The future?

October 15, 2012

So we have revelation upon revelation now, the question is what the end effect will be. Will we simply see one muppet replaced by another, or will there be real, lasting change? Is it really possible to change 80% of the people in charge in a sport? The folks at asked me:

Given the latest revealings in USADA’s Armstrong-case, we would like to get your initial reaction, and what the case might mean to pro cycling going forward. Specifically, what impact will the findings of the USADA make on the pro teams ability to attract new sponsorship deals?

In case Danish is not your first language, here is my answer to them in English (or at least as much of an answer as I was willing to type on an iPhone.

The effect of the USADA report on the ability of teams to find sponsors depends entirely on the sport’s reaction. If the sport uses this occasion to truly clean up on an epic scale, it can be a lighting example of the future of clean sport and the most desirable sponsorship entity on this planet.

Because don’t forget, the implicated doctors like Ferrari and Del Moral (as well as Fuentes earlier) all work in other sports too. So if a sponsor has to choose between soccer, tennis, or any other sport pre-cleanup versus cycling post-cleanup, the latter is the much better and safer bet.

Of course, this is all conditional on this epic cleanup actually occurring, a cleanup that has to include the federations, the teams’ management, doctors, staff, etc. Right now it is not clear how this would happen – the people who can do this exist, but they are not currently in positions of power.

Frankly, the best chance I see is for some ethical VC to take over ASO and organize a completely fresh pro league around it. Given that this would rely on the ASO owners selling (which they don’t want to do) and on finding an ethical VC (sorry, couldn’t resist, but of course those exist), even the odds of the best chance materializing aren’t huge.

This doesn’t mean all hope is lost, the change will happen, it will just happen slower and less visible and so the attraction to sponsors – your initial question – will be much less.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

44 Responses to “The future?”

  1. Well, since it looks like Thomas Weisel is STILL on the Board of Directors at the USA Cycling Development Foundation….. I don’t see much change occurring. The just-concluded USAC Coaches’ Summit this past weekend was full of, “Move Forward” type discussions, with little regret or inward reflection. I still don’t believe USADA, WADA, or the IOC hold the highest ethical ground, but the NGB’s, ALL of them, need to be held accountable.

  2. zosim Says:

    I think there’s genuinely been a crisis in general recently and the sport will go one of two ways:

    1, Takes the opportunity to continue to clean shop and does the right thing to become a viciously anti-doping sport. Sponsors and fans will flock to the “new” pro cycling and cycling’s future will be safeguarded.

    2, Cycling assumes it has done enough by having a dozen riders forced to cooperate and get rid of the evil doctors, lance and johan. Fans won’t be convinced. Sponsors won’t be convinced. The money becomes critical and everything implodes, perhaps to be reborn again but perhaps not.

    I hope for #1 but without the UCI looking even remotely likely to clean their house and many pro-riders still sounding like they sort of support doping, #2 seems like it might end up being the case.

  3. You state that: “So if a sponsor has to choose between soccer, tennis, or any other sport pre-cleanup versus cycling post-cleanup, the latter is the much better and safer bet.”

    I think that’s not the case. I think sponsors need to have their names and logo’s on the TV screen, in the newspapers, on the radio, on the internet, etc. The way to get most airtime is to win races. You win more races by cheating. Furthermore when cheaters get caught you get free publicity. Bad publicity is also publicity and often the best publicity.

    • atlazz Says:

      I actually think we’re about to see the test of that. If Nike and Oakley stick by Lance and nobody calls them on it then brands will know that the winning is more important than anything else.

      • A perfect example of how unimportant winning is in cycling. Nike is still an irrelevant brand in cycling, despite all their winning. Of course in the wider public, the blanket publicity may have done them some good, but in cycling it really hasn’t. Been replaced as Tour de France sponsor by the “juggernaut” le coq sportif?

        • atlazz Says:

          Well for Nike I don’t think the association has been to build awareness amongst cyclists, it’s been about associating with “winners” that are in the public eye. I don’t recall the last time I saw Nike road shoes in a shop but I do know they sponsor Cav. Their approach seems to be find a personality that wins, get the endorsement, sell stuff. My question is more whether the negative association will damage them now or whether they’ll cut their losses. My bet is that outside cycling, few will care about Nike’s involvement with Lance.

