Après nous, le déluge.
I will leave Lance Armstrong alone for the moment, except to say that the mounting evidence suggests that aside from being one of the great sporting cheats, he pretty much fits the definition of some serious personality disorders. Enough will be written about Armstrong in the coming days.
Instead I’d like to focus on the blackened apologies of Barry, Danielson, Hincapie, Leipheimer, Vande Velde and Zabriskie, and the narrative that is adopted by all the riders – I was given a choice, give up my dream or dope, I crossed the line, I’m sorry etc. Well, I’m sorry fellas, but there is nothing but shame in this post-retirement confession. I have no sympathy for a man who cheated, denied clean riders an opportunity, bolstered a culture of cheating, and only came clean once the decision was inescapable.
So on to Michael Barry, le Métier himself, for a rider suffering from shame and sleepless nights, he was still able to pen a book on his time with US Postal. And for someone for whom the “fun” was taken out of cycling, he sure did ladle in witty ripostes and charming anecdotes.
And of course there was Barry’s self-indulgent biographical book, Le Métier, which is thusly described by Rouleur:
It’s an honest and sometimes touching look into the life, trials and tribulations, as well as the triumphs, of a cycling domestique
And by Barry:
le Métier was a phrase I heard every day as I worked toward being a pro. To me, it is the essence of cycling: devotion, work ethic, savoir-faire, an identity developed through experience.
Barry also lied to the press in 2010 after Floyd Landis’ allegations came out.
Danielson, aside from a rehash of the dream/the choice was no choice story, also mentions Slipstream as an organisation where ex-dopers could find salvation. Indeed, in his affidavit, it seems clear that Vaughters offered Danielson a lifeline to leave Discovery. However, it isn’t clear from the affidavit whether Danielson would have raced clean in 2007 had he stayed with Discovery. The Slipstream ethos is echoed by Vande velde and Zabriskie and whilst the values of the team are admirable, and David Millar’s redemption heart-warming, the presence of the silent ex-posties is a dark stain.
Hincapie heaps on the justification in much the same manner Hamilton did in his book – there was no way to compete clean. Of course he couldn’t give up on his dream, none of these cheats had the strength to make the correct choice. Indeed they all portray morality as some kind of sisyphean task. Both Leipheimer and Danielson claimed to be victims of systemic doping where the choice to dope wasn’t actually a choice at all. Tell that to someone like Christophe Bassons who managed to stay clean despite being a member of one of the dirtiest teams in history (Festina in 1998), and who was shunned by the entire peloton in the 1999 Tour de France. A peloton, I might add, that included Hincapie and Vande Velde.
Hincapie, as the email exchange below shows, was far from a blameless acolyte. In fact, his affidavit depicts a doping regimine that he actively managed.
Leipheimer’s confession is possibly the worst of all. He acknowledges that he could have come forward sooner, but then follows that with the most stunningly venal justification:
I could have come forward sooner. But would that have accomplished anything—other than to end my career? One rider coming forward and telling his story in the face of cycling’s code of silence would not have fixed a problem that was institutional.
Leipheimer goes further than the others into elucidating his dream of professional cycling, the sacrifices he made along the way, and how his choice to dope was justified because ethical behaviour had been abrogated due to systemic doping. What is odd about Leipheimer’s affidavit is the lack of detail in the Astana/Radioshack years. There is no mention of doping at all, even though the same protagonists from USPS and Discovery are on the team.
Vande Velde’s confession is pretty much a boilerplate, after-the-fact mea culpa. It reads like a thousand other PR releases but at least it seems as if he wrote it, unlike Hincapie’s, which might easily have come straight from his attorney. He has a stab at justification, claiming that his performances never greatly improved, but sticks to the narrative pattern we see across all of these releases – I’ve been clean since 2006 (or 2007 in Leipheimer’s case.)
Ironically, I never won while doping, I was more or less just treading water.
Yet in his affidavit he mentions the performance boost from doping. Zabriskie is hard to read, because I’m almost moved to sympathy. The revelations of his father’s addiction to drugs and untimely death are certainly very sad. But I’m not sure what to make of this:
I subsequently succumbed in less than a handful of confined instances never making it a systematic part of my training practices or race routines.
