Read Part One:
- An American Pioneer
By Charlie Melk
Courtesy Andy Hampsten.
To quote from your open letter:
"Something needs to be done to clean it [the sport of cycling] up, not only
for the sake of the ridersí health, but also for the sake of returning our
sport to the truths of human spirit, valor, and talent."
What do you think we can do about this?
I think a lot can happen, and primarily it would be good if the riders
themselves sort of speak up and decide what they want to do from within, but
the thing I know is that there is no organization of riders. Some countries
might have some loose...(chuckles a bit) I donít think thereís even a
union. There are riderís organizations. So I donít think very much will happen
from within the sport.
Unfortunately, itís more outside pressure. But, you know, certainly after
writing my letter I didnít have anyone calling or writing, wishing that
everything was [remained] the way it is. So, I have some ideas of things to do
to facilitate an atmosphere of keeping the playing field more level. But
certainly there is nothing concrete right now. You know, there is enormous
support from the fans, who of course are the ones driving the sponsors to
ensure that theyíre watching.
What did you see when you were racing - the red lights that really announced
that something was changing in the peloton?
Well, there was nothing conclusive - I mean there werenít any riders who
said, "Iíve been doing drugs." So, you know, itís just hearsay, but certainly
there were enormous changes; first, in individualsí, and then in entire teamsí
performances that just werenít explainable by merely training harder or doing
more. There were certainly some extreme cases of riders and teams, I believe,
enhancing their performances. But, at the same time, my barometer was
myself - itís only natural that in my 30ís - I quit at 34 - that Iíd be slowing
down, although Iíd do a lot of testing, you know, just do the same test for
myself, and I saw that I wasnít slowing down. So, the pace was picking up. And
certainly from candid remarks from riders, I knew that some riders were doing
drugs. And there was a huge buzz about who was doing what in the peloton, but
of course thatís nothing concrete. So, itís my impression that things were
Right, but that seems to be one of the problems - nothing is concrete. Itís
so hard to get a handle on it. It seems like the problem is coming from so
many different directions at once.
Yeah, you know, itís certainly a big collection of individuals making up
their own minds and making their own decisions. Whether you look at systematic
doping that was proven with Festina - there were riders who were open enough at
the very beginning, like Alex Zulle and Armin Meier and some of the others, to
admit that they were on drugs and that the team was doing it for their own
benefit, so to speak.
More recently, you look at David Millar, who confessed to using drugs, and
that offers a really good glimpse of just what itís like on an individual
basis. I mean, if you look at the interviews from the old Festina riders itís
pretty parallel to what David Millar was saying - and I really admire him coming
out and saying that he really didnít like who he was as a person, having won
races while taking drugs.
He really felt like he betrayed himself, and certainly the sport. And itís
really amazing - I mean itís really sad to see a big, great rider like him was
taking drugs. But on a human level, he just absolutely rocks to be able to
come out and be man enough, or a person enough, to say, "God, I made this
really bad mistake. Iím sorry I did it, because it was cheating." But when it
came to himself, he just really needed to reestablish himself as a person by
acknowledging it and wanting to keep racing.
You know, he still loves the sport and he wants to keep doing it but
without the drugs. He admits that it was a big mistake. So, itís pretty neat
to see that people can admit that, maybe their life is ruined for a little
bit, and they have a two year ban, or whatever happens to them. But on a human
level, this just offers a huge hope for all the riders, because I believe that
none of the riders who might be doing it really want to - no oneís coming out
So I think itís a huge mess. Evidently, there is a lot of pressure from
within the peloton to not say anything, to not make waves, because "so and so"
and "so and so" are going to get mad, or then theyíre at fault too. So itís
pretty neat to see someone take the step and admit it and come out a better
Totally, I was impressed with Millarís admission as well. Do you think the
two year ban was fair?
Yeah, I mean, I donít really study the rules or know anything about law,
but the ban has to be absolutely significant. I think there should be a
difference between EPO and caffeine, or some cold medication that might just
show up, and Iím sure that scientists and doctors can come up with a list
of - the "A" and the "B" list - of what...you know, thereís a difference
between EPO - itís not just like someone happens to bump into a needle of it and
it just happens to get into their body - and some poor people just used the
wrong kind of cold medicine or were trying to take a supplement, like Moninger
got totally railroaded.
You get into that whole gray area, yet black and white area in terms of
justice, that Iím certainly not an expert at, but I believe that there have to
be huge deterrents. It has to be not worthwhile to take these strong drugs.
These are the drugs that can have, from what I know, horrendous long-term
health effects on the riders taking them.
Furthermore, I donít accept on any level the argument that goes that pros
should be able to do whatever they want - itís their body, itís their job - blah,
blah, blah. Thatís just absolute nonsense, because there are millions of kids,
and, you know, 35 year old kids, who want to be doing their jobs. And if
theyíre led to believe, and Iím speaking because I talk to parents and their
kids in America and Italy, and a lot of them, unfortunately, just believe that
they have to do drugs. They believe all the pros are on drugs! So, getting
into that whole Charles Barkley stuff, with "Hey, Iím not a role model."
you are a role model! One, most kids are smart enough to not even get into the
sport if they actually believe that they have to take drugs to be in it; but
two, some kids are looking for steroids and all these things weíre reading
There has to be an absolute criteria on whatís acceptable and what isnít. I
mean, look at Moninger getting the two year ban, even though it eventually was
adjusted. He was pretty much looking at the same ban, for whatever stupid
thing was slipped into his [supplement] product as an EPO ban!
