It was a rotten era and rotten system and Lance Armstrong should not be the scapegoat, says former road cycling great Bruce Biddle.

Warkworth-born Biddle won the 1970 Commonwealth Games road race and was fourth at the 1972 Olympic Games, an event in which the third-placed rider failed a drug test. Because Biddle was not drug tested he was not awarded the bronze medal but says it doesn't bother him.

Biddle, who lives in Italy, is in New Zealand visiting family and friends and yesterday had a beer with Stephen Swart, one of the first professional cyclists to talk openly about the doping he experienced while riding in the Motorola team with Lance Armstrong.

"Stephen wasn't actually aiming at Lance Armstrong," said Biddle. "It was the system he was against, it was just hopeless. It's a period we never want to go through again, especially for the sake of our young riders here."

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Biddle said it was easy to damn Armstrong but he raced during a rotten period.

"He represented a certain era of cycling. But if everyone raced on pane e acqua, as we say, on bread and water, probably everyone would say that Armstrong was probably the strongest."

"Those years were the dark ages of world cycling when, this EPO, everyone was taking it. He wasn't the only one."

Former New Zealand Cyclist Bruce Biddle. Photo / Supplied
Former New Zealand Cyclist Bruce Biddle. Photo / Supplied

When EPO - which was developed to treat anaemia - first began to be used in sport Biddle said it was open slather. "We've heard of stories of guys riding on their stationary bicicletta in the middle of the night trying to get their blood moving because it was like jam in their veins."

Authorities then put a limit of 51 per cent of red oxygen-carrying blood cells to white, before a rider would be deemed unfit to race and be stood down. That resulted in an impetus to dope their blood.

It became known as the EPO era, so named after the synthetic blood-boosting drug commonly used.

"What we should do is throw all those years away. I wouldn't criminalise him [Armstrong] right to the very end although, yes, he did have a lot of responsibility."

"If they took the Tour away from him [for doping], I think they would have to go down to 15th or 16th before they found the winner of the Tour de France. They should throw these results away."

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Biddle believes Swart's criticism was of the situation he and his contemporaries found themselves in. "There was no space to move. You either did it [EPO] or you weren't even in the bike race. The responsibility has to be shared with everybody, all the pros."

Biddle is relaxed about missing out on the Olympic bronze medal after it was stripped from the rider who failed a drug test.

"In our day it was amateur. At the Olympics nowadays, I'd say 'keep the medal guys', it doesn't worry me because the Olympic organisation is so intense on getting money into it."

The current situation where young riders from countries like New Zealand had to compete with seasoned professionals was unrealistic. "Unless you have a lot of good professionals up there in Europe racing with them, our hopes of winning a road race medal at the next Olympic Games are almost zero."

"I would like to see at least the Olympic Games road race become non-professional under 23, this is my dream."

Biddle said the progress made by New Zealand's track team in recent years was "absolutely extraordinary".

"We have produced world-class bike riders and we can do that on the road too. New Zealand needs a plan that says we want to take young riders into Europe in a national team."

Kiwis were no longer inferior to European road cyclists. "Not now, not after all the EPO, all the rubbish is cleared away. One day someone will come along like Cadel Evans did from Australia. He won the Tour of Italy, won the Tour de France."

"That person could come from anywhere, from BMX, from Mountain biking. There is a pathway for them which is being created by NZ Cycling. It's coming and it is coming only because ... now it is getting cleaner."