Armstrong cyclist says youth are clean

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A Nelson cyclist who used to ride for Lance Armstrong’s Trek-Livestrong development team can’t go anywhere without alerting the relevant drug testing authority.

Every move he or any other cyclist on the peloton makes is now followed.

But that is just life for a cyclist in this current decade, following the sport’s latest cloud of doping controversy.

George used to ride for Trek-Livestrong, which was an under-23 side created by the stripped-seven time Tour de France winner. His first professional team director, Johan Bruyneel, is now his former team director after parting ways with Team RadioShack Nissan following allegations he was one of the masterminds behind the US Postal Service Team’s doping ring. So it’s no surprise when George explains to someone he has just met that he is a pro-cyclist, the doping scandal becomes the centrepiece of the conversation, despite the 22 year-old Nelson man’s career starting well after the time in question. “Lance Armstrong came back from cancer and for that he’s a hero to me for the inspiration, how many people he helped and how many people he got into cycling and his development team is directly why I’m pro. All those achievements are still real, but that is all I can comment on. I wasn’t there and I have only read what was in the papers like everyone else.”

George was also on the same team as Levi Leipheimer in the Tour of Utah last year. Levi is the latest professional cyclist to out himself for taking EPO earlier in his career.

But the former Waimea College mountain biker, who was only nine years old when Lance Armstrong first won the Tour de France, says the sport has already moved beyond doping and anyone caught is now exiled by the rest of the peloton.

In fact, George is just happy he was born in 1990 and not ten years earlier otherwise he could have been cycling when the sport was in its darkest stage.

“I think it’s a great time to be a young cyclist. I think the sport is almost there. I can’t really comment or judge anyone from that previous generation because I wasn’t there but it sounded like there were problems,” says George.

“In my time I have never come across any doping and everything that is coming up happened a long time ago. I’d be naïve to think it’s 100 per cent clean but we’re all getting dragged under the same bus at the moment and it wears pretty thin.”

The whereabouts programme affects every professional cyclist. George has to notify drug testing authorities of his whereabouts 365 days of the year. “If I went out camping I’d have to let them know, give them GPS coordinates or something.”

He says while it is inconvenient, he is happy the system is in place.

“Collectively, the whole mind-set and attitude has changed. If a rider goes positive for EPO the rest of the peloton is just so furious. Hopefully once this is all over, people again see cycling for the incredible sport that it is.”

Back in Nelson for three weeks, George recapped his disastrous start to the

2012 campaign where he injured his knee, keeping him off the bike for the first three months. When he did come back, having lost a lot of muscle, the 58kg climber entered in a handful of races around New Zealand before returning to Europe. In his second European race, which was on a cobble-stone course in Belgium, George had the worst crash of his career. “I basically ripped the lip off my face, chipped my tooth and took half my skin off. When I woke up there was blood everywhere and I thought someone must be really hurt. I jumped up to go and everything was just numb and I realised it was me.”

Despite the setbacks and constant illness, George was pleased to overcome the odds and managed to help his RadioShack Nissan team mates.

His next goal is to race on one of the three grand tours with his sights set firmly on the Giro d’Italia in May. Twelve riders were pencilled in but only eight or nine would actually race. He also hopes to be one of the New Zealand riders at what could be a potentially hilly Rio de Janeiro course at the 2016 Olympic Games.