independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Nicolas Roche: ‘If you dope, don’t blame anyone else. It’s your choice. Admit it’

Although I'm packing my bags for a holiday today and I've better things to be doing than reading about another doping story in cycling, I couldn't really ignore this one.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report into Lance Armstrong and his former US Postal team is probably going to turn out to be the biggest scandal in the history of sport.

Having already banned Armstrong from competition and taken all seven Tour de France titles off him, USADA made public their 1,000-page dossier of evidence and suspended 11 of Armstrong's former team-mates.

What I hate about guys who are caught like this is that, first, it takes them 10 years to admit they doped and, second, they say they only did it because everybody did it and they did it to keep up. That's bulls**t. It's not true and it's not fair to the riders that didn't dope and never will dope.

While I wasn't really around the pro peloton during those early Armstrong years and maybe don't know what it was like, my team-mate at Ag2r-La Mondiale, Seb Hinault, was and he still races today, clean. Seb summed it up in a tweet yesterday saying: "These guys make me laugh, saying doping is global. It was only global in their team".

It p****s me off that eight or 10 years later, after winning the prize money, buying the big houses and the flashy cars, they decide to come clean when they're cornered into it and then still blame somebody else. If you dope, don't blame anyone else. It's your choice. Admit it.

If you look at all the riders recently who have been caught and admitted doping, some people are saying it's great that these riders are helping the sport. But saying, 'I'm sorry, I was doping from this year to that year but I'm not going to do it again and I'm cleaner than clean... I'm helping anti-doping because I talk to kids about it,' or whatever, that's a load of bull. That's not helping anti-doping.

Helping anti-doping is saying. 'Okay I doped. I got it from this doctor. These are the riders that I met in the waiting room. This is how it's done. These are the new products that are in the peloton that are not yet detectable. These are the products that we use to mask the ones that are detectable. This product does this, this product does that. This is how we beat the test.' That's helping anti-doping.

I know for a fact that doped riders have changed the outcome of races I've been in, robbing me and other clean riders of high placings and even victories. Sometimes even a blind man can see something strange is going on. It might not even be at the finish, it could be a decision to bring back the break by a team leader keen for a stage win or an attack on a steep mountain, when you're at the end of your tether and can only watch as someone dances away up the climb into the distance.

There have been loads of instances where riders have surprised me in races over the years, pulling out far better rides than they've previously been capable of. Thankfully most of them were later caught, but that was no good to me at the time.

One of the ones that stands out is Ezequiel Mosquera in the 2010 Vuelta. I remember thinking at the time: 'How the hell can this guy, who never did anything, compete with Vincenzo Nibali for the overall at the Vuelta?' I couldn't write about, because nothing was proven, but when, and if, these guys are caught and banned I get phone calls asking for my opinion.

But my opinion is not going to change anything. What's going to happen now? Even if they take seven Tours de France off Armstrong it's not going to change my career. Do I just hope for the best and hope the cheats are chased out sooner or later so that the clean riders have a better chance?

While Michael Barry and others have already retired, last night David Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie and Tom Danielson only got six-month bans. That will see them back racing in the spring. They'll miss two races. That's no good. Why only six months? There is a lot to be done. The bans for doping are not long enough. Four years should be the minimum.

I think there are too many bodies involved in testing riders and then deciding bans between the national federations, the UCI and the various anti-doping bodies. It's a pity it took eight years to resolve the problem and I hope people realise that cycling has changed since then.

The biological passport is the best thing that's happened in the sport and the testing in cycling does work and still catches people. Earlier this week I got a text telling me that a team-mate of mine, Steve Houanard, had tested positive for EPO. My immediate thoughts were unprintable in this diary.

I haven't really seen much of Houanard since riding with him at the Vuelta in 2011 but I know that Ag2r were not going to renew his contract at the end of this year. He obviously tried to save his career by taking EPO in the hope of getting a result at the end of the season but his completely ridiculous behaviour has now caused huge problems for the whole team and its staff.

Even though I'm changing teams next year, I hope Ag2r will be able to continue because I know from my four years with the team that they race clean and the livelihoods of everyone there shouldn't be destroyed by the actions of one idiot.

I do think there are still guys doping in cycling and obviously they are making it through without being caught. But people in every job will find a way to take a shortcut. Fortunately not everyone does it but there is always someone willing to cheat to get ahead.

Today we are still catching riders like Houanard and others and I'm happy as long as they keep catching guys. I think the day they don't find any positive results we will have a problem. The thing that angers me is that people think cycling is the ugly duckling and all the other sports are full of superheroes.

Don't think for a minute it's not happening in soccer, rugby, athletics, tennis, golf and every other sport. You can't detect the drugs if you don't do the tests for those drugs.

Do I think you can win the Tour de France without doping? I hope so. If you look back over the last 10 years, the record isn't great but I believe in Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins, the last two winners.

Last Saturday, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of riders who turned up for my sportive ride in Tayto Park. I was impressed that most of them were people that had never raced before and were there to enjoy a spin in the sunshine. There were lots of families there with young kids and I was delighted to be able to sign a few autographs and pose for a few photos.

To those young people, who are maybe thinking of taking up cycling as a sport, and to their parents who may be wary of letting them, my message is this -- it is possible to race and win professional races clean.

Myself and the majority of other pro riders are doing that. Yesterday my cousin Dan Martin was second in a WorldTour race in Beijing and there are plenty of clean riders winning races at the very highest level.

The net is getting tighter, and I encourage you to keep enjoying the bike, take up racing if you want to and hopefully, I will see some of you guys in the pro peloton in years to come.

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