Doping in cycling – A Simpleton’s view - Mar 20, 2013

It has been extremely exasperating to watch the headlines relating to Lance Armstrong, Doping, and Cycling. The most irritating part of the whole story is watching faux experts on cycling mischaracterize  events that led us to this day. Not once did they mention, Arthur Linton, and I’m sure they’ve never heard of him. They work for ESPN, Time, etc, and haven’t the wherewithal to do much more than witch hunt. They aren’t telling you the full story of doping in the current peloton and they haven’t a clue about doping in cycling. They aren’t helping young athletes with this game, either.

What they didn’t cover

Doping has been part of cycling since the beginning of the sport. There are so many cases of drug use in the sport it is pathetic to watch people who claim to be sports writers, people who are brought on as experts show absolutely NO sign of understanding the history of the sport’s relationship to drug use.

For over a century, Linton carries the distinction of being the “first doper” of cycling. But vary rarely do we hear about any context of his story. He isn’t named with many other folks who were part of that scene. If you dig enough you’ll learn his brother died in similar fashion and if you really know your stuff, you’ll learn about Choppy Warburton. Choppy Warburton is noted as the first doping coach. He was Arthur Linton’s coach and coach for Jimmy Michael. Jimmy Michael accused Choppy Warburton of “poisoning him”.

Lancashire Family History Society
“Choppy has been firmly identified as the instigator of drug-taking in the sport [cycling] in the 19th century.”

Not once did they mention, Paul Duboc, The Pélissier Brothers (Henri, Frances, Charles) and their interview with Albert Londres in Le Petit Parisien in 1924 where they explained their use of strychnine, cocaine, chloroform, aspirin, “horse ointment”.  (Note: The humor of it being Albert Londres, I’ll give you a hint…He didn’t know cycling either….he was just another reporter.) They didn’t mention that in 1930, former TDF winner turned Organizer Henri Desgrange distributed a rule book that required riders bring their own damn drugs.

I dug and dug through each of these stories about Armstrong to find no mention of the modern greats, like Fausto Coppi who admitted to using “la Bomba” and that from his view, there was no way to remain competitive if you didn’t dope. Of course he wasn’t talking EPO, he was using military grade amphetamines used to keep troops alert. Coppi – “One day I will take the wrong pill and pedal backward”.

Most cyclists my age had heard of Tom Simpson, the English rider who died on Mont Ventoux, but had not heard of Jean Malléjac who collapsed there during the 1955 TDF.  He claims he was poisoned and maintained that until his death in 2000.

Before the great Francesco Moser’s hour record (Moser was a doper), we can look back at Roger Rivière who set a 1958 hour record while using “Amphetamines and solucamphre”.  We didn’t hear about Knud Enemark Jenson who raced the 1960 Summer Olympics while using amphetamines, phenylisopropylamine and ronicol. We didn’t hear about these events that were really key to the early doping rules of the 1960s. I remember well when Moser won the record but had to find footnotes about his being busted. The record was never wiped from the books, either.

The first person who is attributed to blood doping might be Gastone Nencini, the Italian rider who was found  by TDF officials in the middle of a transfusion. The medical process had already been in use legally for over 30 years. This was the type of activity that scared a young rider like me who knew about the technique as early as 1984. Blood doping involves taking out a pint or so of your own blood, having the red blood cells renewed over 3-6 weeks time, then reinserting the red blood cells back into your body in a hotel room or team van under little or no medical supervision.

The first 5 time winner of the Tour De France was Jacques Anquetil, who famously said, “Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.” Even the President of France, Charles de Gaulle was behind him, “Doping? What doping? Did he or did he not make them play the Marseillaise [the French national anthem] abroad?”

New Rules enacted in 1965 changed very little

There are countless cases before June 1, 1965, but lets say they don’t matter since the first rules for doping came in effect during the mid-60s. On June 1, 1965, essentially, performance enhancing drugs became illegal. Lets say for argument sake…all the doping came Before The Rules and everything after is different, right? Not even close.

