Several months ago, a good friend and young pro rider I
knew told me he was retiring from his very promising pro career. He told me
several years ago when we had met that he would only race clean, and if he was
ever offered performance drugs he would quit. When it happened he quit.
Later this happened again. Once may be serendipity, twice
got my attention.
As I went along going to races I heard disparaging rumors
about many riders all of who were very anti drug and not shy about making a
point of it. Some I would consider friends. To the best of my knowledge they are
clean; I donít have any reason to believe otherwise. But the rumors, they never
stopped. In time I heard that one rider (I knew to be clean) was denied a
contract with a Div I team on the strength of baseless rumors. Hah! And now,
Monsieur LeBlanc would reduce entrance to le Tour on the basis of rumor,
innuendo, or accusation.
Once a friend accused me of being ďSoft on Drugs,Ē He said,
ďGet your head out of the sand, all the peloton is on the juice.Ē I asked what
about another mutual friend, a pro, his answer was, ďObviously not, as he isnít
winning races.Ē It is an odd and unbelievable world where winning is equated
with using drugs. It is an even odder world where rumor and winning make you
appear to be a cheat.
Generalities are never true; as there are always
exceptions. I donít believe, that all riders cheat, nor all teams. I apply the
often held result of studies in the past; that 80% keep the rules, 2% criminal,
always break the rules; and the remaining 18% are easily swayed and influenced
by the criminal 2% to act out of weakness. You might remember it being stated
that 98% of all crime is committed by 5% of the people.
As time went by I spoke with a few team doctors, one in
Europe, he told me he was ordered by one of the teamís management to ďHelp the
riders perform better.Ē He wouldnít dope riders, and as a result was dismissed
from the team.
Iím taking away a few viewpoints from my experiences in the
last few years.
First it is always the riders and rarely those that encourage, extort, provide,
demand, or make riders take performance drugs who pay the price. If any one
should it is the D.S.ís, the Managers, coaches and trainers who should pay; not
only are they poisoning the riders but the sport itself.
Second, the rumors & innuendo of the press, over eager
prosecutors and officials who leak court documents to the press and operate by
trying a case in the court of public opinion are without conscience. They donít
seek to find and bring the truth to the public; they only muckrake to create
sensation and sell more papers. May they be damned for it, and they damn well
know who they are.
Third, far too many of us, without an inkling of the truth
of the latest piece of innuendo or gossip (whether from the tabloid press or on
some rumor line) are far too eager to carry a rumor and forward it on. In all
honesty we have no idea if it is true or not. This as shown above is rarely
helpful to the sport or the truth, or for that matter finding the truth. It
sometimes has a tragic and damaging effect on a rider or a team.
The fact is none of us know how bad the scene is in
pro-cycling; but all of the above only makes it harder to find out.
Where I come from a man is innocent until he is PROVEN
guilty. I believe a man has a right to his good name and reputation until it can
be proved he has done some wrong. Would it be too much to just state the charges
and wait for the verdict?
Out of all this I believe that it will take riders coming
forward and demand a fair playing field and those that provide and demand riders
take drugs be removed from any connection to the sport for life. Cheaters are
nothing more than thieves stealing the honest win from riders who are racing
clean. The act of being a thief is an open admission that you could not honestly
earn the victory your self.
All the exploits of riders become meaningless under the
pall of cheating; it will take a movement of riders and fans to demand that
there is a level playing field. It will take a major change in the official
organizations to work with the riders who are clean and see they and their
careers are protected if they come forward. This is not a problem affecting
cycling alone; it effects all sports, letís be clear about that. I donít believe
all riders or are on the juice, nor that it is a majority; it is rare that any
group is all bad, but then that's just my opinion. If it were 20% then that is
20% too many, but no doubt, that there is a culture of tragedy that must be
This article by Matt Decanio appeared in Race Listings.com
a few weeks ago. Matt has allowed the Daily Peloton to publish it. If you read
it (and you should) you will get a glimpse into Mattís experiences, his own
personal Hell, and some solid advice on how you can deal with the problem of
doping. Currently Matt is working with a few others to create a new pro team
that will race clean.
