Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Toll of Doping - was it worth it?

Were the experiences and competitive results I obtained with the help of doping worth the physical and mental anguish I’ve suffered during the past two years? The simple answer is “no”. While this probably seems like a no-brainer to the casual fan or weekend racer, it was not a conclusion I ever foresaw during those long nights spent hooked up to an IV or smarting from an intramuscular injection. Doping can ruin your life – and that’s the message I have for young athletes who might face similar choices.

Don’t get me wrong – save from a few brief moments of clarity when I recoiled in disgust from my participation in systematic doping – I understand that I was willing to follow “the program” if it meant I could keep racing and practicing the sport I loved in an environment that seemed intoxicating to me. Unbeknown to most, I had two significant opportunities to escape the system – one in the aftermath of a terrible crash in 2003 that almost cost me my left leg, and later in early 2006 after it was revealed publicly that a former teammate of mine had tested positive for EPO. And though both times I took baby steps towards the door of mental and physical freedom from cheating, I lacked sufficient willpower, confidence and hope for a future without competitive cycling to break free. Maybe things would have been different if I’d had a stronger outside influence, or a better-calibrated moral compass, but the reality is that I didn’t, and I’m reminded of this each and every day of my life.

I don’t ask for sympathy from those of you who could never understand how a good person can make a fundamentally bad decision – or even a series of major mistakes – but I was amazed by the venomous hostility that characterized so much of the anonymous email sent to me care of my website www.joepapp.com. I never realized that so many people felt so let down or angry with me for my own failings. I do offer my sincerest apologies to those people I directly harmed – my competitors who raced without the aid of performance enhancing drugs. Though I met more dopers than clean professional cyclists during my time with a UCI license, I know you’re out there and I took food from your plate.

Without cataloging the entire collection of woes that have befallen me as a result of doping, there are four that bear mentioning (in addition to almost having died after my last race), and which future professionals tempted by the needle should acknowledge: the poisoning of personal and professional relationships that were incredibly important to me; separation from my family; my inability to secure post-cycling work in the professional field for which I’d trained and my subsequent financial ruin; and the dual physical and mental anguish I’ve endured since being cast out of the sport I loved, which formed such a dominant part of my identity and sense of self.

I started cycling on May 25, 1989 – my 14th birthday, one day after the death of my father. Cycling was an escape from a shattered childhood, but also a means to supercharge my existence – to travel to exotic parts of the world, immerse myself in foreign cultures, represent my country, test myself physically and mentally and generally collect experiences that I thought would form a life tapestry rivaling that of my peers. In the end though, that tapestry is shredded. It hangs in tatters, and I’m left with little more than a few dusty trophies, fading stamps in my passport and vague notions of “what could have been”.

Unlike the authors of more than a few melodramatic letters that appeared in major cycling publications, I would never dissuade a young athlete from following his sporting dreams. I would, however, strongly encourage anyone choosing to pursue sport as a career to relentlessly analyze the long-term costs of his participation against the short-term benefits. Ruin lies in wait for dopers who are caught, but even clean sport can exact a significant toll. There are two questions I wish I’d prepared answers for prior to leaving grad school to return to racing: 1) What would I choose to do if I couldn’t race a bicycle and 2) How would I support myself doing something I loved and construct an enjoyable life if professional cycling couldn’t be a part of it?

I’ve been forced to confront the fact that my answers to both questions are still incomplete, and that I’m running out of time to respond appropriately. I am humbled and contrite, and implore you young athletes to avoid making the same mistakes that have consigned me to my present state.


28 comments:

  1. very well articuated, Joe. I wish I could pry open some very stubborn doper brains and pour this in. In 10 years this will be a speck in your rearview mirror. Please spend time every day thinking about not this.

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  2. Joe, you fell, and you rose. Now, forza, keep on going.

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  4. Anon on 15 of May of 2008 23:40, you are douchebag and to a loser in the cover because you comment anonymous. Instead of bad that speaks to envelope which you perceive to be the personality of the messenger, you must see the greatest picture - than Papp he is not isolated in which he did but he participated in the same systemic deceit that Landis and others did. But he is the unique one to speak in detail of it. So you don' t like him personally that sounds and you take then myopic view from the content of the article in Outside. Poor Sightedness on you.

