swart swore an affidavit to this effect in 2004; a recording of his doing so was shown on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation recently.

Armstrong subsequently won the second race and also the third. Swart received the bribe and it was shared among his team.

It is thus clear that Armstrong wasn’t into cheating only during his Tour de France wins – he had a history of trying every possible means to win and this dates back to 1993 when he was just a year old on the pro circuit.

Tomorrow the world cycling federation will rule on the report made public by the US anti-doping association. What the UCI says will determine whether cycling has a future as a sport or not.

Cheat of cheats: the Lance Armstrong saga

IT’S probably fair to conclude that American cyclist Lance Armstrong will not be taking part in any kind of competitive cycling for the rest of his life.

Not after the devastating 202-page dossier compiled by the US anti-doping agency detailed the way the man had systematically run a doping syndicate to win seven Tour de France titles.

Yet, come the next Tour, there will be lots of idiots gazing ardently at the cyclists as they cycle through France, enjoying the “competition”. As the Americans say, there is a sucker born every minute.

Anyone who spends a few hours reading the evidence collected so painstakingly by the USADA will come away shaking their heads and wondering how such deceit can be played out in public and not be detected.

What the USADA has collected and compiled is damning in the extreme. One has to only wonder when Armstrong will break and organise a press conference to shed crocodile tears as all drug cheats do. Marion Jones is a prime example.

There are ifs or buts in the USADA documentation; for example, here is a sample of the language used in its Reasoned decision: “As most observers of cycling acknowledge, cycling in the grand tours, of which the Tour de France is the most important, is a team sport. Lance Armstrong winning seven consecutive Tour de France titles was touted not just as an individual achievement, but as a team achievement rivaling the greatest in professional sports history.

“Lance Armstrong himself has said that the story of his team is about how it ‘evolved from . . . the Bad News Bears into the New York Yankees.’ However, as demonstrated in this Reasoned Decision, the achievements of the USPS/Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, including those of Lance Armstrong as its leader, were accomplished through a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history.

“More than a dozen of Armstrong’s teammates, friends and former team employees confirm a fraudulent course of conduct that extended over a decade and leave no doubt that Mr. Armstrong’s career on the USPS/Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team was fueled (sic) from start Armstrong’s career on the USPS/Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team was fueled (sic) from start to finish by doping.”

And later, the same document says: “When Mr. Armstrong refused to confront the evidence against him in a hearing before neutral arbitrators he confirmed the judgment that the era in professional cycling which he dominated as the patron of the peloton was the dirtiest ever.

“Twenty of the twenty-one podium finishers in the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005 have been directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations or exceeding the UCI hematocrit threshold. Of the forty-five (45) podium finishes during the time period between 1996 and 2010, thirty-six (36) were by riders similarly tainted by doping.” (emphasis mine)

That’s only the start. There are pages and pages of testimony and any cycling fan who can go through even a couple – I read the testimony of George Hincapie and Frankie Andreu and it was enough for me – and come out still maintaining there this is a competitive sport would have to be stark, raving mad.

One good thing can come out of this, however – the pharmaceutical industry, which uses millions of dollars each and every year in the US to try and buy influence and a good name, may start sponsoring the Tour.

After all, without chemical aids, the cyclists seem to be unable to win the Tour. Armstrong is probably the best man to act as a go-between and recruit possible cyclists to wear the logos of companies like Roche, Novartis, Merck, Pfizer, Sanofi, Johnson and Johnson, Astra-Zeneca, Abbott Labs, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bayer, Eli Lilly, and GlaxoSmithKline.

Lance Armstrong: an apology for a sportsman

ALL that Lance Armstrong had to do was to release one simple statement: “I have never taken performance-enhancing drugs.”

Instead what came forth from the seven-time Tour de France winner, when the US anti-doping agency said it was stripping him of his titles and banning him from competitive cycling for life, was, “I have never tested positive.”

He might as well have said, “I have never been caught.”

Doping in sport is a race where those who help athletes ingest performance-enhancing drugs advise them on the best blockers that prevent detection. The better the professional advising the athlete, the smaller the chance of getting caught.

It all depends on the talent you can afford to advise you. Unless someone in the circle leaks, you are safe. But in recent years, people have been leaking.

According to the technology site Wired, Armstrong was detected using a corticosteroid back in 1999 but he was able to get away, handing in a prescription that said it was being administered for saddle sores.

But he did not reckon with the fact that USADA and the world anti-doping agency have both concluded that testing has limited value.

After the scandal of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, which was accused of supplying anabolic steroids to major league baseball players, the doping agency has been more interested in finding snitches. In the BALCO case, the lab was sewn up after Trevor Jones, the sprint coach to Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, sent a syringe containing a mysterious substance to USADA.

What happened with Armstrong was that was members of his US Postal team had told USADA that he had been doping all along. There were repeated allegations and in the end Armstrong had only one choice – to go to court and defend the charges.

Perhaps he reckoned that there was too much human evidence against him. Perhaps he had nothing to throw back at the allegation which came from people who were once close to him. Perhaps the burden of guilt was beginning to weigh on him. After all you can only keep lying for so long.

Marion Jones lied for a long time after the Sydney Olympics but after her coach snitched on her, she had to admit the truth. Armstrong continues to offer the line that he has never failed a drugs test.

That will do him a fat lot of good. Even if the stripping of the titles never takes place due to bureaucratic wrangling between the doping agencies and the world cycling organisation, he is now spoiled merchandise.

He may have made enough money to last for the next two generations but as the good book says what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Armstrong had made a name as an incredible athlete who did the impossible; now he is reduced to a creature of chemicals who could afford better blocking technology.

To me he is a sad caricature of a man in a system that leads people to want to win at any cost, even if it means living a lie.