Editorial: Exposing drug cheats uphill battle

By Andrew Austin

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Despite the driving rain, yesterday's Tour of the Bay cycling event seems to have been a tremendous success.

The Tour of the Bay is what cycling is supposed to be about. Unfortunately Lance Armstrong and other drug cheats have ensured that no one will ever look at the highest level of cycling - the Tour de France - without wondering if the winner has taken drugs.

The Tour de France is unique - the racing is superb and the French countryside is breathtakingly beautiful in the summer. In 2006, after Armstrong had retired as seven-time Tour de France winner, I read a book called Lance Armstrong: Tour de Force written by an American journalist Daniel Coyle.

It was an insight into Armstrong's preparation for the 2004 Tour de France. I loved the book because it was well-written and it portrayed the cyclists as warriors. It was enough to make me sit up night after night watching every minute of that year's race.

Floyd Landis, who Coyle had described as a man of integrity, overcame a hip injury and came from behind to win the race in dramatic fashion. I was a fan.

A month later, the image I had of the Tour de France was shattered when Landis was stripped of his title for doping.

In a fit of irritation I wrote to Coyle asking him why he had painted a picture of the cyclists that did not exist.

"Do you know how widespread drug use in cycling is?" I asked, "and when are you going to write about it?" Where London Sunday Times journalist David Walsh had confronted the issues, "you seem to have skirted around them".

I was amazed when Coyle responded to my rather blunt email, acknowledging the points I had made. He said he was struggling to reconcile the two realities of cycling. "In the wake of all this, I'm not champing at the bit to write about the sport again. Unless someone were to come clean and let me inside - paging Floyd? - it remains in the shadows," he wrote.

Five years later one of Armstrong's former teammates, Tyler Hamilton, let Coyle into the world of doping in professional cycling in a new book called The Secret Race. Finally Coyle was able to write the real story.

However, the real hero in the Armstrong saga is David Walsh, the Irish sports writer, who was ostracised 13 years ago for daring to suggest that Armstrong was a cheat. Truthful journalism is always vindicated in the end.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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