June 24th, 2013
07:49 PM ET

Cycling faces watershed of credibility

How much of an impact do you think the Lance Armstrong scandal over the last few years has had is the question I put to British cycling star Mark Cavendish.

Cavendish stares from behind his sunglasses. There is a stony silence before he smirks and, six seconds later, finally shrugs and replies, "I don’t know. I think it’s had more of an effect on you journalists trying to make a story out of it than on the actual riders.”

It doesn’t reflect that well on him –- or me for that matter. But my chat with Mark Cavendish at last month's Giro D’Italia summed up pretty early on in our filming for CNN's Changing Gear series the current view within cycling of the events of the last 12 months.

Cav had a red jersey to win. He’s moved on - and despite what the media might think –- most of the sport really has too.

The likes of Bradley Wiggins, David Millar and Taylor Phinney were more patient with my questions.

But the reminders were always there. "Lance Armstrong is of a different era," or "It’s a different sport now."

The new generation of American stars like Phinney and Tejay van Garderen were only early teens in the days of darkness and - as they kept telling me - the culture has changed.

But how much? How much can we celebrate? Should we celebrate as the 100th edition of the sport’s greatest race –- the Tour de France - sets off from Corsica on June 29 –given that many of the older generation still remain?

Drugs cheat turned anti-doping campaigner David Millar is one who is concerned about the number of riders who haven’t put their hands up about doping in the past.

Former Tour de France winner Ulrich admits doping

“I know not everybody has come forward. That unfortunately is one of the conundrums of zero tolerance."

And the inspirational journalist David Walsh, who dedicated his life to uncovering the truth about Armstrong, is troubled by those who remain in the more sport's senior positions.

“A lot of the people who were around, in terms of the management people, who were around in the Armstrong era are still around," said Walsh.

There’s no doubt that cycling has led the way in sport over recent years in the fight against drugs. It was the first to introduce the biological passport - built up by collating an athlete's drug test results over time, therefore making it easier to detect differences which could indicate the use of a banned substance.

And the Adams scheme - run in conjuction with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) - means that riders can be tested whenever, wherever, 365 days a year.

“By and large, you compare the amount of out-of competition tests done in cycling as opposed to something like tennis and then you realize really we should be paying a lot more attention to tennis," said Walsh.

Phinney tweeted during the NBA finals: “Is now an OK time to bring up the fact that NBA players are drug tested a MAX of 4X a season? I've personally been tested 3X in last 2 wks.”

However, the three positive tests during the Giro D’Italia, including that of 2007 winner Danilo Di Luca, provide evidence that cycling's anti-doping fight continues.

Though Armstrong’s criticism of Di Luca caused much hilarity: “Knowing I have 0 cred on the doping issue – I still can't help but think, "really Di Luca? Are you that f*****g stupid??)."

Di Luca, who has served a previous punishment for doping, faces a life ban if he is finally proven to have used the blood booster EPO.

So clearly it is much tougher to cheat and win now.

But for all the change amongst those powering the bikes - those with the power at the top have some serious questions left to answer.

The workings, the attitude and awareness of world cycling’s governing body was summed for me by Lance Armstrong’s face and name still being heralded on the wall in the UCI’s Hall of Fame, despite being stripped of all his Tour de France titles –- by the UCI themselves –- seven months earlier.

For all the good work that UCI president Pat McQuaid and his organization have done in the fight against drugs, the Irishman's ties with the past, his reluctance to step aside –- and his failure to understand the bigger picture - are hard to fathom.

I suppose I went along, for what was his first sit-down television interview since the scandal, hoping for some understanding of the criticism being leveled at both him and his organization –- maybe a bit of perspective on what had gone before.

Instead: "Hindsight is an exact science and hindsight is 20-20 vision. Of course you would do things differently, but that doesn’t mean that I regret anything that I did.”

Did he ever contemplate resigning? “No, I didn’t, no. And indeed many, many federations around the world told me that under no circumstances should I contemplate resigning,” he said defiantly.

McQuaid can’t help but have heard the ever-increasing calls for his resignation. They’re becoming louder than all of those Armstrong doping denials put together.

The big unknown is how much more there is to come from Armstrong –- and the implications that has for those at the top.

Armstrong’s openly supporting the man standing against McQuaid in September’s UCI Presidential elections. And the American has called for Brian Cookson to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to “FULLY understand the mistakes of previous generations”.

For all the internal struggles within cycling - on the ground at the Giro D’Italia the sport seemed as strong as ever.

It was my first experience of a major road race –- and the atmosphere, occasion, sport and spectacle gave a host of other live events a run for their money.

There are not many sports where the fans can get within touching distance and have photos with the stars just minutes before they begin competition. The daily signing in session for the riders was fantastic.

As were the pink-clad crowds 10 deep along the narrow, windy Italian village roads - despite the thunder storms.

And one of those memories I’ll never forget –- the group of fabulous Italian men who thrust plastic cups of red wine and freshly carved ham sandwiches through our car window as we were rushing to get to the finish ahead of the winner.

I'll definitely be looking at this year's Tour de France with more respect than I thought I would when I set out on this project. But ultimately cycling is a business.

Its history is littered with stories of cheating and corruption, and in this day and age of professional sport that is not the recipe to be taken seriously.

Particularly with the current leadership at the helm. As Jamie Fuller –- the man behind pressure group Change Cycling Now put it - “We believe that this is probably the last chance we've got to fix it otherwise we're going to see the sport of cycling turn into a joke."

Follow Amanda Davies on Twitter

Changing Gear runs on CNN from June 24. For more coverage of the series go to http://edition.cnn.com/SPORT/

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