Professional bicycle racing hit bottom today, which may be a good thing.
The release of 1,000 pages of documents condemning illegal doping by Lance Armstrong and his teammates during his seven Tour de France victories is yet another black eye for a sport that seems to have a black eye permanently tattooed to its face.
Santa Rosa's Levi Leipheimer gets bruised in this one, too, which surely will be a disappointment to his many fans in Sonoma County. But let's remember why he has gained such popularity in these parts. Leipheimer's success on his bike has made him one of the sport's elite riders, but his involvement in his community is what makes him a hometown hero.
Performance-enhancing drugs didn't convince him to do that.
Still, he and the rest of those implicated in “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” owe their fans an apology. They need to do what Armstrong has never done: admit their misdeeds and mistakes, acknowledge their wrongs, express their regret, ask for forgiveness.
And work to clean up their sport.
Travis Tygart, the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, expressed that hope on Tuesday in a news release announcing the findings against Armstrong and his teams. Tygart said he hoped his agency's findings would “unshackle” cycling from its past and “dismantle the remaining system that allowed this EPO and blood doping era to flourish.”
That's a tall order. As recently as Tuesday, it was announced that a French rider was suspended for blood doping in a race last month. The “blood doping era” has not yet ended.
But shining light on that era, ending the code of silence that has surrounded the use of drugs in cycling, is a good first step. Tygert said that code has now been “shattered.”
Tyler Hamilton does a pretty good job of it in his new book, “The Secret Race,” co-written with journalist Daniel Coyle.