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  5. Joe was one of the best cyclists I ever personally raced against. Who am I to judge the decisions he made? If I was in his position to try to make a living by racing my bike, I may have made the same choices. He messed up and has obviously paid for the mistakes he made. He is doing the right thing now in speaking out about what happened. Give him a break.

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  6. You made a choice you now must live by,right or wrong,but i have every faith you will come out the other side a stronger,more positive person.For you to openly admit your mistakes takes a certain kind of individual,people are quick to ridicule,but most never have any clue as to what they are saying.I forgive you for whatever you may have done,i am a friend for life.

    As you go through life,you learn who your real friends are when you are at your lowest.You are already on the way up Joe,don't let uneducated people try to knock you down.

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  7. Joe,

    It has been a number of years since you and I have spoken....I hope that this whole experience has brought you some inner peace and clarity. You were one of the most talented racers I ever raced against. Keep preaching the "good message", take care of yourself, your wife and son, stay on the bike...the bike is life....take care brother

    Michael Gacki
    Frisco, Tx

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  8. Good point Bret. People that post anonymously are asswipes.

    Thanks,
    Burt Hoovis

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  9. I hate that you cheated me on the bike at least once, when I needed to pay my rent. But no one can argue with the fact that you didn't pull a "Tyler" and that you did come clean, and named names (Leogrande, for example - that douche). Good luck getting your shit together. I hope you race again though, just so I can fucking crack you since you won't have 53hct.

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  10. Thanks, Anon 07 August, 2009 13:31. It probably wasn't 53, though. More like 58. See:

    Mr. 58%

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  11. Congratulations for telling the truth, just like Manzano did. I hope you rebuilding your life.

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  12. Joe; I just sent this piece to some young guys I have been working with and it is a good reminder to steer clear of drugs. Hope you are well. Chris Tirone

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  13. Hi Joe,

    I just found your site via your recent interview with Pez. You're AWWWWWWESOME. PLEASE write a book about your experiences. I think there is a big hole in the market for a personal, tell-all book about RECENT doping in cycling. Put me down for 10 copies.

    Keep up the great work. I wish more cyclists were as forthcoming as you.

    Sam

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  14. Thanks for the positive feedback, Liggett, and the encouragement. I'll certainly consider writing a book, and will save the first 10 copies for you - should I dedicate them to anyone in particular when they're ready to be autographed?

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  15. You gotta do it, Joe! And, when your book comes out, I will give you the names of my friends that would love a personalized copy from you. Besides your story, I'd also like to see LeMond write about his experiences in the 80s. I've heard him discuss and offer his opinion on the scourge of doping in the 1990s and 2000s. We know from the books by Kimmage and Voet, for example, that amphetamines, testosterone, and cortisone were no strangers to the 80s pro cycling scene. Blood transfusions were also common. However, I've never heard LeMond come clean about his knowledge of or experiences with doping back then. Have you? Like you and many others, I'd love to believe that LeMond won without any special "preparations", but that seems so unlikely to me given what we know today. Perhaps you and Greg can co-author a book! Put me down for another 10 copies! :)

    Sam

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  16. Ligget Jr, thanks for your positivity. I'm glad to know that I'll be able to sell what sounds like at least a couple dozen.

    As for Greg LeMond, I'm not sure what you mean by coming clean, as Greg has never been accused of drug use and he and I have talked extensively about his utter loathing of drugs. I have no doubt that he raced without the need for a doping program, as he was a once-in-a-lifetime rider of otherworldly physical talent (unlike Lance). When he was 16 y.o. Greg LeMond was beating the best elites in the United States, guys like John Howard!

    Greg himself has said:

    “I went to Europe with a dream,” he says, “and I know there was doping in the 80s and I’m certain a lot of riders were doing stuff and that cortisone was a drug of choice, but I was always able to perform and win races against those guys. At 19 years old I finished third in the Dauphine [France’s second-biggest stage race]; at 20 I won the Tour de L’Avenir by 10 minutes and finished second in the worlds [championships]. I was fortunate I was successful right away and didn’t get drawn into that."