        • It’s also not a hugely visible connection is it? I don’t really know the answer to this.

        • Tom Says:

          Is Nike a cycling brand? Seriously – I have never seen nor heard of Nike cycling shoes, shorts, helmets, jerseys etc….
          They sponsored Lance, not cycling.
          Did they ever attempt to enter cycling like they did golf for example?

    • How is the statement not true. First of all, winning in cycling is overrated. That’s the irony, no sport gives the loser as much exposure as cycling, yet many cheated to win anyway. Secondly, even if winning is important, I am not suggesting we clean up cycling and decide there are no longer winners. As many races will be won when cycling is clean as when it is dirty, so I fail to see how that makes a difference?

      • Because winning is easier if you have an illegal headstart. That was my point. If everyone but one team rides clean, the one dirty team will win most races. Winning means publicity. I think Lance Armstrong has generated more publicity than any other in cycling. Hell, he can match Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, Michael Schumacher for example.

    • Quentin Says:

      Bad publicity is OK up to a point, I think. I seem to recall somewhere reading that Andy Rihs regarded the Phonak sponsorship as a worthwhile return on investment despite the bad publicity (I can now name a hearing aid brand when I couldn’t previously). This is probably true for obscure brands that are just looking for exposure. Big brands that are trying to associate themselves with celebrity personalities (like Nike) would probably think differently.

      • joep01 Says:

        You mean the same Andy Rihs who Floyd Landis alleges paid for the team’s doping program after Floyd sat down with him and John Lelangue and explained what would be involved in blood doping and what it would cost? Please…bringing up him = probably not a good example for this argument.

  4. When the ESPN’s and CNN’s of the world start demanding change, the sponsors will react. As long as sponsors think this will not affect them, they will not ask for change from the UCI, ASO, etc. If consumers tell sponsors that they will protest loudly at their events, if we make sure that anti-doping banners calling out sponsors as dope supporters are evident at events, if we Tweet during live events that the sponsors support dope-riddled organizations, they will take notice. They are buying ears and eyeballs: if we make those ears and eyes see and hear that what they are witnessing is full of cheaters and false athleticism, sponsors will be forced to react. We also need race TV announcers who are not part of the establishment, but true journalists who won’t gloss over the ugly truth.

    • But the sponsor is not so different from the fan. I would say there are extremely few sponsors who have an inside view of a team, any more than a fan. So if you want sponsors to act, they’ll need something to act on (obviously you can now see how Nike will react to the Armstrong fall-out, but that’s in hindsight). But if you go the title sponsors of today’s 18 WorldTour teams and tell them “We won’t accept dirty cycling anymore”, these sponsors would have no idea if they are sponsoring a clean or a dirty team (never mind that this is no longer the division, it’s much more clean elements or dirty elements inside teams). So what are they supposed to do? When you say you want them to react, what reaction do you expect?

      Say you have a team that wins a large number of races in a year. So at that point, do you say “they’re having a great season” or do you say “they must be cheating” and start peppering the team’s sponsors with tweets? Where does the fan get the information to know what’s going on, and where does the sponsor get it to know how to respond? In hindsight, all of these are easy questions to answer, but in real-time, it’s not so easy.

      But maybe you mean that we now have all these Armstrong revelations, so if the sport doesn’t follow up on these and tries to continue as if nothing happened, then sure, federations, sponsors, etc should be held to account. As should fans, why would they still support a sport like that?

      • Joe Papp Says:

        Exactly why pseudonymous and anonymous “fans” of cycling, communicating through social media, should be afforded very little credibility by anyone in a position of authority in any context, especially w/ regards to claims of doping.

        • Dear Wiggo Says:

          But Joe Papp should, right? Joe Papp the dope dealer while being a Floyd expert anti-doping witness?

        • Ralph Hartman Says:

          Mr Papp the guy who gave Race Radio’s real name to the LA gang for money? Please go watch “The Verdict” sometime. You have no legs to stand on.

    • Quentin Says:

      I couldn’t agree more about needing new broadcasters. We’ve had a few outspoken print journalists over the years making their case for change, but I’ve never heard Phil and Paul address the issue in a serious way. Aside from their obvious pro-Lance bias, and the fact that I don’t find them interesting, they don’t even discuss doping when it concerns riders with a history of controversy, like Vinokourov. Let’s get a former racer who was there during the doping era and has since spoken out about it, like say, Frankie Andreu.

