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Andy Hampsten - The Interview
 
By Staff
Date: 8/23/2004
Andy Hampsten - The Interview
 

Read Part One: Andy Hampsten - An American Pioneer
Read Andy's Open Letter on Doping

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 rapidly changing.

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 ahead.

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 person.

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 - he 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." - well, 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 about!

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 in charge.

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 kids.

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.

Thanks, Andy.


Courtesy Andy Hampsten.


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