Johan Bruyneel, Lance Armstrong’s trusted Team Manager has received a ten-year ban from professional cycling by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
John Bruyneel was Team manager during Armstrong’s seven revoked Tour de France wins with the United States Postal Service Team, later Team Discovery Channel. In a public statement, USADA declared;
‘The evidence establishes conclusively that Mr Bruyneel was at the apex of a conspiracy to commit widespread doping on the USPS and Discovery Channel Teams spanning many years and many riders’.
Team Doctor Pedro Celaya and Trainer Jose Marti also received eight year bans.
Bruyneel’s fate was effectively sealed back in June 2012 with Armstrong’s suspension from cycling. At the time, a USADA report denounced the United States Postal Service / Discovery Channel’s behaviour as ‘the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme the sport has ever seen’.
A month later, Dr Garcia del Moral, who replaced Celeya as team doctor and the notorious Michele Ferrari also received life bans. Ferrari in particular, with his links to the Conconi Institute at the University of Ferrara, has become synonymous with cycling’s dark side.
Bruyneel later acted as team manager for Astana in 2008 and with Radioshack in 2009 before stepping down from that role as accusations intensified. Since he was within the apex of Armstrong’s inner circle, Bruyneel’s ban seemed inevitable ever since the Texan finally admitted to doping in January 2013. The Belgian doesn’t deny wrong doing however he commented after the ruling that,
‘A small minority of us have been used as scapegoats for an entire generation. There is clearly something wrong with a system that allows only six individuals to be punished as retribution for the sins of an era’.
His comments could be dismissed as mere bitterness, unsurprising after the ruling and especially if you consider the lengths he went to conceal Armstrong’s cheating. However, if taken at face value it raises more awkward questions for the Sport. Just how can it move beyond its doping culture when even today, within the peloton, the teams and even within cycling’s own institutions, there are still some with very dark pasts.
Not many tears will be shed for Armstrong, Bruyneel or their associates. Clearly their actions pushed doping practices to an unprecedented level and in the process shattered cycling’s credibility as a competitive sport. But how much further the Sport’s pursuit for justice can go beyond Armstrong and his clique is doubtful.
It is not possible to pursue all offenders from that era in the manner in which Armstrong was. Even if it was, it could later raise doubts over the legitimacy of all former champions. Cycling in this era may consider itself at its lowest possible point. But it would enter the point of no return if its integrity as well as its history were dragged into the mire.
Perhaps then there is a degree of truth behind suggestions that Armstrong was made an example of. Indeed the perspective is now likely to shift towards improved anti doping regulations and technologies in an attempt to safeguard the future of cycling. But barring a few further prosecutions of lesser Armstrong associates, it is likely that the cleaning up process will go no further.
The Festina controversy and others before that were quickly forgotten after the customary purges. In a wave of self-delusion, the sport easily rid itself of its guilt and moved on without ever looking beneath the surface. Fifteen years later, and there are even reports that doping products have now gone beyond the realms of elite cycling to semi-professional and even amateur levels. So you have to wonder if cycling has really learned its lesson this time. Or is it simply repeating its history, once again.
Alan Casey, Pundit Arena.