1967- Tom Simpson dies on Mont Ventoux during stage 13. To this day, we rarely hear it as a result of the drug use. I listened to Phil Ligget every year from mid 80s till last year repeat that story and almost never do you hear about the drugs, you hear about he heat, how hard the mountain is, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll hear about Simpson’s other races. But rarely do you hear he was on amphetamines and alcohol.

Eddy Merckx – The Greatest ProCyclist Ever?

1969 – The greatest cyclist of our time (at the time) was Eddy Merckx. Merckx was so relentless he was nicknamed “The Cannibal” and he has become synonymous with “the greatest pro cyclist ever” in many magazines and books, yet he was found positive in 1969 Giro d’Italia, 1973 Giro di Lombardia, 1975 at Fleche Wallone and again in 1975. Yet, we are to listen to his disappointment in Armstrong? Give me a break. That’s like Tommy Chong telling my friends he’s upset they smoked Pot.

Velonews even had the audacity to run this quote: “He admitted it and it’s difficult to hear,” said the five-time Tour winner. “I was quite close to him and he often looked me right in the eyes when we discussed doping and obviously he said ‘no,’” said Merckx, who won a a record 34 stages on the Tour.”

Capped off by Merckx saying: ““It’s a disaster for the other riders. It’s so easy and so hypocritical”  Clearly the hypocrite is Merckx, who failed tests for drugs in the infancy of drug tests. Thus, how many did he pass with flying colors? Sell it to someone else Cannibal, I’m not buying it.

Every year we heard of the greats in cycling we’d hear Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain, named….as the models of success, yet while we are to believe Armstrong is the biggest cheat ever,…we have at least 3 of these riders implicated or guilty of doping; Anquetil, Merckx, and Indurain (Dr. Francesco Conconi has named both Banesto and Indurain  as big time clients) and then Hinault who never denied doping but only responded with the now famous line of confessed or busted dopers -“I never failed a test.” I want to believe you Badger, but…sorry mate, Hard To Do So.

I had to dig and dig to find that apparently maybe..only Lucien Van Impe can be called the cleanest rider of the past 40 years. In no way did he get associated with doping.

Hinault -Zoetemelk-Fignon-Lemond era

I came of age as a young man on the bike during the days of Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon and the American wonderboy, Greg LeMond. Many cyclists in America came on board during this time, maybe because of LeMond himself, but I suspect mostly because with LeMond in the field, we could now SEE the race. Before that, you would catch a highlight clip well after the racing was done, you’d read about it, or as I did, listen to the race via short wave. I didn’t understand much of it, but due to reading all the cycling magazines, I knew who was coming, who was racing, and who was winning. Hinault, Hinault. Hinault. It was a time where I didn’t know about doping, didn’t know who a kid named Lance Armstrong was (2 years my junior) and there was no formal cycling in the United States to speak of. Yeah, we had Coors Classic, etc, but mostly…it was an unformed sport. Races were picked up by shops and you had to scramble to find them. There were no American icons of cycling, in fact, few had even head of Jonathan Boyer.

But Hinault, Fignon, and Lemond were the ones who owned most of the races for 10 years, with Bernard Hinault getting 5 wins, Fignon getting 2 in there, Joop getting 1 and LeMond 3.
I want to overlap this on purpose, but I consider there to be two generations here, with LeMond being the end of the Hinault-Zoetemelk-Fignon generation and moving into the Roche-Delgado-Indurain days.
Before LeMond’s 1985 loss to Hinault, we have Fignon and Zoetemelk, both busted for doping. I will never forget the amazing finish of the World Championships when Zoetemelk opened that amazing lead on the pack. It was something I hoped would happen to me. Of course, as a kid, nobody told me he was a doper.

Fignon died a few years ago and we know that he was a doper. He was a very interesting fellow to watch with his professorial look and calm demeanor. But we have left his win on the books, and we haven’t questioned those who beat him who have been called “clean” over and over again, no different than we see when people called Lance Armstrong “clean” because he hadn’t failed a test. Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault might indeed be clean actors in the sport. But how does Greg LeMond explain his win over Fignon who was busted during the same tour? We know about the amazing final time trial, but what about the fact that Fignon was busted related to the team time trial.

