Lance Armstrong: How it feels to lose faith in your favourite sport

Lance Armstrong fans celebrate his seventh Tour victory, 2005

Bitter, angry, disappointed. As a lifelong cycling fan, that's how I feel after Lance Armstrong's confession. But hopeful too that, maybe, a line can be drawn under the years of lies and deceit.

Imagine how you would feel if you discovered that there had been so much cheating at such a high level across the sport you love, that a decade's worth of results could no longer be relied upon.

What would you think if the sport could no longer say with any great certainty who had won the Premiership, or the World Cup?

That is effectively what has happened in cycling.

And as a dedicated fan, I can tell you that it feels like you have been betrayed. It is as if a good friend that you trusted and shared good times with turned out to be a big fat liar.

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Catherine Wynne

Unless you think what you are watching is believable, there is no joy in it - it comes down to a matter of trust”

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It hurts to hear Lance Armstrong, who won the sport's biggest race the Tour de France more times than any other rider, confessing that his seven victories between 1999 and 2005 came with the aid of performance enhancing drugs and blood transfusions.

Taking into account those who cheated before and after him, it means that only one rider who won the Tour de France between 1996 and 2010 is now thought to be clean - Spanish rider Carlos Sastre, who won in 2008.

The US Anti-Doping Agency report on Lance Armstrong, published in October last year, left little room for doubt. He had been a "serial cheat", it said, perpetrating a "massive fraud".

But now we have it in his own words. Ending years of vehement denials, he told Oprah Winfrey that it had all been "one big lie".

This was a man who had helped make cycling a global sport, rather than a primarily continental European one.

And it was during the Armstrong era that I first travelled to France to watch the Tour.

Lance Armstrong admits doping to win cycling titles

Friends were often bemused about why I would bother to make the effort and spend all that time at the roadside only to have a group of men on bikes ride by in a flash.

A bike race is a complex and exciting mix of strategy and strength. It is on the mountain stages where the three-week races are won and lost. As a spectator they are also the most rewarding as you get closest to the riders and can enjoy stunning scenery while you wait.

People pick their spots hours - and even days - before the race is due to arrive, setting out their picnics by the side of the road. In those pre-Twitter days, fans would gather around pocket radios, sharing news of attacks or crashes further down the road, and discussing teams' tactics.

Fans of the Tour de France

As anyone who goes to watch a match, a game or a race will know, there is a special atmosphere when like-minded people get together for a big event.

A stage of the Tour lasts all day, with the sense of excitement and anticipation building until the sound of helicopters signals the imminent arrival of the noisy, travelling beast that is a professional bike race. Then for an all-too-brief moment, you are part of it, urging the riders on. And it is thrilling.

In 2001 I saw Armstrong attack his now also disgraced main challenger, Jan Ullrich, on the slopes of Alpe d'Huez, one of the most famous and toughest climbs in the race.

Lance Armstrong breaks away on the Alpe d'Huez, 2001 Armstrong pulling away from Ullrich (in white) moments after "the look"

His successful move, and the way he nonchalantly looked back at former winner Ullrich as he rode away, became one of the Texan's most famous moments, dubbed "the look".

Armstrong's dominance in the long, hot arduous Alpine stages that year, earned him the headline L'Homme de Fer - Iron Man. I still have a framed copy of that front page, although it is no longer on the wall.

When last year's Usada report said his victories in those years were based on "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program the sport has ever seen", I felt like a fool.

I cancelled my Eurosport subscription - just two months after the immense pride I had felt as a cycling fan, when Bradley Wiggins became the first British winner of the Tour.

However, it was not what the Usada report revealed about Armstrong that I found most worrying. A cloud had hung over him and his achievements for years, so when it was finally officially confirmed it was hardly a shock.

Placard denouncing Lance Armstrong, 2009 Armstrong told Winfrey he was clean by 2009 - some fans disagreed

What has rocked my faith in the sport I had travelled across Europe to see a dozen times over the years, was the US Anti-Doping Agency's comments on how widespread cheating had been.

