Travis Tygart: Brian Cookson's election win "a huge victory for clean athletes"

USADA CEO reflects on cycling and doping a year after Armstrong Reasoned Decision

by Simon_MacMichael   October 12, 2013  

London 2012 Anti-Doping Laboratory (picture credit LOCOG)

Travis Tygart says that cycling is winning the war against the drugs cheats and that Brian Cookson’s victory over Pat McQuaid in the UCI presidential election as “a huge victory for clean riders.”

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) CEO was speaking to The Times [£] a year after his agency published its reasoned decision in the Lance Armstrong case.

The document outlined the evidence that led it to ban the Texan for life and strip him of results including those seven Tour de France victories.

“There is still more to do but we are now getting awfully close to dismantling the system that allowed this to happen,” said Tygart.

“Clean athletes have more of a chance in cycling to be successful than they ever have.”

The repercussions of the report, which was highly critical of the UCI’s role, continue to be felt and Cookson’s election manifesto contained a pledge to fully investigate the governing body’s role in the affair, including whether it helped cover up positive tests.

Tygart himself said that USADA had been “getting close” to holding McQuaid and others who led the UCI “accountable for their failure to uphold the Olympic values.”

He added that now Cookson was president of the UCI, “clean cyclists can have renewed hope that their rights will be upheld and a culture of integrity will be embraced.

“The fact that the president who oversaw the sport during this dirty, corrupt period is gone — I think this is a huge victory for clean athletes.”

“It has shown young riders that there is no one above the rules.”

Reflecting on the current state of cycling, he said: “Ultimately it’s the riders’ culture and they have to embrace it to keep it clean.

“There will always be a few who try to gain an unfair advantage, but right now, the majority have an opportunity to be successful, not to have to leave the sport, but to be in a position to win without having to cheat with dangerous performance-enhancing drugs. That is a significant cultural shift.”

He acknowledged that doping was rife in cycling long before Armstrong came along.

Witness statements included in the appendix to the USADA Reasoned Decision described how Armstrong was keen to discover the substances and methods that rivals were using.

“I can’t control the fact that our American cyclists entered a really dirty sporting culture, although they did Americanise it to a certain extent, made it more sophisticated, more professional, more successful when they were in it,” explained Tygart.

“But make no mistake, they walked into a culture that existed well before they arrived as the US Postal team. Also to change a deep-rooted culture of corrupt drug use takes time and there are a lot of influences that do not want change.”

He believes a corner has been turned in cycling and its relationship with doping, however.

“We have had an avalanche of athletes who have reached out to us — voluntarily wanting to help and give information so that their rights are protected.

“You didn’t have that before because you had a sports structure that condoned, or at minimum allowed it to happen.

“And when the sport itself allows it to happen, athletes who take individual stances have no chance,” he added.

USADA’s pursuit of Armstrong led to Tygart receiving death threats.

Last week, a Florida man who sent the USADA CEO an expletive-ridden rant in an email headed, “Nazi Tragic Tygart” avoided a potential five-year jail term by pleading guilty.

Retired doctor Gerrit Keats, aged 72, who was arrested and charged after an FBI investigation, will be sentenced in January after agreeing to probation in a plea bargain, reports the Associated Press.

A second man, Robert Hutchins of Utah, was reported earlier this month to have pleaded guilty to charges brought in relation to a threatening email he had sent Tygart, having been tracked down through the same FBI probe.