So I’m supposed to believe in the miracle of Greg Lemond, the guy who almost died and came back to win from cold start…but is it any different than the disbelief I hear at Armstrong’s post cancer wins? Determination, dedication, hard work, that is what he told us. Sorry, I’m not interested in upholding the LeMond myth. He is another ride who I will always doubt. How did this guy go from winning in 1986, spending 2 years recovering from turkey shot, to a win over a doper like Fignon. He’s a miracle? Sell it to the fanboys who still by his myths, I’m not buying.

Indurain-Riis-Ulrich era

Brings me to look at all the folks who were racing after Lemond, and that doesn’t give us anywhere near a clean field. Year after year we had busts of major riders including people closely associated to the TDF GC class (GC is General Classification, the overall winner or Yellow Jersey), Bjarne Riis was disgraced in a big way, but most of the riders who were GC were left untouched. As we draw to the end of the drama that is Lance Armstrong’s career, I’m supposed to be convinced that he is the “worst cheat” of all time, etc. Sorry, the facts say otherwise. The facts say, the sport I have always loved has been riddled with drug use from its beginnings and that story isn’t being told to this day? Instead, we are to believe that most riders are clean, and only a few bad guys are ruining the sport. In the Pro Ranks, this is utter crap. When I was wanting to be a pro, nobody said, “you’ll have to dope” to get there. But try keeping that spin up so high for days on end without enhancing your performance.

Just take a look at the field and ask yourself what Lance Armstrong asked himself about cheating. Can it be cheating if all your competitors are loaded up to the gills to? In essence, it is a new leveled playing field.

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Alex Zülle (‘98 busted for EPO)
3. Fernando Escartín (Systematic team doping exposed in ‘04)
4. Laurent Dufaux (‘98 busted for EPO)
5. Ángel Casero (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Jan Ullrich (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
3. Joseba Beloki (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
4. Christophe Moraue (‘98 busted for EPO)
5. Roberto Heras (‘05 busted for EPO)

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Jan Ullrich (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
3. Joseba Beloki (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
4. Andrei Kivilev
5. Igor González de Galdeano (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Joseba Beloki (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
3. Raimondas Rumšas (Suspended in ‘03 for doping)
4. Santiago Botero (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
5. Igor González de Galdeano (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Jan Ullrich (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
3. Alexander Vinokourov (Suspended in ‘07 for CERA)
4. Tyler Hamilton (Suspended ‘04 for blood doping)
5. Haimar Zubeldia

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Andreas Kloden (Named in doping case in ‘08)
3. Ivan Basso (Suspended in ‘07 for Operacion Puerto ties)
4. Jan Ullrich (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
5. Jose Azevedo (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Ivan Basso (Suspended in ‘07 for Operacion Puerto ties)
3. Jan Ullrich (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
4. Fransico Mancebo (‘06 implicated in Operacion Puerto)
5. Alexander Vinokourov (Suspended in ‘07 for CERA)

Take the entire list of TDF Champions and you’d have almost none left if you stripped them for doping.

In the past 40 years alone:
Bradley Wiggins
Cadel Evans – Ferrari association questions
Alberto Contador –  Victim of steak  – Win vacated
Carlos Sastre
Floyd Landis – Win vacated
Lance Armstrong  – Win vacated
Marco Pantani – Win not vacated but he’s dead from cocaine
Jan Ullrich – busted Wins not vacated
Bjarne Riis – busted Wins not vacated
Miguel Indurain –   Wins not vacated – Tested positive – Tested positive for salbutamol in 1994. Salbutamol banned by UCI later. He and Banesto now pegged by doctor who said they were big time clients
Greg Lemond – raced and beat dopers, not busted yet.
Pedro Delgado – busted Wins not vacated
Bernard Hinault – “never failed a test”
Laurent Fignon – busted Wins not vacated
Lucien Van Impe
Eddy Merckx – busted Wins not vacated
Luis Ocana – busted Win not vacated

I think it is entirely clear we aren’t seeing a proper view of this problem if the only name we’re discussing…is Lance Armstrong. And people scoff at him saying he’s being singled out? Even if I hated the guy, it is clear that he is being singled out. This isn’t going to solve doping anytime soon.

