Vélo Files: Coming Clean

Anthony Tan

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David Millar and Bobby Julich share a laugh at the 2006 Tour de France. (Getty Images)

If cycling is to have any chance of redeeming itself in the eyes of the public, the window of opportunity for sinners to come clean, and for authorities to implement measures new and improved, is fast closing, writes Anthony Tan.

Omertà is alive and kicking in 2012 – at all levels.

On 10 October, when the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released their Reasoned Decision dossier to the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), they, to their credit, also made that dossier a matter of public record.

They also aired the affidavits of fifteen professional cyclists, past and present, including eleven of Lance Armstrong’s former teammates.

George Hincapie’s was the one I read first. He – and his sworn affidavit – was the one considered most credible.

A nineteen-year professional career that, until we learned he was part of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) probe and the USADA-United States Postal Service (USPS) cycling team inquiry, had been unblemished by doping innuendo. Armstrong once said he was “like a brother” – the only ‘bro’ that stood alongside the Texan throughout all seven of his now rescinded Tour de France victories.

The sixteen-page affidavit, declared under penalty of perjury and signed 24 September 2012, contained one-hundred-and-one separate though often interrelated statements.

He wrote that he and Armstrong “were friends from the start”. He wrote about having trouble keeping up in his second year with Motorola, and later learned it was because of “the widespread use of erythropoietin (EPO)”, for which there was “no effective doping test”. He wrote how “we got crushed” in the 1995 Milan-San Remo and that “Lance Armstrong was very upset”.

“He (Armstrong) said, in substance, that he did not want to get crushed any more and something needed to be done. I understood that he meant the team needed to get on EPO,” Hincapie wrote.

Statement #28 reads: “In 1995 and 1996 I lived in Como, Italy with [Rider 4], Kevin Livingston, and Frankie Andreu.”

Statement #30 reads: “Eventually, I came to understand that Frankie Andreu had experimented with EPO, and he told me how I could obtain it in Switzerland. Kevin, [Rider 4] and I discussed using EPO at this time and my understanding was that we all began using it around this time.”

In 1996, Hincapie went to a pharmacy in Switzerland, an hour’s drive away from Como. There, he bought enough EPO to fuel what he believed was necessary to “keep up”, and began injecting it subcutaneously (he received his first “what I understood to be vitamin B-12 injections” at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona), starting off with “2,000 international units every two to three days”.

Statement #32 reads: “It soon became clear to me that most of the riders, if not everyone on the team, were using EPO. EPO needs to be kept cold and the guys began carrying around coolers and coffee thermoses with ice in them. I generally recall that almost everyone on our team had a thermos.”

Statement #33 reads: “Our performance began to improve. Lance started to do better. [Rider 4] did very well at the Vuelta a España. We all routinely acknowledged that the improvements came about through use of EPO.”

In 1997, riding for the USPS cycling team, Hincapie used EPO, administered by then team doctor Pedro Celaya (who, along with Johan Bruyneel and Jose ‘Pepe’ Marti, have chosen to contest the charges brought by USADA and take their cases to arbitration), to help him complete his first Tour de France. He would also take human growth hormone (hGH) and testosterone pills “to recover after stages of the race”.

When Bruyneel came team director in 1999 he also brought Dr Luis Garcia de Moral – now banned for life by USADA, along with Dr Michele Ferrari – and Marti into the fold, where he closely tracked Hincapie’s blood parameters, calling if the Belgian “had a concern about my haematocrit level, such as if it was close to the fifty per cent cut off level over which we could not race”. Del Moral “provided saline infusions on many occasions during each year from 1999 through 2003” in order to keep ‘Big George’ below the 50 per cent marker that would prevent him from racing.

“Johan knew about my drug use and from time to time he facilitated it by providing drugs to me.”

Being the brother he was, Hincapie warned Armstrong if drug-testing officials were in close proximity, such as in 2000 when “Lance indicated to me he had taken testosterone”.

“I texted Lance to warn him to avoid the place. As a result, Lance dropped out of the race.”

Statement #56 reads: “I was aware that Lance Armstrong was using EPO in 1999.”

Hincapie and his USPS teammates would later augment their medically assisted training and racing regime by blood doping.

Statement #71 reads: “I spoke with Lance in 2001 about beginning on the blood doping program.”

Bruyneel, Marti, Ferrari, del Moral, Celaya were all involved, Hincapie said, where he recalls seeing teammates [Rider 5], [Rider 6], [Rider 7] and [Rider 8] on “several occasions” having their blood re-infused. The only name not protected in Statement #72 is that of Floyd Landis, who first blew the whistle in May 2010.

In Statement #74 Hincapie recalls a time in 2003 when Armstrong had guests at his flat in Girona, so he received a call “about needing to do something private at my apartment”. With del Moral in tow, Armstrong turned up and used Hincapie’s bedroom for “about 45 minutes to an hour which is about the time it generally takes to re-infused a bag of blood”.

“Although we did not discuss the incident, I believed that Dr del Moral was re-infusing blood for Lance as Dr del Moral had followed a similar procedure when re-infusing my blood on prior occasions.”

Statement #78 reads: “From my conversations with Lance Armstrong and experiences with Lance and the team I am aware that Lance used blood transfusions from 2001 through 2005.”

Statement #84 reads: “EPO use was common on the US Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams during the period from 1999 through 2007 and I discussed EPO use with other riders on the team.”

