Roche worries Armstrong furore may spark witchhunt

Stephen Roche has cautioned against finding people “guilty through association” in the wake of the United States Anti-doping Agency’s scathing reporting into Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong refused to cooperate with USADA, who published a 1,000-page report last week which concluded the Texan and his United States Postal Service team ran “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.

Team Sky, home of Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, have reiterated their zero-tolerance stance and will sever ties with anyone with a history of doping.

That stance, however, could spell the end of Team Sky sports director Sean Yates who worked closely with Armstrong earlier in his career, despite denying any wrongdoing.

Roche, the 1987 Tour de France champion and friend of Yates, insists the Briton should not be reprimanded just because he was friends with Armstrong.

Roche said: “Is everybody guilty through association? In that case, get rid of everybody. Wipe out half the peloton, half the directeur sportifs, half the managers, half the UCI and then start from scratch.

“I’d understand, but I don’t think it’s really fair. It’s a bit radical to tear things up like that. Sean has been a great part of Sky. He’s been a great asset to cycling. I think it’s unfortunate if he loses his job now because of this.”

Roche is uncertain if riders signing a written policy is the correct way to approach the issue, but Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford is sticking by the plan.

Roche said: “Cycling has a history. I’m not quite sure everyone will be telling the truth if they do sign, not today. In five or six years’ time, yes.

“Any rider that’s more than three or four years a pro might have difficulty signing it.”

Like Brailsford, who is keen to make a clear distinction between the past and the present, Roche is frustrated all the good happening in the sport has been overshadowed by recent revelations.

Roche added: “Cycling has come along a lot since 1999. Maybe it got worse before getting better in the early 2000s, but definitely in 2010, 2011, 2012, even though (Alberto) Contador had his problems, cycling has come on an awful lot.

“Whatever mischief was going on then could never happen today.

“The proof the system’s working is that a guy like Bradley Wiggins has come along and he’s suspected of being clean, which is brilliant, and he’s come out and won the Tour de France.”

The scandal has had far reaching implications, right to the very top of the sport and former UCI president Hein Verbruggen was forced to defend himself after a report in a Dutch newspaper claimed he said: “Lance Armstrong has never tested positive, even by USADA. There is no trace of evidence.”

But Verbruggen dismissed the article and called it “misleading”.

“I vehemently protest against the article in De Telegraaf,” he said.

“That article wrongly suggests that I would have stated that notwithstanding the USADA file there is no evidence against Lance Armstrong.

“I made no statement at all on this subject. The heading above the article is absolutely wrong and misleading.”

Meanwhile, Johan Bruyneel, who was team director of the US Postal team during the Armstrong era, criticised USADA as he continues to protest his innocence and fight charges. “While I am still stunned that USADA chose to breach the confidentiality of the proceedings it initiated against me, I shall nevertheless not allow myself to be reduced to such tactics,” Bruyneel said.

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