Coming from a cycling community, where you have a bunch of young guys who
think theyíre going to live forever, you know, they might die in the next
field sprint they do, theyíre scratching their heads and thinking, "Well, I
might as well just do EPO - itís the same ban!" So, I think there has to be some
pretty close monitoring of what the penalties are, but I believe that the
penalty that is in place - two years for these very dangerous drugs - I think
thatís a good idea. It has to not be worth anyoneís while.
Right, and Dave Bruylandts, from the Chocolade Jacques-Wincor team, just
got 18 months for his EPO positive. Still, it seems that there is a lot of
disparity between the different countries - different rules and different ways
of enforcing them. Donít you think that it should be more universal - the rules
and the enforcement of the rules?
Yeah, thereís a whole - I mean, Iím not an expert at this, but there seems to
be some incredibly irregular regulations. I mean, the French are really
trying. The Italian judicial system is really trying to prevent these
problems. Theyíre acknowledging these problems. Theyíre really working at
taking care of them.
Other countries obviously just donít care if you look at their laws. You
know, in Spain you can pretty much just walk into a pharmacy and buy EPO and
other hormones. So thereís a pretty broad diversity, as there should be,
between legal systems and the efforts that different countries are making to
prevent people from taking it by catching people. So I guess itís just a
reflection on different societyís viewpoints on how much of a problem it is.
But the problem is everywhere, and I think there should be a more universal
system. Unfortunately, I just donít know how much any federation can really be
Itís very interesting that USADA and WADA seem to be, and Iím not an expert
on these organizations, but you know, finally there are independent
organizations doing the testing and the fines. And Iím not just talking about
cycling - track and field, soccer, baseball - Iím sure that there have been a lot
of people looking the other way for a number of years.
Itís interesting - as cyclists we can pat ourselves on the back and say, "Hey
we have a very aggressive anti-doping policy implemented - other sports
donít - hey, weíre better than they are." But also, by default, it falls on
cycling to do this. Other sports are looking at cycling, and they always have
since the late Ď60ís, to tackle the problem.
When I was racing, in the Ď80ís, there was a lot of talk about "Oh, donít
even talk about it - donít even mention cycling and doping, because we donít
want anyone to know that thereís a problem." And I think that the apparent
widespread use of EPO right now - I mean look at all of the people just getting
caught on it - is stemming from back when I was racing, 10 and 20 years ago - the
apathy of, "Well, letís just not say anything about it."
Speaking of that time period and that spirit of apathy, it reminds me of
Paul Kimmageís book, Rough Ride, which came out in 1990, and for which he
caught a lot of flack from many members of the professional cycling community.
Iíve read that book, and liked Kimmage for his apparent honesty, even when it
reflected poorly on him.
Well, I think that goes back to this Omerta [code of silence] - the riders
just donít want to talk about it - most of the cycling teams didnít want to say
anything about drugs. Itís a pretty good book (chuckles a bit), and all he was
saying was, "Hey Iím just this little fish - this is my experience
- itís not
whistle-blowing - this is just what I did." And itís how he felt about it, you
know, on a real human level.
Thatís what I liked about it.
Yeah, I guess, apparently, a lot of people were all bummed out, but you
know, he told the truth about his own experiences.
It just seems so silly - unless thereís really something to protect.
Yeah, who knows - who really knows whatís going on? Itís just, thereís no
reason - thereís a clear problem of some of the riders using doping products,
and it just seems to me in everyoneís best interests, certainly as fans who
want the sponsors to stay in the sport - to see the sport cleaned up. And I
think itís the riders who have the most to gain. You know, itís going to be
the best riders winning.
You and Greg LeMond are involved with the TIAA-CREF/5280 Magazine team that
Jonathan Vaughters runs, right?
Yeah, I guess Iím somewhat of an honorary coach (chuckles a bit). I try to
advise some of the guys. I donít have enough time to really give them a hand.
And Greg is certainly involved as a sponsor of them too.
I happened to run into a few of those riders a few days after I printed the
letter we were referring to earlier [Andyís open letter on doping in cycling].
Theyíre more anti-drug than I am. Itís really interesting talking with these
They were just horrified that they knew the two guys who admitted using EPO,
or recombinant EPO, here in the States. Theyíre totally bummed out! They said,
"These guys were so cool - Iíd never guess in a million years that theyíd do
it." They were just really, really bummed that these guys apparently felt that
they had to take EPO - probably in moments of real weakness - to do their sport.
And these guys were bummed - not because they felt cheated so much as that two
of their friends had these crises and kind of gave up on just riding and
racing for the fun and hard work of it, and went to look to drugs to try and
increase their performance, and they were just telling me that it made no
sense to them.
The feeling I was left with when I heard about those two cases was just,
"Who can we believe in?"
Yeah, itís horrible.
Yeah, and that seems to be the problem right now. We need to believe in the
riders. We need to believe in the sport, but itís getting increasingly more
difficult to believe in. I wonder how we can do that - how we can get back to a
level of trust.
Iím hoping the answer is already happening, with USADA doing testing and
catching a lot of people. And also, from what I understand, a lot of the new
generations of drugs will have markers in them that USADA will be aware of.
Instead of the scare of, "Oh, the dope is always going to be one step ahead",
thereís also a very good possibility that the drug makers will be putting
markers in their drugs and showing USADA how to find that. Thereís also a good
argument that itís going to become easier and easier to catch people. Thatíll
also help discourage people, hopefully, not to take the risk.
Courtesy Andy Hampsten.