The Usada report talked about the "culture of silence" about drug use that had existed not only within Armstrong's team, but across the sport as a whole.

It even called for a Truth and Reconciliation Committee, where cyclists could come forward and admit the extent of their doping. This "may be the only way to truly dismantle the remaining system that allowed this 'EPO and Blood Doping Era' to flourish," the US anti-drugs authority said.

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The focus must now shift from what the cyclists did to the regulators, whose job it was to stop it happening”

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What added to the sense of humiliation was the suggestion that, of course, "everyone knew" that cycling was riddled with cheats.

It was true that individual riders had failed tests and were chucked out with regrettable regularity, but these were isolated cases, surely. Denial? Maybe.

But unless you think that what you are watching is believable, there is no joy in it and you may as well give up. It comes down to a matter of faith and trust.

There is still more to do. And it this is where the regulators come in.

Rabobank, the Dutch company who had sponsored a cycling team for 17 years, pulled out of the sport after the Usada report.

"Enough is enough", it said.

"We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport.

"And we are not confident that cycling will improve in the medium term."

Now that Armstrong's confessional session with Oprah Winfrey is over, the focus must shift from what the cyclists did to the regulators, whose job it was to stop it happening, through rigorous testing and controls.

He told Oprah he didn't think it was possible to win the Tour clean and that he didn't fear getting caught. That is not good enough.

There are some reasons for optimism, though.

I believe that the success of Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky in the past year shows that a rider can now win a three-week race clean, or "on bread and water" as the professionals call it.

Also, former dopers such as rider David Millar and Armstrong's former teammate Jonathan Vaughters, who now runs his own professional team, are working to change the culture which led them all to think they had no choice but to cheat to stand a chance.

But only when we know more about the role of the governing body, the International Cycling Union, in the deception that now characterises the Armstrong years, can we have complete faith in the sport.

A selection of your comments:

I have been a fan of Lance Armstrong for many years and I am deflated and deeply hurt that my faith in him has been ungrounded. I love cycling and took part in a cyling challenge in 2004 to cycle from London to Paris so I could be in Paris to see the end of the Tour. The excitement and history of being at the Champs Elysees was emotional and life changing. Life changing as in if things get trciky in life I used to think what would lance do? he would dig deep and plough on. I used to think about his races with 'The Pirate' and when I'm cycling, and pushing hard, I imagine I am racing in the mountains. His book It's Not About The Bike had me in tears and I've shared it with friends. I feel conned and duped. My hero was a shadow.

Nicola Nelson-Taylor, Newcastle upon Tyne

I was on the Ventoux when Armstrong rode up to Marco Pantani s back wheel on a tough day in the 2000 Tour. I was that close I could see the sweat dripping from the tip of Armstrongs and Ullrichs noses, could hear the deep but controlled breathing, smell the sweat and see the effort etched in their faces. These were my heros, I had waited on the bald mountain for hours just for this moment and despite its brevity it was fantastic. At that moment there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been. Now the complete story must be revealed, not just by Armstrong but by ALL those involved. Hopefully we can look back at this opportunity and say, 'Yes, we grasped the nettle.'

Tom Raven, Glastonbury UK

My husband & I travelled to Rotterdam to see the start of the tour in 2010. Having been keen supporters from our living room for many years we were delighted to actually be part of the Tour and enjoy the build up to the start. We have always admired Armstrong for his achievements and like many were in denial - we had him on a pedestal. I now feel deflated and deeply saddened for what he has done to the sport - but I still have the overiding memories of that trip and hope to be in Yorkshire in 2014. Having been spectators in all the road races during our Olympics we will continue to support cycling - but there will always be doubts if a cyclist out performs his competitors.