How to deal
with the problem of doping
As for some of you readers you might have heard my name
every once in a while, you might have read some of my past articles in USA
Cycling that I got banned while writing. Some of you might now me as a loud
mouth punk, or however you like to call me. Or you might of caught a good side
of me, setting a world cycling record up Mt. Lemmon, donating a month of my
meager $1500 a month salary to the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual
Assault. But nobody can doubt my experience, and things I have seen and been
through. There is no reason to lie, because in this article you will read about
one of the reasons I am not racing anymore.
Doping was first introduced to me in 1997 when I joined G.S.
Filati Alessandra. I got an invitation to join the team at the age of 20 after
being the top American finisher at the first ever U-23 World Championships in
Lugano, Switzerland. On the National Team we knew of the problem, we even saw
large syringes painted on the roads of the world championships, with the words,
ďVia EPOĒ or something in Italian.
We thought it was hilarious, but we were all clean on the
good old US Team, led by Knickman.† The best man who ever came to help the USA
Cycling Team. Knickman pulled all the GTís out of storage that were there for
sponsorship and gave them to riders like myself, instead of keeping them clean
so that they could be sold at the end of the year.† Knickman was our hero coming
up, and he taught us that we couldnít always win clean, but it is possible.
So I went to the U-23 Team in Italy, and the first night in
the building I noticed a lot of needles around the house and a lot of IVís going
into arms. Soon I was to realise that 95 percent of my team was on EPO and HGH.
If you were 19 they didnít want you to take drugs, only when you turned 20 did
they want you to stick needles in your arm. So as a 20 year old American who
didnít even speak the language and being 2000 miles away from my family it was
quite a predicament to be in. I had to draw on a lot of inner strength to avoid
all the drugs.
The GM would scream at us at the races that the problem
with our team was that we werenít taking enough medicine. He said, ďThe guys
last year took HGH and they finished in the front, you guys need to take HGH!Ē I
pretended like I didnít understand the Italian but I understood it perfectly.
Guys started cracking, soon all the riders were excepting the silver
refrigerated bags filled with EPO at the end of the race weekend. I am sure some
who read this might think this was heaven. Free EPO and HGH! But to me it was a
living hell. And if we didnít win the abuse continued on our team.
Our GM would stop paying our bills on time at our team
restaurant and have the chef cook us meals last. We would sit there for 4 hours
after the race, maybe longer waiting to eat our food. The chef always made sure
we ate last. Our in house cook would come in at 6am to make lots of noise and
wake us early in the morning. And then ask us what we wanted for lunch, and
start asking us what we were going to do for training. I was never paid, and I
was given a steel bike while the rest of the team had aluminum.
We had a Russian on our team and he hated all the drugs
too. They would grab him and demand that he take Glucose injections. Our General
Managerís son in law gave him an IV drip. I can remember seeing a large bubble
of air going through the IV and into his vein. The Russian cringed in severe
pain, but this was normal and this was the way they treated us.† They kept us
locked up in the Filati Alessandra Fabric Factory at night. It sucked. But at
the same time I was happy to have the experience to see Italy and ride to the
Leaning Tower of Pisa, and see the sights of Florence. But it was really a sad
time for me.
There were times I couldnít even stay with my teammates
during training rides. The funny thing was at the February camp I could drop
them all and a month later after they cycled the EPO they would drop me for 5
minutes on all the climbs. I did my best and finished in the top 15 a couple of
times, but that was about the best I could do, I thought it was exceptional
considering 120 started and about 15 would finish and I was a clean racer. I
found more success with the National Team when I would leave for the Peace Race
or longer stage races. For some reason the drugs the competition was taking
seemed to have a greater effect in one day races. In the longer races I could
beat them and I finished 28th Overall in the Peace Race, in the 2nd
best young rider category.
But all and all the drugs and seeing what they were doing
were taking its effect. So one training ride I decided to make a left and take
drugs, or make a right and go home to America and quit racing. I decided to make
a right and I went back to my team apartment in Italy and quit racing.