  5. James Drake Says:

    The link between sponsorship and doping, or rather the NEGATIVE link is a tenuous one. Certainly there are sponsors who have left the sport when involved in doping teams. Sometimes that sponsorship has changed (Festina, from team to TDF timekeeper). Sometimes a sponsor is looking for an excuse to pull out. I don’t think sponsors are too worried about doping in other sports because it is so prevalent as to be accepted, and there have been no scandals like in cycling, where the pure brutish physicality of the sport means doping makes a big difference. A soccer player doesn’t play better soccer because of doping, he just plays longer. Not so with cycling, where doping has such a visible effect. Which is why everyone in cycling talks about it. So no, sponsors are in cycling because the want to be, not because it’s potentially cleaner than tennis or soccer or football.

    To answer the original question though, will this latest revelation make a difference? Festina, Puerto, USADAgate.. The big change I believe is that it is the dopers being villified, not the ones who now whistleblow. This breaking of the omertá means that it will be harder to dope, and harder to accept doping. Whereas in the past the clean riders didn’t speak out and either rode on or left the sport, there is much more incentive on them to speak out. As for changing the people who run the sport because they’ve been involved in doping as a solution.. I think that we need to look at the Slipstream model. Ex-dopers do have a place in the sport if they wholeheartedly renounce the practice. And you know what they say, you need a thief to catch a thief!

    • You make some good point, although I would say that the USADAgate whistleblowers, the ones from years ago, were villified and worse, persecuted. As for not playing better soccer with doping, for sure you play better soccer in the 90th minute if you dope than if you don’t, no question about it. Combine that with the stats on how many games are won in the final minutes (when one team is more tired than the other) and you’ve got a huge incentive.

      As for it taking a thief to catch a thief, maybe you need a thief to assist with his knowledge, but you don’t make him chief of police.

    • tom hewitt Says:

      Ex-dopers do have a place in the sport if they wholeheartedly renounce the practice.

      Not according to what’s being posted on practically every cycling blog in the world. It has to be assumed that every rider that’s competed in UCI events has had access to or actually used drugs and should be banned for life. Sure, some innocents are going to be tarred with the same brush but who said life was fair? If the integrity that cycling fans apparently demand is going to prevail in the sport, there has to be a completely new beginning.

  6. Pave Says:

    Rather than state some of my opinions as facts (citations people!), I’d be curious to know more about what you envision when you say “clean up the sport.” You said who the cleanup needs to include, but what would the clean up actually look like?

  7. john Says:

    Paul Sherwin owns a gold mine in South Africa. Two of his investors are Lance and Phill Ligget. Don’t expect to much from Paul. Phil came out a bit today but can’t quit broadcasting cause he under contract till 2016. He was quoted as saying he would quit if lance was guilty. He is 70. I would think he might have enough saved to just bag it.

  8. I am curious to know whether alarm bells were ringing over Basso’s performance at the 2006 Giro? As the bike provider (and if i recall correctly) using that race to showcase the new Soloist Carbon, you must have been watching closely how he was dropping everyone on every uphill finish and won (if memory serves) by more than 9 minutes. Even back in 2006,
    his performance stuck out like a sore thumb.

    I know Basso then withdrew from the tour under the Puerto cloud and has claimed that he was simply preparing to dope. Like winning the Giro is such a fashion would case him to doubt he could win the tour unless he doped!

    As the bike sponsor, did you not make enquiries?

    • Hi Simon,

      Your comment finally made it! The Soloist Carbon was actually introduced a year earlier, as a black prototype in the 2005 Giro and Dauphine and then as a production model in the 2005 Tour. Anyway, that doesn’t really matter.

      As for his performance, it was indeed dominating but against a field that was pretty weak. The runner up was a guy who few people had even heard off before (nor after, as it turned out he was a Fuentes client too). Third was a Simoni well past his prime. So while it was a dominating performance, he was the guy who finished second in the Tour the year before racing against people who couldn’t crack the top-10 there. I mean, Sandy Casar was 6th in that Giro (I didn’t remember that of course but just looked it up, and I have to say that although the field was weak, that is truly astonishing. Anyway). So in retrospect it can be classified suspicious, but at the time it was strong but not insane. I also never saw any VAM data or anything like that to indicate it would be overly strong in an absolute sense, I think that sort of way of looking at things is more something from the last few years. BTW, I don’t buy the “attempting to dope” nonsense obviously.

