The start of Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday provided the perfect setting and illustration of cycling's continuing struggle to accept and deal with its past as teams and riders gathered less than 24 hours after news broke of Johan Bruyneel's ten-year ban for his part in US Postal’s doping programme.
The team buses that lined the centre of Bastogne were awash with former colleagues and riders who worked with the Belgian, however opinions differed over Bruyneel’s sentence, while there were those that refused to even discuss the matter.
One team manager who was willing to speak with clarity was Matt White. The Australian who is the manager of Orica-GreenEDGE served a six-month ban last year after he admitted to doping during his own career. White was briefly fired by Orica but reinstated last year. He remains the only Australian to serve a ban in the fall out from the USADA investigation and he too rode for Bruyneel at US Postal.
“It's an interesting decision. Ten years, life, there have been a few different sentences handed out that I feel are strange. Is it fair? Well, is what Johan is accused of true, yes it is. Is if fair that a couple of people in a generation of cycling get suspended though?”
White was referring the length of bans handed out since the Reasoned Decision was made public in October 2012. Lance Armstrong, who chose not to fight USADA's charges but admitted to doping at a later date, was handed a life-time ban. Several of those that testified against him, including George Hincapie, Tom Danielson, Michael Barry and Christian Vande Velde were given six-month bans.
Although few would extend much in the way of sympathy towards Bruyneel and Armstrong, White made it clear that “the longer the USADA investigation goes on it just proves that it was all about bringing down one team and one group of people.”
"Now that Lance and Johan have been brought down those people just want to forget about it. People just want to forget about it."
White rode for several teams in his career including Cofidis and Vini Caldirola. When asked if he believed if Bruyneel was running a programme different or worse than the teams around him, he paused before telling Cyclingnews, "I don't believe so but look at the history of the teams in that period who didn't have a doping scandal or organised doping? There have been a couple of people sanctioned and removed from the sport and there are still other people hiding under their rocks."
"Most people still have something to hide," he said, when asked if he understood by some people at the start in Flèche may have been unwilling to condemn Bruyneel or pass any judgement at all.
"The whole truth in that period hasn't been flushed out. I think the opportunity for the sport to clean the slate was last year but now it's past and the eight year statute has past for most people."
"I can see with the UCI how going through person by person of people still in cycling and removing them from the sport, might kill the sport. The main thing is that the sport has moved on and we are in a different place now. By bringing Lance and Johan down has that changed the sport or put it in a better place? No."
"I'm happy with the decision that I made and that was to tell the truth. There an opportunity missed for the sport though."
At the BMC bus Jim Ochowicz also refused to be drawn on Bruyneel's ban. The American has been in cycling for decades and has run teams on and off since the 1980s, including the team Armstrong turned professional with in 1993, Motorola. He has always denied doping accusations, although Armstrong has already admitted that he was doping during his first years in Europe.
Before even facing a question Ochowicz complained to Cyclingnews about a story that appeared on the website on Tuesday that mentioned former rider Alessandro Ballan. The Italian was fired from the team after he was handed a two-year ban for doping. Ochowicz told Cyclingnews that if they continued to mention Ballan in such a manner they would lose access with the team.
When asked about Bruyneel, Ochowicz said, "I have no opinion. That's Johan's business. I answered your question. What's the second question? I'm not going to answer any questions about Johan Bruyneel."
Marc Sergeant, team manger of Lotto Belisol also refused to give his own opinion, only telling Cyclingnews that, "I have my opinion but I don't want to explain it. It's not my job to decide what happens with Johan Bruyneel."
Across from Lotto's stable sat the Garmin-Sharp team bus. Ryder Hesjedal, who signed with Bruyneel and rode for two years under him, was unavailable for comment. That's been the status quo for several months with the American team shielding their Canadian from questions relating to anything but his racing programme since his own doping confession from last year. This is due to USADA's ongoing investigations. In an email to Cyclingnews earlier this year USADA stated that "we have asked that as a potential witness, at this time, Ryder limit what he publicly discusses about the information he has provided us."
Hesjedal's director sportif, Johnny Weltz, would talk. Weltz managed US Postal until Bruyneel replaced him at the start of 1999. The former ONCE rider told Cyclingnews that, "Bruyneel made a benefit, he took a risk and it didn't work so he's been punished for it."
"He did something wrong and if you take the risk you know the consequences. Some people took things further than others. I don't know all the story but they were a power in the sport for many years so it's proven as to what they were part of."
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