Cycling: Armstrong legacy will be a clean and fairer sport
FORMER Great Britain coach Ken Matheson says cycling's rebirth after the Lance Armstrong affair will mean he can look parents in the eye when they ask about drugs in sport.
Matheson, from Norton, was in charge of the British road racing team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics when Armstrong won a bronze medal for the United States.
Revelations that Armstrong was doping, followed by his belated confession on the Oprah Winfrey Show this week, have seen him stripped of that honour and his seven Tour de France titles.
Matheson is as disgusted now as he was then, when he held strong suspicions Armstrong was a serial cheat at the top of a sport plagued by drug use.
He said: "I have known for years that Armstrong was doping. The circumstances and his extraordinary performances, when even the guys who were getting done for drugs couldn't beat him, made it obvious to all of us in the sport.
"As a coach, when I am presented with youngsters who have huge potential, their parents often ask 'is he going to have to take drugs if he wants to make it to the top?'."
"I always had to use weasel words because I knew the way of the world, but now there is not a better time for a talented kid to make it as a professional.
"There will still be cheats and bad eggs, like in all sports, but it is not ingrained in the culture anymore. Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, for sure, are clean and true role models."
Matheson, who now coaches the Newcastle Tri Club, has given names of other international cyclists from Armstrong's era who he suspects of cheating to investigators.
He hopes that the sport can finally learn from the saga. "All of the secrets from the 1990s have got to come out and be dealt with. We can't have this system of drip, drip, drip," he added.
"We should have a truth and reconciliation council, where all confessions can be made, anonymously if possible, and reports can be drawn up to ensure this never happens again."
Matheson does not hide his contempt for Armstrong, who said he did not feel he was cheating at the time and viewed it as a "level playing field".
"It is not the drugs that makes me angry, it is his bullying and duplicity," explained Matheson.
"He built himself up to be so big and he has caused massive damage to the sport. He has acted like a despot and ruined people's lives."
Cheddleton road racer Andy Magnier, pictured below, is confident that flushing out cheats like Armstrong has left the sport open for fierce and honest elite competition.
He said: "I believe that if I can get everything right in my training and lifestyle I can be one of the best cyclists in the country, and I wouldn't have had to touch the stuff.
"I would like to think I could get a long way on natural ability."
However, Magnier, who rides for Node4 Giordana Racing Team, admits it will take years to completely rid cycling of the damage done by Armstrong and his like.
The 24-year-old added: "The main problem we face now is that riders and trainers are still involved in the sport that were deeply into the culture from that time.
"We need the new generation to come through and embrace the new culture.
"I was more interested in getting out on my bike than watching races as a kid, but Armstrong was the best and a hero to so many people. It is a shame it has all come to this, but hopefully the sport in the future will be beyond reproach."