Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

January 22, 2013

Local cyclists react to Armstrong controversy


Mineral Wells Index

— By CHRIS AGEE



Following seven-time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong's recent admission he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career, the Index contacted several local cycling enthusiasts to share their insight into the controversy.

Andy Hollinger, a founding member and longtime officer of Team Bicycles Inc., has helped organize numerous local races and explained the impact the Armstrong incident has had on the sport.

He said cheating is present in any sport, though cycling maintains a strict testing regimen to expose such activity as early as possible.

"I think it is much less prevalent than in sports like football," he said. "The reason for that is the testing. [There is] more testing in bicycle racing than any other sport. The reason it seems so prevalent is because people get caught and there is an enforcement program."

Hollinger said there would be similar outrage if other sports conducted similar testing.

"What would happen if they caught just two players per team?" he asked. "The uproar would be amazing."

He conceded that as cycling becomes more ubiquitous participants in the sport have more incentive to cheat.

"I think people try to hone an edge wherever they can," Hollinger added. "As cycling gets to be a bigger sport, there is more pressure to win."

At a local level, though, he said such abuses are much easier to identify.

Cheating at all levels is "more prevalent than it was 25 years ago," he explained, "but that said, there's also an intimacy and a local knowledge of people in bicycle racing. If someone started winning consistently or came out of nowhere, it would create a stink."

At Armstrong's level of competition, however, Hollinger said the urge to win can be too strong for some cyclists to resist.

"At the pro level the pressure and performance is so much bigger ... that there is more of a temptation, if you will," he added.

Hollinger said he knows many of the racers competing in local events, noting, "I don't know anybody who I even suspect."

Though testing is already a major aspect of bicycle racing, Hollinger said that process will continue to be refined as the sport moves forward.

"You'll have continued regulation, just like anything else," he said. "As the pharmaceutical world gets more complex, so must the testing."

Commenting on local races, such as the Iris Stagner Memorial Stage Race set for next month in Graford, Hollinger said the typical participant is dedicated to the sport and would not consider gaining an unfair advantage.

"At least at our level of racing, you're going to see ... people that put in hundreds of hours of training and eat right, not people that inject their edge," he explained.

Hollinger said the sport has unquestionably sustained a blow to its credibility in light of the scandal, though he said the vast majority of responsible participants will be responsible for its recovery.

"The Lance experience has and will hurt the sport," he said. "Sponsors, advertisers, people who put money into the sport to make the sport happen are hesitant to do so."

In the end, he explained, the dedicated cyclists and supporters will ensure the sport continues to grow.

"Stuff happens," he said. "We'll get through it. The sport is growing; this will slow it down a bit but it wont stop it. It is too much of a grassroots sport."

Avid local racer Neil Reddick agreed the sport will continue to gain regional support despite the cheating controversy.

"I don't think it will do much locally," he said, "because there are so many people into it – because of [Armstrong], probably."

On a larger scale, he predicted "it could be terrible worldwide."

Though Reddick gives Armstrong credit for introducing cycling to a larger audience, he said the disgraced star hurt countless people through his actions.

Armstrong is "really just about as bad a person as he could be," Reddick said. "I stood up for him for years and read so much about him. I said, 'He is so good, he doesn't need drugs.' It makes a fool out of you."