Dubai: Team Saxo-Tinkoff’s general manager Bjarne Riis believes cycling is “back on track” after US cyclist Lance Armstrong was handed a life ban and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year.
Cycling was left in ruins upon the admission that its poster-boy had, despite countless previous denials, been involved in what the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA) called: “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that the sport has ever seen.”
But Danish cyclist turned manager Riis, 48, also a tainted former Tour de France winner who has himself been through a doping scandal, believes that the culture within the sport has now changed.
Riis still has an asterisk alongside his 1996 Tour de France win after admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs to win. And, although he’s now managing Alberto Contador’s team, another cyclist to have been stripped of a Tour win for alleged doping, Riis insists the past is history.
“There has been a [doping] culture in cycling. We can’t run away from that,” said Riis. “But the culture has changed and this is not the cycling we have today. It’s a culture people want to change and that’s important.
“For me it’s in the past. You can’t change history. Despite all that’s going on, cycling has learnt a lot and there’s a willingness that everyone in cycling wants to change and that is what’s going on. It’s important to now focus on the future.”
Riis added: “There’s a lot of stuff going on at the moment, but that’s old stuff. Cycling is on the right track and we need to have patience and people need to believe in it.
“Cycling is doing a lot [to combat doping]. I definitely believe the sport has been pretty clean the last few years and we are on the right path going forward.”
Of Contador’s return to cycling after a six month ban for testing positive for traces of steroids in 2010, something Contador insists came from eating contaminated meat, Riis said: “It’s important he’s back racing on the highest level. What we focus on now is that he’s here and that he can race.
“You don’t get anywhere with bitterness. I think you have to focus on the future.”