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'Cult of Lance Armstrong' hurts fight against doping, says Nicole Cooke

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Lance Armstrong has the media in thrall to his "cult", according to 2008 Olympic road-race champion Nicole Cooke, who claims that it still "pays to dope" for young cyclists.

Disgraced drugs cheat Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and given a life-time ban by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in 2012, but is set to ride the Tour route again in July for charity.

"The role of the media and the coverage given to it is very sad," Cooke said in The Times. "The whole Livestrong charity was a massive cover for Armstrong. He used it as a justification for what he did and it was a convenient operation for him.

"It reflects poorly on the media that Lance Armstrong can come back and be welcomed, but they are still absolutely in awe of him; not everyone, but the majority. It's the cult of Lance.

"We're still seeing the fallout of Lance Armstrong. The mechanisms that were going on then are still in the sport.

"You've got George Hincapie, big-brother domestique, running his own team. I can't see things changing."

A recent report by the Cycling Independent Reform Commission had found there to be high-level corruption and cover-ups in the sport, but Cooke still believes efforts by the UCI to curb doping are laughable.

The Briton pointed to the world governing body's treatment of doping compared to their willingness to hand out six-month bans to riders found guilty of using electric motors on bikes, with teams facing fines of SWFr 1 million (about £600,000).

"Brian Cookson [UCI president] says it's beneath contempt. What about doping?" she added. "We're good at sanctions for mechanical cheating, but with doping it's still very, very weak. Not enough is being done.

"Why has the guy who created the biological passport, Michael Ashenden, resigned [from the passport panel]? He should be running it. What's wrong with the culture when this guy is not driving everything along?

"I think young cyclists weighing up the pros and cons would probably still decide that it pays to dope."