x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The wheels have finally come off for shamed Armstrong

For all intents and purposes, Lance Armstrong is cycling. A sad consequence of his spectacular fall from grace is that millions will have little desire, and less inclination, to find out any differently.

Lance Armstrong's successes lifted cycling and the Tour de France into the general public's awareness. With those victories now tainted, the sport and the Tour may fall back into being a niche event.
Lance Armstrong's successes lifted cycling and the Tour de France into the general public's awareness. With those victories now tainted, the sport and the Tour may fall back into being a niche event.

Lance Armstrong. If pressed, millions of sporting observers would struggle to name another cyclist.

Last year's Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins may have been a timely breath of fresh air to the sport, but not many outside of his native Britain would recognise him.

For all intents and purposes, Lance Armstrong is cycling.

Patently untrue, it is nevertheless a sad consequence of his spectacular fall from grace that those millions will have little desire, and less inclination, to find out any differently.

The sport of cycling is, as the president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) said on Monday, at a crossroads.

The decision by the sport's governing body to accept the US Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour De France titles was expected.

And the deluge of evidence against the seven-time winner makes it practically impossible for an appeal process to go ahead at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

With tour officials set follow suit and erase him from their records, there seems no way back for Armstrong now.

"Armstrong has no place in cycling," said Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, at Geneva. "Something like this must never happen again."

It remains to be seen to what degree cycling recovers from this episode, if at all.

But in truth, the outcome of the investigation was always likely to appear inadequate. As devastating the content of the USADA's report is, it was hardly going to be addressed by one decision by the UCI. Of course, the shadow that this case has cast is something that cycling fans have lived under for a long time.

Rumours of Armstrong's involvement in drug taking have circulated for years, and the revelations would hardly have come as a shock to insiders as it did to the casual observers.

There will be widespread sadness that a cycling legend, who bravely fought cancer, should turn out to be a fraud.

So what does the future hold for cycling as a competitive sport beyond its loyal fan base?

It may recover, as athletics periodically does, to overcome drug scandals in countries with significant levels of interest in the sport.

Elsewhere, however, it could be a very different story.

In the UAE, as well as the wider region, cycling could have been dealt a deadly blow before it has even had the opportunity to flourish.

Which is not to say that cycling is completely absent from the UAE sporting calender. Currently 14 clubs are registered with the UAE Cycling Federation, which was established in 1974, and several street competitions take place annually.

Many of these clubs are associated with bigger institutions such as the Al Nasr and Al Ahli clubs in Dubai.

And in April 2010, the UAE held the 30th Asian Cycling Championship at Zayed Velodrome in Sharjah, although Emirati cyclists failed to win a medal.

Despite such relative grass-roots interest, cycling remains largely a niche sport here.

Few outside those who participate in it have genuine interest in its development. As a spectator sport in the Middle East, it is practically non-existent.

And now, thanks to the UCI's decision, the attention and glamour Armstrong had previously brought to the sport could yet be wiped away. For those who only knew cycling through his celebrity, the sport is tainted, perhaps terminally so.

Armstrong has been reticent in recent weeks, and it is hard to see where he can go from here.

Two wrongs never make a right, and the "everybody else does it" line is no defence for Armstrong.

Not when, in many ways, he is the reason that many others did it, that many others -especially teammates - were bullied into doing it.

Armstrong may have been a hero to the masses, and loved by the media and Hollywood celebrities, but it seems he was despised by his colleagues, who have lined up to out him, and by his rivals.

This ugly environment is hardly conducive to promoting real interest and healthy competition in cycling. How many young Emiratis, or Arabs in general, already preoccupied with football, will even take the sport seriously in a region that had little interest in it in the first place?

Would you rather be a Leo Messi or a Lance Armstrong?

The decision by the UCI looks like the final chapter in Armstrong's often brilliant but ultimately tragic story.

His reputation is unlikely to recover.

"I've been better, but I've also been worse," Armstrong told a crowdat his cancer charity Livestrong's 15th anniversary celebration on Friday night.

For someone who had conquered the disease, he may well be able to keep some perspective on the whole ordeal.

Sadly, the damage done to cycling, here and all around the world, could well be beyond repair.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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