Like it or not, the sport of cycling is still viewed by many with suspicion created by several cheating scandals in recent years - most notably the determination that all of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France victories and his Olympic performance were the result of performance-enhancing drugs. As 128 riders and 16 teams spend eight days racing through California, it's not unreasonable to ask how many of them are competing with an unfair advantage.
During the riders' press conference leading up to the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California, Jens Voigt of Trek Factory Racing talked about the new generation of riders. He says generations of cheating have given way to a clean sport.
"It's no secret, yes? We had some hard times and some difficult years," he says. "There was a point of all that and we are on the way up," he says. "The new, younger generation - they have been totally grown up in a new way and have a totally different perspective on it (doping) and a different opinion towards it," he says.
"So, I think everybody by now is aware of the fact that doping is a no go. And I strongly hope and I strongly believe that the fans also realize that we did change our sport and that they still support us because they know we're doing the right thing and going the right direction."
Even though previous generations have said the same thing while continuing to cheat, Voigt says the cloud of suspicion over this generation is unfair. He says the cloud of suspicion will pass...if the riders stay clean and if people stop dredging up the past.
"What we don't need is another 50 books coming out with what somebody did five years, and ten years and eight years and eight-and-a-half years ago...we just don't need any more of them."
But, it's worth noting that Voigt wrote on his blog with bicycle.com in 2010 that he has thought several times the sport would clean up its act. The 1998 Tour de France was marred by the discovery of performance-enhancing drugs used by the Festina team. He mentioned another scandal in 2006 with Operación Puerto. In the same year, Floyd Landis won the Tour de France, but failed a drug test.
Landis eventually admitted to doping and named Lance Armstrong as one of his doping partners. Landis' statements eventually led to the most decorated rider ever being unmasked as a common cheat.
Given the "here-we-go-again" looks on the faces of his rivals as the doping question was posed at this week's press conference, it would appear that all hope Voigt is finally right.
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