So I came back to the states and took a job in Boone, NC. I
worked at a summer camp, and rode just for fun. Then I moved to Florida to sell
jewelry, and found myself at break dance clubs, most of the times.† I didnít
even consider riding bikes again until I was enrolled in Appalachian State
University in 1998. I made friends with some of the riders on the collegiate
team and I started to hang out with them and eat on Thursdays. It was a typical
college racing thing to do and it made biking fun again. I soon joined the team
with them and I won my first race. Soon I was back on the fast track after
finishing 2nd in Collegiate Nats, and then again 2nd at U-23 nats. I
found a spot back on the National Team this time with Noel Dejonkheere. It was a
whole new program and I missed the old glory days with Knickman and living in
Germany. Belgium was hard and less fun, but I worked hard and Noel went to bat
for me and after finishing 17th in the World U-23 Time Trial
Championships, I got selected for Linda McCartney.
So I moved to Europe in the spring of 2000.† I was still
determined to race clean in Europe. I found the racing scene to be different now
because the drugs were a big secret, but they were still there. Now nobody
talked about it, and it was kind of like, ďDrugs are illegal and this is a drug
free team, but you need to be professional and do what it takes to win.Ē Letís
put it this way, the reason Pascal Richard had to stop the Giro wasnít from a
stomach virus, it was because he had something in his system that would test
positive. Our team was getting mad at him all the time for leaving his EPO in
our truck. But Pascal was old school and believed he had the right because the
sport was too hard. He would sometimes keep me up at night with his blood
spinners. He had shots for everything including his penis which he injected for
4 hour erections. Drugs were definitely ruling his life, but that was the scene.
A rock star life and he liked sleeping with 14 different girls during the Giro,
having a mistress, and a wife. He cracked one of my teammates with all his
drama.† My teammate threw the phone at him and told him to get his life
Racing was a crazy world in Europe, it was hard. Sometimes
our team would do a random blood spin after dinner to make sure everyoneís blood
wasnít too thick. If it was they would have to drain 200 ml (a Coke can) out and
pour it down the sink. There was nothing glamorous going on behind closed doors
believe me. I was still able to do well, finishing in the top 40 Overall in the
Tour of Denmark. At one point between races my teammate had gone down to Spain
to buy 27 vials of EPO and had them in my refrigerator, it scared me that the
police would find them.
I would go to a small hotel in the Pyrenees and do
incredibly hard training rides. I remember doing a 9:45 minute ride that crested
14 Cols. I wanted to beat the drugs so badly. I remember just listening to my
Eminem CD all the time, trying to forget about the world. I would make little
results that made me really happy, and I was happy racing clean. It sucked not
getting paid anything, but I enjoyed racing against the best in the world. But
my results at the end of the year did not secure me a contract so I had to come
back to the states.
Once back in the states I joined Saturn. Unfortunately for
me, Saturn was almost as bad as my European Teams. It was a lot more hidden but
I was seeing the signs of doping going on, during my time on Saturn. And then
doubt was lifted after I helped administer an IV before an important time trial.
Yeah, boys! Way to needles in America. F$%king losers! I stayed clean no matter
what, and soon decided to switch back to my old favorite director and what I
thought would be the cleanest team I could find Prime Alliance.
Sure enough PA was about as clean as it got, and Tom Irvine
was the best sponsor I could find. I signed with Prime Alliance for $18k, even
with Saturn offering me $20k. I donít believe everyone was clean but I would say
95 percent of us were. Mainly I drew strength from Danny Pate, Creed, Jonas,
Svein Tuft, and Candelario. We stuck together tight as a clean bike racing unit
and constantly made fun of all the dopers as often as possible to keep us sane.
We did awesome too. Danny won Altoona Clean, after
his high of winning the Worlds Clean, and I took the yellow jersey Altoona and
in Beauce against Michael Rodgers and Mapei.† After he beat me in the Time
Trial, I lost it however and this is where I believe I got black listed.† After
he won I rode up to Mapei and with all the aggression I had built up over the
years of being cheated, I screamed, ďHEY, I am racing here clean, how about
you!Ē† The Italians bitched and moaned that they were clean racers, but I had a
hard time believing any of the words considering that over 90 percent of my U-23
team was doped to the gills, why would they stop when the reached the pro
level?† Well I had to settle with 2nd, but it was good for me, and I
still have my yellow jersey to hang on the wall.
