Roche defends cycling director who worked with Lance Armstrong
STEPHEN Roche has cautioned against finding people "guilty through association" in the wake of the United States Anti-doping Agency's scathing reporting into Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong refused to co-operate with USADA, who published a 1,000-page report last week which concluded the Texan and his United States Postal Service team ran "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".
Team Sky, home of Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, have reiterated their zero-tolerance stance and will sever ties with anyone with a history of doping.
Team Sky sports director Sean Yates worked closely with Armstrong earlier in his career, but denies any wrongdoing.
Roche, the 1987 Tour de France champion and a friend of Yates, insists the Briton should not be reprimanded just because he was friends with Armstrong - whose seven Tour wins from 1999 to 2005 were fuelled by performance-enhancing drugs, according to USADA.
"Is everybody guilty through association?" asked the Irishman.
"In that case, get rid of everybody. Wipe out half the peloton, half the directeur sportifs, half the managers, half the UCI and then start from scratch.
"I'd understand, but I don't think it's really fair. It's a bit radical to tear things up like that.
"Sean has been a great part of Sky. He's been a great asset to cycling.
"I think it's unfortunate if he loses his job now because of this.
"There are others in the same situation and I don't know if this is the right way to tackle the problem."
Roche is uncertain if riders signing a written policy is the correct way to approach the issue, but Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford is sticking by the plan.
Roche said: "Cycling has a history. I'm not quite sure everyone will be telling the truth if they do sign, not today. In five or six years' time, yes.
"Any rider that's more than three or four years a pro might have difficulty signing it."
Like Brailsford, who is keen to make a clear distinction between the past and the present, Roche is frustrated all the good happening in the sport has been overshadowed by the recent revelations.
Roche added: "Cycling has come along a lot since 1999. Maybe it got worse before getting better in the early 2000s, but definitely in 2010, 2011, 2012, even though (Alberto) Contador had his problems, cycling has come on an awful lot.
"Whatever mischief was going on then could never happen today.
"The proof the system's working is that a guy like Bradley Wiggins has come along and he's suspected of being clean, which is brilliant, and he's come out and won the Tour de France."
The scandal has torn a hole through the heart, and to the very top, of the sport.
Hein Verbruggen, the International Cycling Union's honorary president, today dismissed an article in which he appears to defend Lance Armstrong as "misleading".
Dutchman Verbruggen was president of the UCI during Armstrong's run of success and as recently as last year insisted seven-times Tour de France winner had "never, never, never" doped. The 71-year-old is still honorary president and a member of the UCI's management committee.
Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf today reported Verbruggen saying: "Lance Armstrong has never tested positive, even by USADA. There is no trace of evidence."
Verbruggen responded in a statement issued by the UCI.
"I vehemently protest against the article in De Telegraaf," he said.
"That article wrongly suggests that I would have stated that notwithstanding the USADA file there is no evidence against Lance Armstrong.
"I made no statement at all on this subject. The heading above the article is absolutely wrong and misleading."
Verbruggen insisted his comments were made by text message in reference to a legal dispute involving Armstrong and in which evidence was given by Kathy LeMond, wife of three-time Tour champion Greg LeMond.
Verbruggen added: "While giving the impression that it is about a complete interview I simply sent some SMS to these two gentlemen (journalists) giving a reaction on Ms LeMond's statement that a sum of money had been paid in order to cover up a positive test of Lance Armstrong.
"My reaction was strictly limited to the fact that Lance Armstrong was never found positive by the anti-doping laboratories, that there was no positive test and that there was nothing to be covered up.
"I completely distance myself from the article in De Telegraaf and in any other medium that would use it."
Meanwhile, Johan Bruyneel, who was team director of the US Postal team during the Armstrong era, criticised USADA as he continues to protest his innocence and fight charges.
"While I am still stunned that USADA chose to breach the confidentiality of the proceedings it initiated against me, I shall nevertheless not allow myself to be reduced to such tactics," Bruyneel wrote on his website, www.johanbruyneel.com.