      Did we ask questions? Yes. Were they answered truthfully? No. Does a sponsor see any more than a fan does? No. That is to say a sponsor sometimes does see a little bit more, but that is actually stuff that makes you think there is nothing going on. Because in all those years, I never saw anything suspicious, not a strange guy hanging around, not a door that quickly closed as I walked through the team hotel, nothing. Not too surprising maybe, as you don’t read in any of the affidavits “and then we invited our sponsor into the room as we injected EPO”.

      Maybe that’s the weird thing about all the affidavits, in one respect it seems very casual and many people knew what was going on, but on the other hand it was really confined to the people who were part of the scene (like the part where Lance says something like “now that I know you dope too, you can see me do it because I know you can’t write a book about it”.

      I spoke from time to time with the team doctors, since I reasoned that they must know what really goes on inside the team. So if I was comfortable they wouldn’t tolerate doping, then the odds were pretty good. Their team doctors were a group of GPs who had their own practice in Belgium, treating normal patients, and then they would rotate in and out of the team.

      I thought at the time (and actually still do) that some sort of structure like that is the best. People who have a practice in the normal world really have a lot to lose if they are caught doping riders, so I think that is a good incentive for them to keep riders clean. It also means the riders don’t work with the same doctor all the time, preventing them from creating too close a relationship.

      There is a reference to a team doctor in the Jaksche affidavit, but I have no idea who that is.

      What I have always found frustrating was that nobody would tell you anything. That only started to change in 2008, that was the first time that a journalist called me with some inside information that was very helpful. I also understand why that never happened before 2008, after all we were just a sponsor, no way for any journalist to know if we cared about the truth. But when we announced the TestTeam, I think they started to understand that we did and we started hearing more. Although still not as much as I would have liked.

      And of course it’s also not the journalists’ job to provide me with information, but it’s pretty hard to figure out anything by yourself. Again, not so different as the frustrating position you may find yourself in as a fan.

      • If sponsors have the same insight as fans in cycling teams than they couldn’t care less about doping. Are we fans walking away from the sport? Do we really want a clean sport? Or do we want to see heroism and need to have something to talk about? A sponsor doesn’t care if doping is used, as long as it’s kept in the dark. Then, when the use is proven they shake their heads, moan a little and go on with their lives trying to make money. In or out fo cycling.

      • Dear Wiggo Says:

        Curious that you cite the 2006 Giro as being a “weak Giro”. It’s the exact same “reason” given for Wiggins smashing the Tour this 2012 season.

        I marvel at the patterns resplendent in the doping performance dialog.

        • I haven’t heard anybody claim this year’s Tour was weak, although obviously Andy Schleck and Contador weren’t there. But the #1 and #3 from the year before were there, so that’s not bad. It’s tough to quantify if a Tour is weak, since it is the pinnacle. So maybe it’s a weak generation, one guy stands out, etc. Very hard to tell.

          But because the Tour is the pinnacle, it serves as a de facto ranking of Grand Tour strength. So if you have a top-10 in the Tour, and only one of those guys shows up in the Giro, then he’s likely to be very strong there, especially if he targets it (unless of course there are special circumstances, like a guy who is very strong but was injured in the Tour the year before, etc).

          If Froome goes to the Giro next year and really tries to win it, and if none of the other top-10 riders shows up, you would expect him to win by 15 minutes. But you wouldn’t expect him to do the same in the Tour.

  9. Gildas Says:

    Notice how some tennis players go on exactly 2 years “retirement”… Humm. Yes only cyclist dope.

    • I only see Clijsters retire for exactly 2 years. Who else? Henin retired for a year an a half, although she did oddly request to be removed from the ranking immediately.

  10. Evan Shaw Says:

    Perhaps the real problem is that sports are a ethnic, racial class sociological phenomena. It involves those in the lower working classes trying to move up. Sponsors who are rich and powerful run them. Usually of another class, ethic group and sometimes race. Money, prestige, bragging rights and power are the rewards of ownership for large sports regimes.

    Cycling represents a smaller sport, less money, less power dynamics, hence the strange phenomena of doping being exposed here and not anywhere else to the degree it is here.

