Frenchman reflects on a career during the Armstrong era
Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat) believes that doping has falsified cycling through the last decade to such an extent that it has been difficult for clean riders to gauge their true value.
After finishing second at Paris-Nice as a 23-year-old in 2002, Casar was hailed as the next great French prospect for the general classification at the Tour de France. While Casar has enjoyed success in July, including a trio of stage wins, however, his highest overall finish at the Tour was 11th in 2009.
Asked by Ouest France if he would have been a champion had there been no doping in the peloton, Casar said that there was no way of knowing.
“We can’t know what might have happened in other circumstances. When a whole team is doped, it can control or block a race, it can pull back breakaways,” Casar said. “Maybe I sometimes even benefited from their work without knowing it. In effect, everything was falsified. One of the terrible things about doping is that we don’t know who really was good and who wasn’t.”
Casar turned professional in 2000, and took his fledging steps in the peloton at the very height of the Lance Armstrong era. Such was the culture of the time, Casar maintains that it was all but impossible for a neo-professional to compete at the highest level.
“Things are much better now, because when riders turn professional, they can win races,” Casar said. “Me, I didn’t have that. At the beginning of my career, I simply thought that I wasn’t up to it. During my first Flèche Wallonne, I took a real kicking. That evening, my directeur sportif sent me home, telling me that it would have been pointless for me to do Liège-Bastogne-Liège the following Sunday. At that moment, I thought I’d do two years as a pro and then stop. There didn’t seem to be anything to be done…”
Casar is critical of the UCI’s reaction to Armstrong’s doping, as outlined in the USADA reasoned decision on the matter, and is frustrated that cycling’s consequent loss of credibility is something that affects all riders.
“What shocked me the most was to discover to what extent Armstrong and his teammates were perhaps protected by the powers that be,” he said. “I find that more serious than the cheating in itself. Frankly, you can see that at the UCI, they did the minimum to try to stop him. Cycling has lost all its credibility. Whether you’re honest or not, nobody believes in us anymore.”