Greg LeMond, the former three-times winner of the Tour de France, said yesterday that cycling is on a "slow death march" because of widespread, systematic doping, and added: "In 20 years, drugs will have damaged cycling so much it mightn’t be at the Olympics."
He added that Tour riders were "lab rats" for doping doctors, and claimed that deaths and suicides in the sport "are on the rise" as a result of doping.
"Would I want my kids to get into cycling?" he said in a speech to the Play the Game conference at Coventry University. "Not at this point in time."
LeMond, 47, was the first American to win the Tour, in 1986. Despite suffering life-threatening injuries in a shooting accident in 1987, he later won it twice more, including by a record narrow margin of eight seconds in 1989.
In recent years, LeMond has been at odds with his compatriot cyclist, Lance Armstrong, who won the tour seven times between 1999 and 2005 after recovering from cancer. In July 2001, LeMond criticised Armstrong for his continued association with Michele Ferrari, a controversial Italian who had admitted to blood doping and advocated the controlled usage of the banned oxygen-boosting drug, EPO.
LeMond had known Ferrari and said of him yesterday: "He could make you go very fast and it was nothing to do with physiology." After Armstrong won subsequent Tours, LeMond said: "If Armstrong's clean, it's the greatest comeback. And if he's not, then it's the greatest fraud."
LeMond yesterday said he was "fortunate" that his "genetics" had given him the talent to succeed without drugs. But he admitted: "Had I got into the sport a little later, say 1993, 1994, I don’t know what I would have done. [Drugs in cycling] corrupts even the good people . . . doctors, managers and officials are the one corrupting riders. The only ones paying the price are the athletes."