Armstrong is “a legend”, says Team Sky's Dowsett

Thursday, 11 October 2012
By Mike Rowbottom

Alex Dowsett_11-10-12October 11 - British cyclist Alex Dowsett believes seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong remains "a legend of the sport" despite the doping accusations against the American.

Armstrong, who has always denied doping but chose not to fight the doping charges filed against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), whose recent report described him as being  a "serial" cheat and accused him of leading "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".

USADA has banned Armstrong for life and stripped him of his Tour de France titles, but Team Sky rider Dowsett, 24, told BBC Sport today: "He is still a legend of the sport.

"A guy who had cancer came back and won the Tour de France.

"It's not really important and I really don't think it matters what I think."

Dowsett joined Team Sky for the 2011 season from the US-based Trek-Livestrong squad – an under-23 development team created by Armstrong to nurture emerging talent.

Lance Armstrong_LivestrongLance Armstrong formed the Trek-Livestrong squad to nurture emerging talent.

He added: "All I know is that we all are racing clean.

"So, it was a different sport back then."

Dowsett later clarified his statement, adding: "When I was quoted as saying Lance Armstrong is a legend, this was in regard to the charity work he has done.

"Also when I say it doesn't matter, what I mean is that we are racing clean now and it is a different sport to what it was back then.

"I'm sorry for the misunderstanding.

"I was just about to start Stage Three of the Tour of Beijing and I wasn't clear in my thoughts.

"I do think what Lance has done is completely unacceptable."

Fellow Briton Steve Cummings, who rides for BMC Racing, and like Dowsett, is competing in the Tour of Beijing, also pointed out Armstrong had done a great deal for charity.

He said: "It is easy to say and point your finger on all the bad things but you could look at the good things he has done as well.

"He has done a lot good things, like his cancer charity, you know.

"When I met him, he was a nice guy to me."

Multiple Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy commented: "It is depressing but to get it out in the open is good for the sport.

"No one is too big for cycling.

"There is now nowhere to hide for the cheats.

"Britain has always been at the forefront of stamping out the cheats.

"Hopefully the next generation of riders will see you don't have to take drugs to compete."

Dave Brailsford_11-10-12Dave Brailsford described the evidence as "jaw-dropping...shocking and unpleasant"

Dave Brailsford, British Cycling performance director, described the USADA report as "jaw-dropping...shocking and unpleasant".

"You can see how the sport got lost in itself and got more and more extreme because it seemed to be systematic and everybody seemed to be doing it at the time – it completely and utterly lost its way and I think it lost its moral compass," he added.

Patrick Jonker, who rode alongside Armstrong in the US Postal Service Pro Cycling (USPS) team in 2000, believes his former teammate cannot solely be to blame.

The Australian, who said he had never taking performance enhancing drugs, told BBC Sport: "Reading the report, Lance could not have acted as the sole power behind this.

"You would have to have the knowledge of a doctor to enforce that.

"To crucify Lance and only Lance would be wrong.

"During that period I was definitely aware that there were athletes using performance-enhancing drugs but I don't believe it was to the extent that USADA are coming out with.

"The USADA were saying that in the Dauphine race three weeks before the Tour de France that there was a blanket use of performance-enhancing drugs in that particular race by the team and I was in the team with Tyler and Lance.

"The USADA pointing the finger at pretty much everyone is unfair.

"Me, myself, I am pretty sure the majority of the team were not taking drugs.

"In cycling then there was a problem but it was not a blanket."

Patrick Jonker_11-10-12Patrick Jonker insists that not all the blame should fall on Lance Armstrong

Armstrong was accused of intimidating teammates into taking banned substances to assist his own chances of success, but Jonker said he was never approached by the Texan.

"He never had the conversation with me," he said

"I wasn't a big player in the game; I was a worker, lower down the ladder, often in the B team."

The world cycling union (UCI) has been criticised for not uncovering the depth of Armstrong's cheating earlier but Jonker believes the UCI was, in fact, ahead of the game in trying to establish who was breaking the rules.

He added: "The technology was not available to absolutely guarantee 100 per cent proof of the non-use of performance-enhancing drugs but the cycling union did the best they possibly could.

"To say the UCI is corrupt is difficult as there are many other sporting organisations in the world that don't have blood testing at all, not even today.

"The UCI were very brave to introduce what they did but it has all imploded."

Meanwhile, Major League Soccer team Sporting Kansas City and sportswear brand Nike have both pledged to continue to support Armstrong.

Nike reissued a statement they first released in August, while Kansas chief executive Robb Heineman refuted any suggestion that the name of the team's ground would be changed from the Livestrong Sporting Park.

"We are saddened that Lance Armstrong may no longer be able to participate in certain competitions and his titles appear to be impacted," a Nike statement read.

"Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position.

"Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors."

Nike continues_to_support_Lance_Armstrong_as_11_former_team_mates_offer_evidence_against_himNike has said it will continue to support Lance Armstrong despite the release of the USADA report

Heineman, who is at the Leaders in Football conference in London, said: "The reason we did the partnership was for everyone affected by cancer and the 80 million members of Livestrong worldwide.

"That is how we think of the relationship with the brand.

"The Lance information is less relevant around our partnership."

More than a dozen former teammates, friends and former team employees offered evidence to USADA of a fraudulent course of conduct, painting a picture of Armstrong acting with the help of doping doctors, drug smugglers and others within and outside the sport and his team, over whose doping culture he was said to have control.

In an statement accompanying its report,  USADA chief executive Travis T Tygart said there was "conclusive and undeniable proof" that Armstrong was a cheat who was at the heart of a team-run doping conspiracy.

The report has been sent to UCI, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the World Triathlon Corporation.

Eleven of Armstrong's former teammates have testified against him.

But Armstrong's lawyer Sean Breen has described USADA's report as a "one-sided hatchet job".

Meanwhile David Zabriskie, who received a six month ban from USADA in the wake of the report, has revealed how performance-enhancing drugs became such a familiar part of racing life in the USPS team that, while on the team bus in 2002, he changed the lyrics of the Jimi Hendrix hit Purple Haze to: "EPO all in my veins/Lately things don't seem the same/Actin' funny, but I don't know why/ Scuse me while I pass this guy..."

Reports coming from AP in Italy suggest that the doctor alleged to be at the centre of the doping scandal, Michele Ferrari, could face criminal charges.

Padua prosecutor Benedetto Roberti, who has been investigating Ferrari's involvement, says that his inquiry is "coming to a close".

Contact the writer of this story at mike.rowbottom@insidethegames.biz
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