Stuart O’Grady (AFP)
Doping whistleblower extraordinaire Tyler Hamilton has this week spoken out about the need for more people to clear the skeletons from their closet if cycling wants to draw a line under its murky past.
In doing so, Hamilton - who himself for so many years effectively denied the existence of air in his lungs let alone any whistles to blow - leapt to the defence of Australia's Stuart O'Grady, who rather comfily waited until he had retired from the sport before admitting to the "one time" he went off the rails and flirted with EPO (ahead of the 1998 Tour de France which, incidentally, saw him win a stage and wear the yellow jersey for three stages).
"We need more of the answers from the past," Hamilton told an audience in Perth, Australia, while promoting his book The Secret Race (reviewed by Blazin' Saddles here).
"We need more people to speak up," the former US Postal and Phonak rider said. "We need more people like Stuart O'Grady to come forward. There are a lot of skeletons inside the closet and we haven't heard enough."
While some teams such as Sky are pursuing a staunch policy of zero tolerance, Hamilton believes that "some sort of truth and reconciliation program is the only answer," echoing the sentiment he expressed to Saddles in person earlier in the year that, "if people are telling the truth they shouldn't be penalised for it."
By the same token, if people are telling the truth but only at a time which suits them best, and once their arms have been effectively forced anyway, then surely they should not be lauded for their honesty.
When Saddles and Hamilton met back in April, the affable American openly admitted that he probably wouldn't have come out of the EPO closet had he not been forced into coming clean by the US Federal Court.
"I had many opportunities to tell the truth," he said. "But I waited until the last minute when I was fully backed up in the corner."
Indeed, O'Grady's doping confession three days after the completion of his 17th and last Tour de France only came once the Australian veteran's name was included in a French Senate report on doping during the '98 Tour. Like Hamilton, O'Grady waited until the chips were down, until he had conveniently bade farewell to the sport and until the personal damage could be most effectively capped before he laid it out thick.
And even then, unlike Hamilton's warts-and-all book, O'Grady didn't exactly admit to much.
The 40-year-old effectively went down the Bill Clinton route and admitted to smoking just the once, but not liking the flavour, of coughing when inhaling, and of never trying it again. That's to say, no smoking at all during his time at Bjarne Riis' CSC when O'Grady, a sprinter by trade, was frequently seen at the front of the peloton setting a savage pace up fierce climbs for his team leaders; or when he rode to an emphatic Paris-Roubaix victory in 2007.
As Hamilton said in Perth: "Not only do you have selfish reasons for not telling the truth, but you feel like you're protecting your family's name and the friends [who] believe in you."
This generalisation is all very well - until you hear of the stories of many of cycling's most celebrated "family men" - people who will pose with their wives and tweet about their children, but then invite notorious cycling groupie girls into their hotel rooms in Paris after three hard weeks on the road...
Hamilton is probably right though - some kind of truth and reconciliation is probably the only way to take the sport forward and to get rid of the bad apples festering besides the tree and causing the rot to set in.
Reconciliation is, of course, something that Lance Armstrong advocates. In fact, it's something that all snared dopers would support because it eases their conscience and gives them a sense of belonging.
Look at the thoughts of convicted doper Jorg Jaksche, who this week came out in support of Erik Zabel, the former sprinter who initially admitted (in a tearful press conference back in 2007) only to have taken EPO during the 1996 Tour, but who has since been found - like O'Grady - to have failed a test for the same substance in the 1998 Tour.
Jaksche believes that Zabel, who has been suspended from his coaching role at Katusha by none other than Viatcheslav Ekimov (the irony!), should be allowed to keep his job - just like Hamilton believed that Sky were wrong to dismiss Bobby Julich last year. The case of Matt White at GreenEdge also comes to mind.
The essential problem with a whistleblowing-encouraging amnesty is that not only would it be acutely embarrassing for everyone involved in cycling - from riders up to the authorities - it would also be skewered by a load of half-truths. As we have seen with Armstrong, Zabel and perhaps others, riders will only be prepared to come out with the bare minimum - and certainly only at a time which suits them best.
As such, we can expect the retrospective omerta to continue from many until the lingering cohorts of riders from O'Grady's generation also hang up their lycra. O'Grady's confession came in a testing time for Australian sport, what with Aussie Rules club Essendon and rugby league outfit Cronulla both under a performance-enhancing spotlight. But there are other Aussies (and of course, not just Aussies) riding in the pro peloton now who may be forced into a similar corner once their new (and final) lucrative contracts run down.
Look at the example of Jens Voigt, who has always vehemently denied doping. People's favourite Voigt has just signed on for one final swansong at the new Trek cycling team and - who knows? - may draw level with O'Grady and George Hincapie's record of 17 career Tours next summer.
Hamilton himself has gone on record that Voigt's denial that doping went on at CSC during their (and O'Grady's) time together was like "spitting in my face" and "the most ridiculous thing I read in my life". Who's to know what ridiculous things we may be reading this time in a year.
Morton moustache is Utah-ly ridiculous
Garmin-Sharp's Lachlan Morton channelled his inner Errol Flynn to become the latest rider in the peloton to sport a moustache this week during the Tour of Utah. Eschewing the bushiness of a Degenkolb, Serpa or Cousin, the Australian youngster seems to have gone for a pencil moustache - possibly a first for the current peloton.
The caddish lip quiff was on display as 21-year-old Morton rode to his maiden professional win in stage three of the American race, which is proving quite a success for Australia.
Indeed, things may not be going so well on the cricket/rugby pitch (or any sports arena, for that matter) but Australian cycling is enjoying something of a boom in Utah. After three days of racing, both Michael Matthews (GreenEdge) and now Morton have not only picked up debut stage wins, but have snared the leader's yellow jersey too.
Throw in GreenEdge's overall win in Poland for Peter Weening and the Burgos stage win for Jens Keukeleire and things are on the up Down Under after the O'Grady scandal broke following the Tour.
Peloton fraternity goes from strength to strength
Is there any professional sport in the world which boasts more sets of brothers in its top flight than cycling? Saddles asks the question in the light of news that Nairo Quintana will be joined at Movistar next season by his younger brother, Dayer.
The Quintanas will not be alone in the peloton, which also boasts the following sets of brothers: Schlecks, Izaguirres, Gilberts, Velitses, Meyers, Downings, Van Poppels, Ludvigssons, Herradas, Sagans, Iglinskys, Feillus, Vanenderts, Chavanels, Sulzbergers...
It certainly beats football's Neville brothers and crickets Waughs... can you name any more?