In my first article for cycling news I made a prediction that Lance Armstrong would not make it to the Tour de France start and if he did he would abandon the race before entering France. My predictions had nothing to do with Lance Armstrong’s desire or ability to race the Tour de France. It was mostly a reflection of how I would feel if I were the target the of a Federal investigation. I could not have started a Tour de France with something like that hanging over my head. I was wrong in my predictions. His determination to continue in spite of crashes and the turmoil surrounding him is surprising.
This is where Lance Armstrong stands apart. He seems unfazed by accusations of doping. These sorts of accusations would have been so devastating to me, I would never have been able to race under these circumstances.
When I made my now often repeated statement about Lance Armstrong and his long term relationship with Dr. Ferrari in 2001, I tried to keep it as short and to the point as possible. I was very disappointed to learn that he was a patient of Dr. Ferrari. Long before this relationship was revealed by David Walsh in 2001 I had made comments about the entrance of specialists like Dr. Ferrari and others into the sport of cycling. I was hearing stories back as early as 1993 about Dr. Ferrari and his client list of pro cyclists.
It was said that Dr. Ferrari was getting around 15-20% of a riders salary for preparing their doping programs. Because of this information we often joked that Dr. Ferrari was the best paid rider in the peloton.
I am not sure if the numbers are correct, but the rumor was that he was training upwards of 50 riders, most of whom were top riders. Salaries and money in the sport started to rise dramatically by the end of the 1980’ s. By 1994 there were dozens of riders making more than $500,000 and some making well over $1,000,000. Imagine getting as much as 20% of the income that 50 cyclists were earning?
I remember reading the autobiography of French rider Erwann Mentheour, Secret Defonce, Ma Verite sur le Dopage. This book was published in France in 1999. He details his cycling career and his relationship with Dr. Ferrari. In one particularly stunning incident, Erwann descibes how “Dottore” provided him with a very special potion he called,”solcinella”. It was so new that even the “Dottore” had never injected it into anyone before but Erwann and his teammate didn’t let that stop them. They decided to share the contents of the vial and inject it intravenously. He and his teammate went on to have the time trial of their lives.
This vial contained what “Dottore” told them was a sea turtle blood extract. I thought to myself “Wow, how gullible can some people be?”
A placebo can act as a powerful aid. Years later, I was reading an article about how the Chinese were doing research on sea turtle and crocodile hemoglobin. Could this possibly be the same product that Erwann injected? He was supposedly the first human being to ever inject this product.
I have read about coaches and trainers contacting biotech companies seeking to buy drugs currently in testing phases to use on their athletes. Is any sport worth dying for?
It is stories like this that influenced my opinion of Lance Armstrong’s relationship with Dr. Ferrari. How could I support this relationship? I knew too much to comment otherwise by July 2001. I was aggressively outspoken against the influence of these doctors in 1998 and early 1999. These stories were not printed in the US.
I had closely followed the deaths of many professional cyclists and the information that was well known about these types of doctor/patient relationships throughout the peloton. I doubt that there is a professional rider from my era that does not know the reason that an athlete goes to see Dr. Ferrari and others like him. If I had responded differently I would have been one of the enablers that still permeate professional cycling.
I know that it is not always easy to hear this sort of information and I too want to stand back and cheer for the courageous men who cycle for a living. They are all amazing athletes and have dedicated their lives to cycling or they would never be in the peloton at all. I just want to ensure that the race I am watching is authentic and those that pass for heroes are who we think they are.
Bravo to the new generation that refuses to follow the path that was laid before them!