Diane Spindler, Epsom Surrey, UK

There has been a heavy emotional cost to being a fan of cycling in the '90s. It's impossible to quantify, the times I've defended my heroes in the face of mounting evidence to their crimes. I've regressed, and only hope that the riders like Greg Lemond, who has suffered enormously from ill treatment from Armstrong and others, really are heroes, and not false prophets. In addition to the emotional cost, there's a financial cost. Trips to France, to watch cheats - I'm left with beautiful, expensive pictures that cannot go on the wall, race kit and a helmet I'll never wear. Thank goodness the team replica bikes themselves were too expensive.

Martin Hodgson, Sheffield, UK

I was there on the roadside in 2003 for the prologue in Paris and again on stage 7 am I heartbroken and betrayed that the giants have fallen yes but I still believe in this sport and every time I get on my bike I think of beauty of the climbs, the scenery and the people I met on that trip not of the dopers the lies and the cheating.

James Holloway, Teaneck, NJ, USA

I wanted to believe. I went training every day, and felt my own pain, and wore the colours of my favourite rider. I worshipped the temple of cycling, and followed my favourite rider Big Mig through his tortuous gladiatorial-like victories, then saw him fade as the new kid arrived on the block. I tried to understand this alien being, the harrowing picture of his cancer struggles always haunting me as I saw him tear the peleton apart, and spit venom at those who suspected he was cheating. And now, I still love cycling, but in different way. It's like being divorced but knowing deep down you will always love someone... and it hurts. A lot.

Barry Richardson, Coddington

I stood at the side of the road with a large group of my passionate South African cycling friends for eight stages of the 2002 TdF. We delighted at riding the same stages as the Tour itself each day and were thrilled by the dominanace of the US Postal team - the blue train, we called them. With the TdF centenary coming up this year, a reunion tour of our original 2002 group has been planned. I had intended going, but on the release of USADA's report, decided against doing so. Until I can be certain that the sport of professional cycling has cleaned up fully - officials included - I can see no purpose in supporting it.

Charlie Morris, Johannesburg, South Africa

My husband and I stood on the Champs Elysees in 2004 for 8 hours, while travelling around Europe that same year we watched each stage in pubs with other cycling fans, mesmorised by Lance Armstrong. You feel cheated that your memories are now all based on a lie. I bought my husband so many books, dvd's cycling jerseys, anything to do with Lance, again they are associated with cheating and dishonesty. It would be niaive now to think that the current riders are clean (including the British riders), the cycling culture is in too deep with drugs, making the 2013 Tour a ridiculous spectacle to watch.

Beth Damms, UK

I always believed Lance Armstrong was telling the truth ,to learn he was a serial liar has devastated me. I have been an active cyclist since I was 13 (I am 70 years old). The UCI have a lot to answer for, they have always seemed to turn a blind eye to the doping problem that has been endemic in professional cycling for years.

Allan Simcock , Halifax, UK

I was at the Tour de France in both 2004 and 2005, I was in the Pyrenees and Alps both years. I watched USPS and later Discovery dominate the event as they had the previous several years since 1999. While it was a thrill and a spectacle to see the biggest bicycle race in the world, it was also a thrill to see fans of all nations cheering their favorites on. The biggest letdown is that I allowed myself to believe the lie. But I must admit, in about 2004, in the back of my head something told me, this might not be quite what you think it is. I got swept up in the hubris of cycling in general and Armstrong's "successes" in particular. Shame on all who believed the lie and allowed cycling as it was then to be OUR form of doping.

Greg Frazho, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

I am a mom of a young elite cyclist who wishes to be a professional. I have stood beside him since he was 12 years old, watching him train and race and struggle and win and lose and break bones and cover his body in road rash. He has loved this sport with a passion I have never seen in most people. His discipline, his sacrifice and his incredibly hard work is what makes him the person he is right now. I look at the posters on the wall of his childhood room of Lance and Levi and it is truly painful. I love this sport with him and I know he is so sad about the state of the sport he loves. I know he wants to move forward with riders who believe as he does in loving the ride itself and riding clean. He believes there are more young riders like him today, then riders who succumb to doping. He sees this all around him. He must believe this. We all must believe and support this so we can move forward and celebrate again this incredible sport of cycling.

Kris, Hailey, Idaho, USA

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