Statement #90 reads: “After Lance retired I began to think about my involvement in doping and that it was time to try to stand up for change in the sport. I was tired of the doping, and I thought if I talked with other riders perhaps I could influence a change in the sport. As I talked with other riders, most approved of this approach.”

Statement #92 reads: “I have not used any banned drugs or methods since 2006.”

Statement #94 reads: “I road for Team High Road in 2008 and 2009 and BMC Racing in 2010 through 2012. I am not aware of any doping occurring on those teams.”

Statement #96 reads: “In making this statement I have endeavoured above all things to be truthful and accurate. Although I know that my testimony is painful for some, including myself, it is not made with any animosity and, in fact, is made with some regret.”

“Painful” and “some regret” doesn’t do this affidavit justice. Compelling, unequivocal, incontrovertible, and heartbreakingly sad more like it.

After first reading it, I also thought to myself, besides Hincapie and the fourteen who testified to the USADA, how many others from this despicable era in cycling’s history will come now clean and tell all?

Would the identities of Riders 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 be revealed?

It didn’t take Einstein to deduce ‘Rider 4’ was the now ousted Team Sky coach and podium finisher at the 1998 Tour, Bobby Julich.

Although any mention of him has now been removed from Team Sky’s website, his bio read that Julich ‘shot to prominence during ‘96 Vuelta’, as Hincapie noted in Statement #33 of his affidavit.

A few weeks back, when I dug up the final classification from the 1996 Vuelta a España, I discovered only three Americans finished that year. Julich, in his second season with Motorola, finished highest, in ninth overall, 15’10 behind Alex Zülle of Switzerland – one of five riders from Festina to admit using EPO after the team was jettisoned at the 1998 Tour de France.

Kevin Livingston – who Hincapie (and Hamilton) testified as being a frequent EPO user at the 1999 Tour – was the next best American, finishing an unremarkable 61st, 1:53’21 down on Zülle. And Chann McRae finished eighth-last, 108th out of 115 riders to make it to Madrid.

I sat on this, because rather than exposing Julich and accepting any kudos for outing a dope cheat, I hoped that he – and others – would come forward out of their own volition.

But he didn’t. It wasn’t till 25 October, eight days after Team Sky issued their ‘zero-tolerance’ policy – “we will talk individually with each team member and ask everyone, at every level of the team, to sign up to a clear written policy, confirming that they have no past or present involvement in doping”  – that it was announced Julich was leaving after two seasons.

“Bobby has shown courage in admitting to the errors he made long before his time with Team Sky.  We understand that this is a difficult step for him and we’ve done our best to support him,” read the team statement.

Courage? Support? Please, Dave Brailsford, do not take us for idiots.

Julich did not jump – he was pushed. And how does a zero tolerance “support” those who transgressed?

Almost a month has passed since USADA’s Reasoned Decision was made public, where overwhelming evidence was provided to support the long-held belief that throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s and early-to-mid 2000s doping was rife within the peloton.

Yet, apart from the fifteen who were compelled to testify, those who have come forward by conscience alone are conspicuous by their absence, and number less than five.

The UCI, at its September management meeting, backed away from the idea of an amnesty or truth and reconciliation commission (TRC). “That was discussed and (…) the committee said, ‘This is the direction we need to go. We need to concentrate on the sport today and not so much to the past’,” Pat McQuaid, its beleaguered president, told the AP.

The motion’s preamble said there is “no point in continuing to re-examine the past of then undetectable doping and stigmatise the sport of the young generations now that the situation has considerably improved through the UCI’s continued efforts”.

No point knowing whom else was involved, allegedly including a former UCI president? No point in understanding the full extent of the conspiracy, how pervasive and insidious it was, and who is yet to reveal themselves? No point in knowing if certain tainted riders are now in management or coaching positions, teaching younger generations how to dope and get away with it?

No point in transparency and honesty? No point in learning from the mistakes of the past – therefore allowing history no choice but to repeat itself?

No point my arse.

Disturbingly, omertà is alive and kicking in November 2012 – at all levels.

Thankfully, it is WADA who will decide on the efficacy and implementation of an amnesty or TRC, to which its Australian president John Fahey says he’s “very interested” in.

“Let me say it’s not up to cycling to decide on an amnesty, it is a matter that the World Anti-Doping Agency would have to decide,” Fahey said last month.

“I’m very interested. But do you leave it as simply cycling or do you say, ‘Well, look, let’s have an amnesty across the board and if there is a problem in any other sport – including cycling – let everybody come clean and let’s start again?’ That suggestion is one which I am sure my board would be very interested in entertaining.”

Statement #101, Hincapie’s final statement, reads: “While I understand that the choices we made were wrong, I understand why we made them and why, at the time, we felt justified in making them. I do not condemn Lance for making those choices and I do not wish to be condemned for the choices I made.”

Indeed, to condemn these men and banish them to hell is not the answer. For the few who have come clean, they are behoved with a responsibility to teach future generations not to repeat the mistakes they made, and imbue them with the notion of realistic goal setting, rather than a win-at-all-costs mentality.

But for those still sitting on the sidelines, your silence – the omertà – is becoming deafening. If you do not fess up and seek forgiveness soon, you will likely never be forgiven.

The issue has been confronted. However, for there to be any chance of restoring faith in the sport, it needs to be dealt with – swiftly, effectively, and publicly.

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