I do despair that the sport will ever clean itself up when the rewards of stealing are greater than riding clean. If that remains the case, the temptation for those with no morals will always be too great. Lyne summed it up quite nicely with a statement that won her few plaudits but was entirely right. Lyne stated: “Jeanson won whilst I came second. Whilst I earned $80,000 in a couple of years at the peak of my career, Jeanson was making $400,000 per year. Now she has “confessed” and this is newsworthy – they are going to make a film and Jeanson who cheated, will steal from others for a second time, telling the tale of how she robbed and lied.”
I can’t help thinking that the cheats win on the way up and the way down.
Tyler Hamilton will make more money from his book describing how he cheated than Bessette or I will make in all our years of our honest labour. The situation requires the very basics of morality. Please don’t reward people like Hamilton with money. That is the last thing he needs. Donate his literary prize and subsequent earnings from such publications to a charity. There are many places infinitely more deserving than the filthy hands of Hamilton. I am happy to offer some ideas!
It is obvious that this issue is wider than the remit of the sporting governing bodies. It is no modest “sporting fraud”. Wider society has to act.
I have ridden through some of the darkest days of the sport in terms of corruption by the cheats and liars. I cannot change the era or time that I am born into. I am very proud that I have met the temptations head on and have not wavered in my honesty or sold my ideals. I have always ridden true to myself and placed my morals beyond a need to win. I have ridden clean throughout my career. In a sport so tainted, this has generated many negative consequences. From the single example above; my team-mate and myself not getting paid for the rest of the year, after the Tour de France, being simple evidence. I am so very fortunate to have been able to have won clean. Perhaps a major factor is that the races are short – only 3 hours long! This is perhaps a hard and unpopular fact that the male side may need to embrace if it is genuine about wanting to clean itself up.
I have been robbed by drug cheats, but I am fortunate, I am here before you with more in my basket than the 12 year old dreamed of. But for many genuine people out there who do ride clean; people with morals, many of these people have had to leave the sport with nothing after a lifetime of hard work - some going through horrific financial turmoil. When Lance “cries” on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward – just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.
Protection for women riders
Whilst the UCI have spent the past 10 years trying to defend the indefensible Armstrong position, with time wasting actions such as suing Paul Kimage for liable after Kimage dared to bring their "good name" into disrepute; whilst they have been so engrossed trying to find receipts for the equipment they bought after Lance made donations to them and suing Floyd Landis after he blew the whistle and holding press conferences calling Landis a liar; Whilst they have been so busy with all these "priorities", the women's road sport, that looked so promising in 2002 when I turned professional, has crumbled.
There are so many ways in which the UCI could support the sport for women, but instead they have acted, regardless of their intent, in a way that has caused the sport to lose events. Gone are the women's Milan San Remo, the Amstel Gold Race, Tour de L'Aude, Tour Midi Pyrenees, and Tour Castel de Leon. No HP tour in America. No Tours in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Instead of a 2 week Tour de France we have nothing. Today, in January, the major race in the women’s calendar this year, the one from which I have the pink tee-shirt, has no organizer and no route.
With sponsors and support lost, the riders in the sport are exposed and vulnerable in so many ways. Many riders receive just token reward or rewards paid out in a capricious and unfair way. Some receive nothing. Then for those of us fortunate to be towards the top of the spectrum, those with a contract - too often, that piece of paper given to us is a joke. In 11 years of professional riding I have had to take 4 teams to court to achieve settlement against a straight forward contract to get my wages owed to me. I have won every time, but this is incredibly abrasive and exhausting in so many ways.
This year, as I prepared for the defence of my Olympic title, I received no wages after March. The manager of the team boasted to the girls that he was not going to pay us and that he would employ the very best Italian lawyers to prevent us being paid! He stated that next year – he would have his team riders chase us down in every race. Yes, there is a taboo about revealing what really goes on. Riders move teams. Teams find new riders trying to make a start in cycling with no idea of what is out there or what tricks the managers can get up to. Tales go round that certain riders are "difficult". I certainly was. The stories are invented. Riders are labeled as uncooperative, selfish, not team players – it must be the case, rider A has been in the sport 4 years and has moved teams each year. Novices and those new to the sport are encouraged to ride against certain riders.
At the end of this season I visited my erstwhile Mexican team-mate, Giuse who left Europe half way through the season because her wages had not been paid. She has a daughter. How is she meant to pay for food for herself and her girl?
To employ a "cleaner" or a youngster to wash up at a bar, an employer must pay a minimum wage. The UCI Road Commission headed by British Cycling's Brian Cookson has stated that whilst a minimum wage is
required for all male professionals, female riders do not deserve this. Only as recently as this October the commission rejected this simple request. There are two aspects of this case. One is straightforward and moral. Society cannot continue to leave all those girls in so vulnerable a position. A simple bar placed at the entry point for the sport would dispel all manner of problems. Are these girls that race for a living an underclass? They are somehow a sub-race not worthy of the most basic protection we afford the rest of our citizens in whatever employment they find themselves. Please understand, this is not about money, the main driver is the protection that will come from the placement of an absolute starting point for payment. The second factor is the one that demolishes the argument that it is sport; surely they are doing it for fun? Well what makes it different for men then? Why is there a minimum wage put in place for male riders? It protects them from being taken advantage of. Why are women not worthy of that same protection?
Women’s cycling has declined through each year of my career. It is not a sustainable business model. Yes new races have been added to the calendar but loss exceeds growth. Look at the Giro – whilst team Sky plot their team for both the Tour and the Giro, the girls don’t even know what part of Italy the race will take place in! This is not a time for “tweaking” or “minor correction”. Whilst so much time, energy and resource has been spent defending and analyzing the indefensible, from a woman’s perspective, Rome has quietly burned down. Radical and significant change is needed and the enforcement of a minimum wage is the foundation stone. I know teams will go out of existence as a result. The first hand experiences of many of those people I value and respect, along with my own experiences, mean that the loss of many of these teams will not be mourned. There will be then proper reward and proper cognizance of those that try and do it right. The good teams left will rightly be celebrated. And that is how it should be.