by Neil Browne
Doping Fever - Is it terminal?
Honk, honk, honk! Do you hear that pro cycling? That’s the sound of Michael Rasmussen throwing you under the bus.
The banned Danish rider has a new book hitting the stores called Yellow Fever and it’s already number one. What made the book jump to the top of the charts? Well, for the same reason gossip sites like TMZ get huge amount of page hits: The public LOVES salacious stories and this one has it all. We have the standard blood doping tale, but what sets this one apart from some others is Rasmussen is naming names and he isn’t holding back.
One of the first riders outed by The Chicken was Team Garmin-Sharp’s Ryder Hesjedal. In the book Rasmussen says he taught Hesjedal about EPO. It wasn’t long after this hit the news that Ryder issued what has become the standard boilerplate answer when faced with undeniable facts of getting caught doping.
“I chose the wrong path,” “it was 10 years ago, and they were short lived,” “I made them and I have lived with that and been sorry for it ever since.” You get the point.
Before we get whipped up into a mob mentality of burning Ryder at the stake let’s take a moment to reflect and ask ourselves - is this really that big of a surprise?
Hesjedal started racing in the heyday of the EPO era and every week it seems like the list of non-dopers during that time is shorter than the list of guys with needles in their arms willing to do whatever it took to get that few percentage points advantage over the competition (or at least try to stay even with them).
What really bothered me is that it wasn’t until Yellow Fever was hitting the book shelves did Hesjedal feel compelled to admit to doping. To be fair, the Canadian did admit to USADA earlier this year and according to them, was honest about his doping, which supposedly ended in 2004. Also, Ryder was told by USADA to keep quiet about the admissions as there were “investigations” continuing. However, I’m really skeptical of the 2004 ending date. In 2004 and 2005 he rode for the US Postal Service team. He wasn’t on the Tour de France squad, but that didn’t stop guys from getting juiced. In 2006 he joined Phonak which according to Floyd Landis wasn’t exactly running a clean operation. So yeah, color me a bit doubtful when Ryder says the last time he was concerned about his “glow time” was in 2004.
The blowback also hit Garmin-Sharp team CEO Jonathan Vaughters. Cycling fans took to Twitter like the Romans at the Colosseum and accused JV of covering up, lying, and kicking kittens. Vaughters stated that he knew about Ryder’s doping admissions and was told by USADA that 2004 was indeed the last time Ryder used EPO - witnesses verified to this.
What can’t be denied is that Ryder had one of his best seasons ever in 2012, winning the Giro d’Italia years after he said he stopped doping.
Hedjedal wasn’t the only one who felt tire tracks over his back. Rasmussen also claims in his book that everyone on the Rabobank 2007 Tour de France team was using performance enhancing products. Again, looking at the list and the era is it any surprise that, Dennis Menchov, Michael Boogerd, Bram de Groot, Thomas Dekker, Juan Antonio Flecha, Oscar Freire, Grischa Niermann and Pieter Weening were under the care of a doctor supplying them with go-go juice? It is being reported that at least one member of the squad, Freire, is demanding a retraction from Rasmussen or be sued.
Here’s the kicker - the doctor sticking them with needles and handing them pills was Dr. Geert Leinders. That name might have a familiar ring to it - he was Team Sky’s doctor from 2010 to 2013. Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford backed the hiring of his doctor by claiming that the team had researched the doctor’s past. I guess Sky’s management didn’t have access to Google or failed to notice that on the good doctor’s resume was his stint at Rabobank. Anyways, Sky had a great season in 2012 with Sir Bradley Wiggins winning almost every stage race he entered as well as dominating the Tour de France to a point that some journalists were slyly comparing Wiggo’s performances and times to those of Lance Armstrong’s Tour dominance. I’ll leave you make your own connections.
To be clear, there is no proof that Leinders gave PEDs to anyone on Team Sky. But for those who reported during the Armstrong era of team organized doping, this doesn’t look good.
Undoubtedly we’ll see some more riders forced from underneath the rock they hid along with their doping secrets. The doping that went on in the 1990s and 2000s is too big a secret to hide.
Unfortunately Weening is still an active professional cyclist on Orica-GreenEDGE who hasn’t, of this writing, responded to Rasmussen’s claims. His team, however, has and according to a press release, “We have asked Pieter to fully re-confirm his legally binding written statement to the team regarding his career and these issues before and after joining the team, specifically with regards to the current allegations.”
Maybe this influenced Vaughters to take to Twitter and post, “Sad to see all these guys Rasmussen named scrambling to deny the truth. But the system, as it is, would spit them out if they admitted.”
That’s where professional cycling finds itself – eating its own. If you admit to doping you could lose your job, so what’s the point of admitting anything? If I was a pro with a doping past I’d look no further than how Omega Pharma – QuickStep handled Levi Leipheimer’s doping admission - a quick kick out the team bus door. Look at Team Sky and their strict no doping policy of zero tolerance - Bobby Julich lost his job for admitting to doping. The smartest thing is to keep your mouth closed and hope your name doesn’t appear on a list or in a book one day.
The new UCI president Brian Cookson keeps using the phrase “Truth and Reconciliation” like that’s the magic password to flush away the dirty past. Let’s say there is a truth and reconciliation, and riders like Lance Armstrong, are invited to bare their soul. Or current riders are allowed to show up to confess to doping without consequence. The public blowback on them will be ugly. Just look at Vaughters’ Twitter timeline if you don’t believe me. Regardless of what the UCI promises, the rider’s team could still fire him for the offenses because of the negative PR. In short - it’s a disaster.
Is the only way to move forward to realize that huge mistakes were made by the UCI to cover up doping? Do we just slam the door on the past and say, “No more doping from here on out or so help you, you’ll be in so much trouble.”?
To be honest I don’t claim to have a fair answer that will make everyone happy. That’s the lesson in all of this - life isn’t fair. At some point in your life you will be screwed over and there won’t be a darn thing you can do about it. No one will be happy, but we just need to accept that some of our sporting heroes cheated and lied in order to: beat the competition, stay even with the competition, or to keep their job. It’s a dirty past and one with no clear answer.