Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
The only way to get clean is to scrub off the dirt.
Durango’s cycling community and its local legends said Lance Armstrong’s doping confession doesn’t just add one more smudge to the already mud-splattered sport, but it also puts power behind a much-needed pressure-washing that could put the shine back in the sport. Durango’s who’s who in the sport are calling for lifetime bans and even jail time for cheaters from Armstrong to Fort Lewis College alumnus Tom Danielson.
“I almost think it’s nothing but positive,” said Durangoan and former mountain bike cross country national champion Travis Brown. “I don’t agree with the statement that things coming out about the corrupt nature of the sport are bad for the sport. The things that are bad about the sport are the corruption.”
Ask mountain biking legend Ned Overend, and he’d take it a step further.
“My opinion is, it needs to be a crime to cheat in sports, to take drugs in sports. Unless they make it a crime, they’re going to have a hard time controlling (doping),” Overend said.
Brown, a mountain bike Hall of Famer, won a national title in 1999 after entering the professional cycling scene in Durango’s 1990 World Championships.
As a member of the Trek Bicycle team that included Durango racers Matt Shriver and Ben Sonntag, Brown helped Armstrong train for and win the Leadville 100 in 2009 and has seen the best and worst of pro cycling culture.
For him, Armstrong’s doping admission is no surprise.
“No, I think it’s extremely obvious in that discipline at that level that (doping) was endemic,” Brown said. “I don’t think it means that every single person in those races was doing it, but it was probably a very small number that were able to participate in the Tour de France that weren’t doing it.”
That number didn’t include Armstrong – a suspicion that didn’t elude Brown, even as he helped his friend to a then record-breaking pace in Leadville.
“Well I knew a lot about the sport, so yeah, I suspected then, but as there was no proof, and we both had relationships with Trek, there was no wise ground to make a statement,” Brown said.
“I regret being put in the position to do that, I guess. You know, it was nothing where I was put in the position to have to compromise my ethics in terms of my own choices in the sport,” said Brown, who maintains he never used any performance-enhancing drugs.
“You resent the people that are putting you in that position. And the people who are putting you in that position are the ones that have chosen to cheat,” Brown said.
And Armstrong isn’t the only cyclist who’s drawn that sort of resentment.
Armstrong’s fall largely came at the hands of 11 of his former teammates as part of a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation.
The report ended in a lifetime ban for Armstrong, and he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles; it hinged on the testimony of Danielson, Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer and David Zabriskie, all of whom admitted to doping on Armstrong’s cycling team.
Danielson declined to comment for this story.
All five riders accepted six-month suspensions from USADA. And that, Iron Horse Bicycle Classic race director Gaige Sippy said, is patently unfair.
“I think they should’ve been banned for life,” Sippy said of Danielson and the others. “They lied about it. I think it’s unfortunate they let them all off the hook.
“They get six months suspension during the winter, and they did all the same things.”
Overend, the Mountain Bike and United States Bicycling Hall of Famer, compared cycling cheats to people who break a car window, takes someone’s wallet and steals the money.
“You’d want that person to be charged with a crime,” Overend said. “And it’s not just Lance. I’d put all the guys who cheat together with Lance. To me, all the guys who cheated are thieves, and they made millions.”
Overend said admitted dopers want to say that Armstrong and the sport’s top teams pressured them into cheating, that competing at the highest level in Europe wasn’t possible without drugs.
“What they don’t say is, ‘We stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from those who don’t choose to cheat,’” Overend said. “They essentially took hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s a crime and needs to be made a crime, so these guys would be going to jail.”
Overend, too, called the scandal a positive, if a messy one, but Brown thinks now that the mess has gone public, it’s ripe for a cleansing.
“It’s pretty bad,” he said. “The level of cheating is pretty bad. So the more that comes out about it, it can only get better. And while cycling, I think, is taking a lot of heat for performance-enhancing drugs, I think cycling is going to come out on the other side of this being the cleanest professional sport.”