Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond has told a conference that the scourge of drugs has made cycling virtually unrecognisable from the sport within which he was a professional during the 1980s and 90s. He was also scathing about the legacy of notorious Italian doctor, Dr Michele Ferrari, and one of his most illustrious clients, Lance Armstrong.
Speaking at the 'Play The Game' conference which began Monday at Coventry University, UK, LeMond outlined his theories surrounding the detection of doping using power meters, biological parameters and analytic data before lambasting the current state of cycling in relation to drugs.
"What I've watched for the past 15 years has been almost robotic racing. I used to gasp for air and had to think about when I could take a sip of water – my sport drink – I'd try and time it for a flat section on the switchback of a climb," said LeMond. "[Now] I see people talking on the 'phone' [radio] riding a climb at the front of the Tour de France. For me it's surreal – I don't recognise the sport anymore."
LeMond's views on how to move forward in the fight against doping in cycling stirred plenty of interest when he spoke of them at a press conference during last year's Interbike convention. The 'Play The Game' gathering offered an audience more empathic to the possibilities in anti-doping, so it was here that the American began his speech.
"I've been to WADA and tried to figure out how to find a cure to what I would call a disease which is affecting cycling and a lot of other sports," he said. "It seems like there's an uphill battle to try and get people to listen and change things..."
He provided a brief outline of the physiology behind his theories. "On climbs... today with watt-measuring devices, you could literally look at someone's oxygen intake and estimate how many watts they could produce at their best. When there's a huge variation in the norm – statistically there's been huge variations in the past 15 years – without a drug control, without detecting a steroid, just with statistics and analytical data you could likely decide whether someone's cheating," he explained.
"I believe there's going to have to be a blending of all those methods to determine if people are doping."
It was the precursor for his most scathing comments, the likes of which were muted by Lance Armstrong at the Interbike press conference. And it didn't take long before LeMond's countryman was the focus of the discussion. LeMond's commentary on the Tour de France quickly lead to the only seven-time champion in the event's history. "At the moment I'm in litigation with the Trek Corporation – it's also going to be a litigation against another American Tour de France winner. Their [sic] claim is that I have just blasted off against Lance Armstrong."
"In eight years I've made four different comments – in 2007 I did two interviews – so in that time I've talked to six journalists and made very benign comments. The first one I said, 'I'm disappointed and devastated that Armstrong is seeing Dr Ferrari'. When I was racing in the early nineties, Dr Ferrari was known for one thing – he could make you go very fast, and it wasn't because he knew physiology," said LeMond.
The 47-year-old recalled meeting Ferrari in 1994. "I had an SRM meter and he looked down at me and said, 'What is that?' I said, 'It's a watt-measuring device'. He said, 'What do you need that for?' I said, 'So I can see if I'm progressing, when I should be recovering and when I should train again'... He had no concept of it.
"I realised this when talking to a physiologist friend of mine – one of the smartest in the world – I said, 'This guy really doesn't understand. He's really a haematologist and it's really not about the training.'"