Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ottawa cyclist: Armstrong’s doping scandal tarnishes sport

By CHRIS DUDERSTADT, Herald Staff Writer | 1/18/2013

Ottawans had mixed reactions this week as seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong confessed about blood doping and using performance enhancing drugs to Oprah Winfrey on her network Thursday and Friday.

But one local cycling enthusiast was far from the fence on the admission.

Ottawans had mixed reactions this week as seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong confessed about blood doping and using performance enhancing drugs to Oprah Winfrey on her network Thursday and Friday.

But one local cycling enthusiast was far from the fence on the admission.

“What I said in my mind is, ‘When the lights turn on, the roaches go scattering,’” Robert Giacin, Ottawa, said about the world’s most renowned cyclist coming clean. “I just think he has run out of places to hide. He’s had too many accusations against him. I’ve been suspicious of him most of this time, but I’ve been reserving my comments until most recently.”

Giacin has been cycling since the mid-1980s and has competed both nationally and internationally.

“In 1987, I set the cycling record across the state of Illinois, from the southern tip of Illinois to the Wisconsin border,” Giacin said. “It was 435 miles in 30 hours. The record has been broken, but I’m considered as one of the pioneers of the sport. I’ve got respect in the U.S. and over in Europe in the cycling field and in South America.”

Giacin said he does not think that having cancer was a valid excuse for Armstrong to use PEDs and said it is unfortunate that LIVEstrong, an organization developed by Armstrong to help those affected by the disease, is suffering because of his actions.

“If you go to my Facebook page, you’ll see an illustration I created where I took the yellow LIVEstrong wristbands and put black and red on there,” Giacin said. “The red (was) for the part of blood doping he did and the black for all of his bullying and lies and everything ... just the tarnishing of honesty. I made a patchwork on it and instead of it saying LIVEstrong, it said LIVEwrong.”

Despite LIVEstrong taking a hit with Armstrong as the face of the organization, Giacin still has found other ways to support the fight against cancer within the Ottawa community.

“While the particular purpose of LIVEstrong is to help and inspire those who suffer from cancer, that might have been good, but the man behind it unfortunately was living a double life,” Giacin said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people are suffering because of it. I myself have done as much as I can to support the Franklin County Cancer Foundation, and I won’t stop doing it. It wasn’t because of Lance Armstrong that I did it.”

Kathy Niehoff, a co-founder of the FCCF, did not watch Armstrong’s interview with Winfrey, but offered a different outlook on the situation.

“I wasn’t upset with him,” Niehoff said. “I didn’t care that he did it, if it was something that would make his life easier while he was battling cancer. I didn’t care. I think there are a lot worse things going on in the world than that. I think they are really making a big issue out of it.”

Ottawa High School teacher Clayton Broyles commutes to and from work on his bicycle and shared Niehoff’s opinion about there being bigger concerns in society than Armstrong’s announcement.

“There are probably dozens of other things going on in the world that are more important than this to pay attention to,” Broyles said. “I don’t know exactly what blood doping is and why it’s illegal. I think that sometimes some practices that give athletes advantages are accepted and others are not and I’m not sure what the reasoning is. Like having a knee replaced with something made out of plastic or steel.”

Broyles indicated that he did have an interest in how Armstrong fared in the Tour de France competitions following his comeback from cancer, but has never been a avid fan of the sport of cycling. He still thinks, however, that Armstrong was in the wrong for using PEDs.

“If it was specifically against the rules of his professional cycling league, organization or whatever you want to call it, he should not have done it for competition — cancer or no,” Broyles said. “If he was doing it to combat cancer, that is one thing, but if it is against the rules, he should not have done it.”

Armstrong is far from the only cyclist who has admitted to blood doping and the use of performance enhancing drugs. PEDs have been associated with the sport dating back to the late 19th century when world champions Arthur Linton and Jimmy Michael both died suspiciously after trainer Choppy Warburton had been giving them supplements to boost their performances.

“It’s not just Lance,” Giacin said. “He’s just the most visual person of everyone right now. It’s about time that the idol of the sport be called out for who he really is. Sadly, it is going to make some people think that all cyclists dope, but they don’t all dope. Most of us race clean, but there are some of those out there that have ruined the impression of it.”

Before admitting in the interview with Winfrey that he had used PEDs, Armstrong had been criticized by former competitors and teammates for cheating, but he adamantly refuted their accusations. That led many of his fans, such as Ottawa native Tom Yahl, to believe him.

“I was sort of an Armstrong fan with him being an American and him winning so many Tour de France titles,” Yahl said. “I didn’t believe in the rumors when they first started circulating around from other cyclists and former teammates that he had been using the performance enhancing drugs. I just thought all of it was sour grapes. I read a few magazine articles about the witch hunt against Lance and still didn’t believe it was true.”

Yahl, an Ottawa city planner and codes officer, said he has enjoyed the hobby of mountain biking for the past 19 years. He did not have the opportunity to watch Armstrong’s interview live, but said he had one of his friends record it for him to watch this weekend or sometime next week. While Yahl said he recognizes Armstrong’s admittance is not a bright spot for the sport, he has been proactive in making sure the popularity of cycling will continue to rise in Ottawa.

“In terms of cycling in general, especially here in Ottawa, I’ve noticed that, in my 12th year here now, that there are a lot more people out riding bikes and making a lot more connections in the cycling community,” Yahl said. “I know a lot of folks that have started riding here in the past few years. Ottawa is really growing in terms of becoming a cycling community.”

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