What discouraged me from wanting to dope to succeed?

Now, lets be clear, I had no fighting chance to get to the level necessary to compete in the TDF, but before that became clear later, I was already hearing about the dangers of blood doping (Toxemia, embolism, and other risks) and this sort of education went far for me. To tell me how EPO could harm me would have helped. What wouldn’t have helped? Busting my early heroes, Merckx, Hinault, and Moser. Greg LeMond was never my hero, he whined too much. But education was the key. I believe to this day, that is still the key.

What if all the money used by USADA were instead spent on educating youth?

What if we saw a maturation in the “doping” paradigm where we could do research on riders who are willing to let their bodies be used for the best of science? Many people deal with real health issues that could benefit from a proper medical approach to performance enhancement. The prohibition era has never yielded the best results. Instead, it produces a secondary society that is forced into hiding.

I needn’t defend any particular cyclist to make this point, but there is only one cyclist who is bearing the weight of this large paradigm. He’s 2 years my junior and I am sorry that sportzines like ESPN and the like cannot tell the total truth. They’d rather hunt.


I’m against cheating in life. The fruit it yields spoils quickly. I’m all for supporting clean riders and I have a lot of empathy for riders who tried their damn best to race while clean. I know there are great racers who did their best while clean. But I’m writing this because if we’re going to get there, it won’t happen because USADA went after Lance Armstrong. It won’t happen until people like Christiane Prudhomme, commercial sponsors, and other officials who have a vested interest in exciting races are also under the spotlight.

My one complaint to tell Lance Armstrong would deal with the bullying, which has nothing to do with the doping. He knows what I mean the moment I mention this, I’m sure. Bullying is wrong, period. Whether it was Christophe Bassons or Betty Andreu, I never approved of intimidating even when right. But we aren’t watch him being hunted over this, instead we’re to hear Piers Morgan proclaim, “worst cheat ever!”

Armstrong has called for a “truth and reconciliation” panel and I completely agree. TC panels are designed to move beyond the blame game in order to get to the truth and seek real change. Had Lance Armstrong truly been one of the lone riders using Performance Enhancing Drugs, we couldn’t really have a TC panel. But he wasn’t the only one, the US Postal team or RadioShack team aren’t the only teams, and even Johan Bruyneel isn’t the only coach that should be examined. We need to hear more about Indurain and we need a solid denial by Bernard Hinault instead of “never failed a test”.

In order to clean up a sport, you have to tell the truth. USADA and Travis Tygart are not going to clean up the sport by witch hunting. In fact, they’ll only harm the sport in doing so. Tygart has an ego complex that leaps out on the screen when he’s being interviewed. He thinks himself the knight to save our damsel. But he’s full of his own windbag and worse the American tax payers are wasting their money.

And finally, “fanboy” has become the term of the day and clearly many who are quick to yell their disappointment are unable to find their own center. I don’t understand their mindset so I can only say, if you were disappointed you probably didn’t understand the rest of the backdrop. I don’t go to wrestling and get bent out of shape finding out “this is fake!” I don’t see these folks raving about the faux reality shows that are big lies. I don’t see these folks asking musicians to drop their performance enhancing drugs. Instead, they are being pack creatures and singing whining tune.

Lance Armstrong lost his wins on the books while other riders keep theirs. If that is fair, then I don’t know the meaning of the word fair. To me, if they want to be fair, Merckx loses all his wins, Indurain loses all his wins, Anquetil loses all his wins, and Bernard Hinault is forced to answer without “never failed a test”.

Meanwhile, I’ll be on the bike enjoying life knowing that the only blood drawn from my veins went to blood banks.

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