Thor Hushovd has reiterated his belief that wining clean during a period of widespread doping in professional cycling was possible. The Norwegian was speaking during a press conference to publicise the release of his autobiography.
The recently retired 36-year-old faced questions relating to his career but others, including fellow ex-professionals Lance Armstrong and Christophe Bassons.
All three riders’ careers overlapped, with Bassons – seen as bastion of clean cycling by many due to his stance in the post-Festina era – vilified by a number of his former colleagues.
Hushovd’s autobiography was provided to a selection of the Norwegian national press on Wednesday and the immediate talking point centred around a short conversation he had held with Lance Armstrong in 2011. It’s alleged that the American told Hushovd "all of us did it", during a chat about doping.
Hushovd kept the conversation private until the revelation appeared in his book. He immediately faced criticism from the Norwegian anti-doping authorities for withholding the information.
Bassons was brought up during Hushovd’s press conference by one national journalist as an example of a clean rider forced out of the sport for speaking out against doping. Bassons has stated before that it was almost impossible for him win clean during his career, something that Hushovd altogether disagreed with.
“He probably had a rough time when riding, but he should also have the guts to look at himself. Because, he has said it was impossible to compete at top level [chasing wins, ed.] without using doping. Then he has to look at himself: Did he do a good enough job? Was his talent big enough? Did he eat the right food? He must look himself in the mirror. I’ve never seen anyone ask him those questions. Because it is possible. I did it,” Hushovd said.
“I left the quit Tour of California when Lance sent me a text message. He asked me to come to Hollywood where he got me a hotel room. And then…. We had nice weekend. Out of the blue he said: 'Thor, let’s face it. Everybody did it'. I was surprised. He said that in a private setting.”
Hushovd was asked by the gathering press as to why he chose to keep the conversation private, and didn’t pass the information onto relevant authorities.
“This was at the peak of my career, in 2011. I had the rainbow jersey. And I don’t think it is… I don’t think it is my job to,” he said.
“Maybe I could’ve told the anti-doping bodies. But I don’t think it is my job to. And they were already working a lot on this issue at the time. If this would’ve happened again, I would probably have done the same thing. I’ve chosen to handle doping related issues in my own way during my career.”
“If I had said that Lance did this, there wouldn’t have been a lot left of me. I was supposed to ride a bike. That’s my job. And I’ve done it pretty well now and then. Others will have to discover who doped or not. That issue I raise in my book as well. Why doesn’t the anti-doping government catch those who cheat? I think that’s worth raising questions about.”
Hushovd has mixed feelings on Armstrong’s legacy. The American was stripped of his seven Tour de France wins in 2012 following a long investigation by USADA into the doping regime and culture at US Postal. While Armstrong decided at the time not to face the charges brought against him he has repeatedly claimed that the peloton as a whole practiced in doping – a point that is debatable given the stance of riders like Bassons, while on the other hand the long list of doping investigations and positives that have taken down a large number of riders.
“Lance had a Hollowood status, and 'built' the sport in important countries as USA, Canada, England and Australia. That happened because of Lance. He raised the popularity of the sport. This was a pretty simple, traditional sport, then he came with his story. That’s why I write that,” Hushovd said when asked about the American’s legacy.
He was then asked whether doping to win seven Tour irreparably damaged the sport.
“Yes. But he has contributed to building of the sport. I don’t defend what he did, I’m one of those riders who cried while climbing mountains because of Lance and the other dopers.”
Thanks to Anders K. Christiansen, who helped with this report.