    Why? No union, no giant political pull, and enough incompetence that it made its way public, but only barely.

    I think Armstrong represents the move by cycling into the phase where doping is highly profitable for all concerned. He saw the political sponsorship and organizational willingness to succeed in this criminal enterprise.

    Witness by analogy how NFL players now realize there are 100’s of them with brain damage but the league sponsors and teams are successful at containing them. Review the same consequences in hockey, where having increased revenues hugely, they are successfully resisting decreasing violent concussions, etc.

    Gerard, is there a model for any sport that becomes big financially to avoid exploitation of the workers, i.e., the racers, and not become a win win for the management and athletes to use whatever means available to decrease down time, increase performance, and appear to the public like it is fair, while really it serves them all to use drugs to avoid pain, keep riding for longer careers, etc.

    I have to say, the reason the future is bleak is that NO sport is clean. And none are moving in that direction.

    As you say life is at best the messy middle. But if we look at the forces at play, most of those are to hide this problem yet again.

    I don’t like saying this but none of us would bank at a place that kept its staff and president after they embezzled our money. By the way I took my money out of my Morgan Stanley account and Bank of America and it is in my non for profit credit union.

    I think if we fans want a clean sport a boycott is the only answer. Don’t buy Nike. Or Trek.

    buy Cervelo lol !~!

  11. Dear Wiggo Says:

    Having read Tyler’s & Kimmages books, it seems the people actually doing the doping were the riders themselves.

    You write, “Of course, this is all conditional on this epic cleanup actually occurring, a cleanup that has to include the federations, the teams’ management, doctors, staff, etc.”

    Are riders in the etc part of this?

    When unions first formed, when women wanted the vote, when African Americans wanted to vote, to my way of thinking, they achieved it by standing up for themselves.

    I understand the culture (only) a little now, having read such honest accounts, and understand the structure as a whole is corruptible, from IOC rep to forum shill, but isn’t there at least some responsibility to be laid at the feet of the riders?

    • atlazz Says:

      Clearly there is. Many riders rode clean or walked away. Bassons was the only clean rider on Festina so clearly it wasn’t “dope or leave” on every single team. Personal responsibility seems to be out of vogue in some areas and some of the statements from the riders recently very much try to absolve themselves of blame despite there always being a choice.

    • Of course there is, in the end it’s their body. But I don’t think you can SOLVE it through the riders. No disrespect intended, but most riders are followers. Many of them live in a bubble from the age talent is first spotted in them, and when they move into the pro ranks they don’t have the tools to cope.

      I am 100% convinced that if you clean up the environment, most riders will follow the clean path. I don’t believe that a rider union would accomplish the same, in fact the fight against doping is most stunted in sports with strong athlete unions (witness the US pro sports, their anti-doping programs are a total joke).

      So if you have a UCI focused on clean sport, and using its ethical requirements to truly judge teams instead of the way it goes now, then you have a chance. The problem right now, as I mentioned before, is that everybody is beholden to everybody. Bruyneel should have failed the ethical test years ago, as should many others. But when Bruyneel knows something about person A, who knows something about person B, etc, etc, nobody dares to take real action. The fear of mutual annihilation. Works great in a cold war, not so well in a sport.

  12. taifon Says:

    Hey Gerald, how about a new league scrapping UCI bike regs for genuine performance advantages, and employing stringent, credible dope testing as a condition on a license. Bike sales could provide a source of revenue. Say goodbye to that sticker on your new frame though ;)

  13. Chris Says:

    Sorry that I’ve come late to this thread, but regarding Nike, having an Uncle who owns two Trek shops I have some “inside” knowledge regarding their gear, but not much. Basically in 2007 they opted to limit their cycling wares to team jersey & bibs. Prior to that they had a line of clothing, however it was all rebranded Giordana. Their shoes were also rebranded, especially the Nike Lance 1 & 2s, but I don’t recall the brand they actually were. I also never quite understood why they continued to sponsor a sport in which they didn’t produce any product for, with the exception of Livestrong kit.

  14. […] seem, woefully absent to date. Perhaps a riders’ union will be the catalyst (there may be other possibilities). Riders have gone on strike before and they may have to do so again. But the stakes will be high. […]

  15. Rooie Says:

    Jacques Rogge?

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