Very few words have been said in defence of Lance Armstrong in recent days, but his former domestique José Luis Rubiera has declared that he still views the Texan as the greatest rider of his era. Speaking to El Diario de Mallorca, Rubiera, who rode with Armstrong at US Postal, Discovery Channel, Astana and RadioShack, also said that he never saw the American take banned products and eulogised the ability of controversy-mired coach Michele Ferrari, calling him “the best coach there is”.
Asked about the accusations laid against Armstrong and the US Postal team in the USADA dossier, Rubiera responded, “I'm very relaxed about it. They were very happy years for me. For all those who competed in that era, or for the immense majority at least, Armstrong was the best. There were great riders who were close to him such as [Jan] Ullrich, [Ivan] Basso and [Alex] Zülle, but he was undoubtedly the best and he showed that by winning the Tour seven times.”
Speaking specifically about doping, Rubiera said, “I never saw him dope. The regulations are evolving and you have to judge events in each era according to their context. I think that you have to look to the future and also judge the sporting quality of a person like Armstrong.”
Rubiera did have some words of criticism, but they were directed not at his former team leader but at those who have confessed to past misdemeanours. “They are acting out of personal interest. They recognise that they have done something and by collaborating they are able to reduce the penalty they receive.
“They are trying to pay for what they have done with a six-month suspension when others have had to have a two-year ban. If they are so sorry about what they have done and want to save cycling, they ought to give the money they’ve earned to the grassroots of the sport,” said the Spaniard.
Rubiera added that by its very nature professional cycling is not a healthy sport. “Don’t let the UCI tell me that they are concerned about our health when we have to ride in 45-degree [Celsius] temperatures up the Tourmalet after riding 220km the day before and with another 200km to follow the day after. That’s not healthy,” he said.
Rubiera acknowledged that he had been advised by Michele Ferrari in the past, and has no reason to hide the fact. “He was and is the best coach. Training with him had its price. I worked with him for two years and learned a lot about training and diet, but I decided to leave him because it seemed very expensive,” said Rubiera.
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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