What is a “handful”, and what was the time-frame during which he failed to follow his “personal and moral compass”? In his affidavit he mentions doping that persisted over four years from 2002 to 2006. I note with sadness that it was Michael and Dede Barry who, after Johan Bruyneel’s persistance, put further pressure on him to start doping. As an aside, Dede Barry was also a professional cyclist and won a silver medal in the time trial at the 2004 Olympics. Ultimately Zabriskie, like Leipheimer, had a moral compass malfunction that failed to direct him towards telling the truth until he was compelled by Federal prosecutors and/or the USADA. Zabriskie’s affidavit is quite tough reading, his metal fragility is laid bare.
And here are les mots justes that almost depict a conspiracy of contrition.
After being encouraged by the team, pressured to perform and pushed to my physical limits I crossed a line I promised myself and others I would not: I doped. It was a decision I deeply regret.
Then, after years of doing things the right way, I was presented with a choice that to me, did not feel like a choice at all. In the environment that I was in, it felt like something I had to do in order to continue following my dream.
Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them.
I regret that this was the state of affairs in the sport that we love and I chose as my career. I am sorry that I was forced to make the decisions I made. I admit that I didn’t let doping deter me from my dream. I admit that I used banned substances.
Then, one day, I was presented with a choice that to me, at the time, seemed like the only way to continue to follow my dream at the highest level of the sport.
After distinguishing myself in an important race, management presented me with drugs and instructed me on how to proceed. I was devastated. I was shocked. I had never used drugs and never intended to. I questioned, I resisted, but in the end, I felt cornered and succumbed to the pressure.
Please do not draw inspiration from these admissions, they are not displays of courage any more than Tyler Hamilton’s book was. They are the forced proclamations of cheats who knew their time was up, that they finally had no other choice. There is no honour in telling the truth when it has already been extracted by means of a subpoena, comes long after the fact, and results in a minimal suspension. These riders were complicit in one of the great black periods of international sport, we should never fail to view them as cheats who benefited greatly from doping and from maintaining the omerta around it. If you are looking for a shining light through this whole fiasco, consider riders like Christophe Bassons and Frankie Andreu who owned up early and suffered financially and emotionally as a result. Consider, too, advocates of clean cycling like Greg LeMond and Paul Kimmage.
All the active riders mentioned above will be getting a six month ban, conveniently back-dated to 1 September (back in time for Paris-Nice!), and their palmares will be cleared in the periods where they admitted to doping. Like Lance Armstrong, they will not be required to repay any wealth generated from their athletic careers. This includes wages, books, products, endorsements, and appearance fees. The culmulative salaries paid to these riders could have supported entire domestic teams, women’s cycling initiatives or nurturing new talent. Their victories had far-reaching consequences, as described by 40 year-old US domestic pro, Adam Myerson
“Every one of those guys took up a spot on a team,” Myerson said of the riders who admitted doping. “They took prize money and they got results. Just banning them from the sport or erasing their results from the records doesn’t put money back in other people’s pockets. Their doping changed people’s lives. It affected everyone. People missed opportunities that they would have gotten with spots on teams.
On a more personal level some of these riders sat idly by whilst Armstrong and Bruyneel exacted personal revenge on former friends, employees and team mates. They allowed smear campaigns to go unchallenged. They publicly denied that they had cheated on numerous occasions, and left whistleblowers like Landis to swing in the wind. There are no role models here. These are not the advocates we need for clean cycling.
A friend just commented over at The Inner Ring and gave me permission to cross-post it here. As a solicitor, he has some interesting insight on the timing of the affidavits. It goes some way to explaining why the sanctions appear to be back-dated:
Interesting that all of the affidavits (at least those that I have read so far) were executed in the last week of September or the first week of October. Michael Barry and Emma O’Reilly only executed theirs a few days ago (8th and 9th of October respectively). All of them were executed after USADA handed down its decision on LA. I am not familiar with the applicable arbitration rules but wouldn’t these have needed to have been prepared in advance of that mooted hearing date if USADA was hoping to adduce them as evidence in the arbitration? Have they been amended or abridged since then for some reason? Strange.
I also note that all of the affidavits contain the statement at the end which states “This affidavit is not an exhaustive summary of my testimony”. What was left on the cutting room floor?
Perhaps there is more to come, and I certainly would hope to see more detail from Leipheimer for the period 2008 to 2011.
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