Then came the season of 2003; I had a heart break in the
summer of 2002, and I started smoking a lot of marijuana. I was slipping as a
person and a racer. I had just bought a new CLK 430 Mercedes, had it pimped out
with 19ís and I was living the fast life in Los Angeles.† I was finally deciding
that I was just going to give into the drugs and be a big rock star euro pro. So
I decided to take EPO just before Housatonic, along with Testosterone patches.†
I was so disappointed in myself, I dropped out of
Housatonic during the circuit race, and refused to contest any of the stages. I
only went to the front to ride for Clinger, and I felt good but not as great as
I thought. I donít think I took enough, but it didnít matter.† I was a cheater
and I couldnít look myself the same in the mirror.
I had lost a lot of mental strength.† Not only that but I
wasnít taking racing serious anymore either.† I hated racing.† I stayed high the
entire year, and found myself going out all night in Los Angeles, racing other
Porsches at 140 mph on the 405; just doing anything and everything out of
control.† Before San Fran, I was doing my training rides at 3am.† I was going up
and down Mulholland Drive passing cars at 55mph going down the canyons in the
pitch black. The devil had me and it was ridiculous. I was suicidal, I wanted to
lock myself in the garage and turn my car on and kill myself listening to Ozzy
Osborne, but I couldnít do that to my roommates. I started getting crazy tattoos
like a machine gun on my forearm. Everything was too much, I felt like
everything I had loved had caused me so much pain. Finally I had enough and I
couldnít finish any race and just wanted my career to be over. I finished up the
season as clean as I could, even though I was now tainted, and barely made it
alive out of Los Angeles, back to my parents in Virginia.
I left LA at 12:30 at night flying across through the
desert, passing 18 wheelers on the shoulder.† I was breaking down crying, I felt
like my world was over. I called a close friend to help me out, who rides the
Tour. But, it was up to me to save myself. The one thing I remember after
screaming and yelling how I hated everything and the world, was seeing a
shooting star. Right then and there I felt like I had an angel watching over me,
and that somehow even with all the pain, I was doing the right thing.
There I cleaned up my life and started school and http://www.iturnpro.com.
My goal was to teach racers to win clean. I still am a believer that you can win
bike races clean, as I once did. I won a NRC, had the yellow in Altoona, and had
the yellow in UCI G.P. Grand Prix Cycliste de Beauce absolutely clean.
I want everyone to know, stick to your guns and morals and
race clean. The world has too much suffering and there is already too much
corruption to do this to our sport. Money and fame isnít anything.
What matters at the end of the day, is keeping it real; and
being able to look yourself in the mirror. You can become a pro clean and you
can race as a clean racer.
Donít take drugs, they will ruin your friendships, your
relationships, and your health. I have seen skeletal changes in my friends; they
are going bald, growing hair on there back. They have gotten divorced, their
life is a f#$king nightmare.
DONíT DO IT.† YOU CAN WIN THE TOUR DE FRANCE CLEAN.
SOMEWHERE THERE IS SOMEONE WHO CAN DO IT.
Never give up hope and turn your back to the devil every
time he offers. Get a smart coach, and use altitude training and hard work.
Donít be afraid to face the challenge. Just remember that I believe you can do
it, and I believe I can also win clean. I might come back to racing again, and
if I do I will race clean until I die. So that will be 2 of us for sure.
Matt is now engaged in a project to start a new Pro Team. He can be contacted at
I turn pro .com.
Iturnpro.com was founded by Matt DeCanio and Justin Spinelli in December of 2003
Our goal is to reach athletes around the world and to deliver world class
coaching. Taking average riders and turning them into Pros through intense
training programs and Pro-tips. We are paving the way for a new kind of coaching
company that follows the athletes from day one until they sign their first pro
contract. We are the first coaching company to have exclusive rights with Sotox
Sports Agency and to offer our customers their very own customer profile pages
to fill out bios, post photos, and post results for all to see. Our company moto
is, "Failure is not an Option!" and we live by that everyday. Even if you
don't become a pro from our training, we aim to help you become a stronger
person. It is all about hard work, and testing your limits. We hope you decide
to become part of the ITPteam. http://www.iturnpro.com/