South African cycling legend, Malcolm Lange, has confirmed that his career path was severely curbed by the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in the professional peloton during his racing career.
The 39-year-old Lange, who retired from professional road racing in 2011 after a full-time racing career that spanned two decades, says he’s not surprised by the recent USADA revelations of widespread systematic doping and subsequent public confession by Lance Armstrong.
“I always said that doping was rife but I was often shot down. I raced as an amateur on the road for three years in Belgium and then in 1996, the year I turned professional on a Belgian team, that was the year I decided I didn’t want to be a part of that scene,” said Lange on Thursday.
Lange, who now owns the Bonitas professional road racing and the RE:CM professional mountain bike racing teams, recently published a book, Is Winning Everything?, which is a reflection of his prolific career and which includes a lengthy chapter on doping and how it dramatically altered his career path. After being faced with the option to dope as a first-year professional in 1996, Lange opted to leave the European scene and “rather race clean” domestically in South Africa from 1997 until his retirement in March 2011.
“Guys would say I was too soft to last in Europe where the racing standard is higher than in South Africa and where the general living environment can be very unforgiving. They forget that I spent a total of four years racing in Belgium, from the time I left school, so it wasn’t as if I didn’t give it a good go. I won at least 20 races in those four years and was passionately pursuing my dream.
“I loved cycling more than anything and my boyhood dream was to race as a top pro in high profile events like the Tour de France. But when I was faced with the choice to dope and be in contention or not dope and get dropped from the main bunch regularly, I opted for the latter. Not because I was soft. Not because it was tough. I just didn’t want to live a lie; and besides, I’d always been taught about fairness and sportsmanship by my parents and it was obvious to me that doping compromised those principles.”
Lange managed to build a successful domestic-based career that saw him win a total of 409 races, a phenomenal achievement by any bicycle racing standards anywhere in the world.
The popular South African races have always been short (around 100km) by international standards, which suited Lange, a snappy sprinter and a master tactician. He won every major South African road race at least once and also won a total of five national road titles (three road race and two individual time trial). He was also a prolific, talented track racer and competed for South Africa at the Barcelona Olympics on the track and in the road race while in his matric year at school at the age of 18.
It was at the 1992 Olympic road race where Lange first competed against Armstrong. Armstrong turned professional straight after that race (only amateurs were permitted to compete at the Olympics then) and the following year the American became the professional road race world champion.
Lange raced against Armstrong on a few more occasions in European races before he relocated to South Africa. Lange’s third and final Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour victory in 2010, saw Armstrong, during his comeback to professional racing, line up among Lange’s rivals in the world’s largest cycle race (in participant numbers).
“Obviously the race distance (109km) was more suited to me than to him, but he brought a lot of media attention and hype to the race. But now that we know how dirty he was, it’s another confirmation of what I’ve been saying all these years. I’ve avoided any kind of ‘I told you so’ public statements until now. His televised confession seems very contrived and I’m sure it’s just the first part of a grand plan to help him restore some credibility to himself.
“But it’s guys like him, guys who took doping to a new level and got away with it by whatever means… It’s guys like Armstrong that made the playing field far from level. People say all the riders were doping so why should it matter so much. No, all the riders weren’t doping. I know because I was one of them that wasn’t doping. And there were others like me.
“I’m pleased to see the sport is getting cleaned up and I hope other professional sports follow cycling’s example. In my two professional racing teams we have a very firm anti-doping policy in place. I know most professional cycling teams have the same policy, but we enforce it emphatically. We simply don’t tolerate doping or any kind of cheating and I sincerely hope that the young riders of today and the future aren’t faced with the same dilemma that I was,” said Lange.
“It’s guys like Armstrong who cheated and got away with it for so long that made people question my decision to walk away from racing in Europe. It’s people like Armstrong that ended my boyhood dream. There are many boys with the same dream still. My wish is that they can actually live out their dream with a clear conscience.”