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Lance and Oprah: Can Cycling Hope to Benefit?

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Later on today (or, rather, in the early hours of tomorrow UK time) we will finally get to hear what Lance Armstrong had to say to Oprah Winfrey in the most hyped interview in cycling's history.

Snippets of information so far released confirm that the Texan will confess to doping throughout his cycling career, and suggest that he may point the finger at those around him, and above him among the sport's governing body, who had knowledge of or helped facilitate his deception. How far the former seven times Tour de France winner goes in this direction may well decide how useful this whole process will prove to be for anyone who isn't Lance Armstrong.

As an initial response to the news that this interview would be happening, a hearty sigh seemed entirely justified. After all, what could come of it? Armstrong would admit, either belligerently or with faux regret, to something that only the most wilfully ignorant of cycling fans still believed he was innocent.

The confession in the high church of US celebrity - Oprah - would go a long way to absolving him in the eyes of a wider public to whom he would just be one of many cycling cheats, "but just look at all the good he's done". But it would do nothing for the future of cycling.

Now Lance Armstrong may well feel that he owes the sport nothing. Although he used it to achieve fame and fortune, it treated him shabbily when he was diagnosed with cancer - his French team sacked him. Certainly the type to bear a grudge, the Texan used that mistreatment as part of his motivation to so completely dominate the sport on his return.

But since then cycling has given him a lot - especially if the stories suggesting the authorities aided him in covering up his cheating throughout his career are true - and it is now Armstrong must decide whether he thinks any debt he owes is to the individuals involved or to the sport as a whole.

There is a whole new generation of cyclists now, many of the youngest inspired in some way by Armstrong's early 2000s exploits in the way previous generations were inspired by Coppi, Merkcx, Fignon, Lemond and the rest. Thanks to the efforts of many within the sport, most of these young riders can now believe in the possibility of achieving their goals without treading the path Armstrong so gleefully ran down. But a spectre hangs over them still, and while those who were so ingrained in cycling's turn of the century doping culture remain active in the sport, it probably always will.

And this is where the man who ran "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen" can help. To truly face its future, cycling must once and for all tackle its past.

If Armstrong names names, at the UCI or elsewhere, then those who at best turned a blind eye - and at worst colluded - during the sport's darkest days will find themselves held to account. If the World Anti Doping Agency allows for a 'truth and reconciliation' process to emerge from the fallout, then those who always avoid the bullet may finally be caught in the sights: the doctors, managers, owners and administrators - and as in Armstrong's case riders - who actively pursued doping advances and pushed them on others in the pursuit of results at all costs.

And if such a process were opened out to the wider sporting world, particularly into some sports where the doping scourge is still buried as it was in cycling 15 years ago, who knows how much could be achieved in the battle against drugs in sport?

Not that Lance Armstrong cares about any of that. If he did he would have owned up earlier, cooperated with the USADA investigation, and still be able to call himself a five-time Tour champion.

But if his attempt to regain his place at US celebrity's top table - or if he fails then to take down a few of those who helped keep his secret for so long with him - can spin off in such a positive way then we may yet, in some bizarre way, have something to thank him for.

• Issue 38 of Cycling News HD is out now. In our final close season issue we preview the squads of BMC, Cannondale, Garmin-Sharp and Europcar, featuring exclusive interviews with BMC's Tour de France white jersey winner Tejay Van Garderen, Cannondale's Ted King, and Garmin DS Charly Wegelius.

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