    One of the starkest differences between the careers of Armstrong and LeMond is that while Lance didn't start wining the Tour until he was relatively old, and he never showed any aptitude for multi-day races in the high mountains until he started training again (and doping? some might argue...) for the Vuelta. Whereas LeMond was INSTANTLY a success, as were his competitors like Hinault and Fignon. When they were no older than boys they were already racing to win the Tour or finish on the podium.

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  17. Thanks for posting that excerpt, Joe. For years, I've been looking for LeMond's comments on doping in the 80s, but I clearly didn't look hard enough. So, you believe that LeMond never used any PEDs, not even amphetamines? If LeMond did it all 100% clean, then he is truly the greatest ever, a God among men. Too cool! Even Merckx (in '69) and Fignon (in '89) were busted for amphetamines, and Coppi and Anquetil have admitted to using amphetamines.

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  18. I guess only LeMond will know...but I have no reason to doubt him. Glad I could help with the quotes.

    To be clear, of course LeMond *may* have doped and of course I don't know *for sure with 100% certainty* that he didn't. But I personally believe he was clean and is clean.

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  19. Well, as someone who was naive to doping until 2005 when I read Voet's Breaking the Chain book (followed by Kimmage's Rough Ride, Walsh's From Lance to Landis, Woodland's Crooked Path to Victory, and Whittle's Bad Blood), I am very encouraged to hear that perhaps there is still one champion who did it clean: LeMond. Those quotes you referenced appear to have come from an interview by Kimmage. For Kimmage to not challenge or dispute LeMond's claim (to have raced clean)really speaks volumes, doesn't it? And to my knowledge, nobody has ever accused LeMond of doping. The same can't be said for Lance. :)

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  20. Joe,
    I hope everything gets straightened out for you and you do get back on the bike to race. You'll have a tough couple of years but stay on it.
    I did want to say something about Lemond though since it was brought up here. This goes back to the 89 Giro. He was languishing near the bottom of the GC and even contemplating retirement at that point. The morning of the final TT, he'd reported in an interview that his trainer Otto, gave him a shot of iron that day because he looked a bit white in the face. Suddenly Lemond became a super time trialist again placing 2nd to Lech Piasecki, who at the time, was one of the best middle distance TT riders. Now I wouldn't really have a clue Greg was doping in that instance, but would a shot of iron really have that kind of effect on race day? To go from hanging on day after day to superstar that quickly, I find a bit on the amazing side. I myself have to deal with chronic fatigue and I've never found anything that pulls me back out of the doldrums that quickly.
    Jay

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  21. PDB, I don't remember if the iron shot was given right before the final time trial or leading up to it in the days preceding it. We all know it takes more than a few days for the performance enhancing effects of EPO to appear; more so with something natural like iron! Therefore, I wonder what might have been due to a "placebo effect," whereby LeMond thought that the injection would provide a rapid solution and (in addition to any health benefits) he felt great. Didn't Willy Voet or someone tell a story about giving either Richard Virenque or Pantani a syringe full of glucose/saline/whatever while presenting it as the latest wonder-drug - and Virenque then does a PB in the TT...anyone remember where that was?

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  22. Hi Joe great to see someone honest from the peloton.I too would buy your book.

    The race you requested on cyclingtorrents.nl is up hope it brings back happy memories

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  23. Thanks, Chris. Respect, too, for Bernhard Kohl, who delivered a ground-breaking presentation to the anti-doping symposium this weekend. He's not having an easy time of it now, but was incredibly courageous to explain in detail everything he did and how. Cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world, and it will survive this painful, but necessary, realignment. Please come back regularly, and soon the blog will be at the new www.joepapp.com site, which is launching soon.

    Cheers!

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  24. Hi Joe as Big Arnie would say "I'll be back"
    I read a bit of what Bernard had said in an article someone passed onto me.It was very honest and very brave.I look forward to the new site and will be a regular reader.Good luck with it.
    cheers
    chris

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  25. Hi Joe,
    As an answer to the person wondering about Lemond's iron injection let me recount a personal experience I had with the stuff. I am a regular amateur athlete, striving for decent performance but without the training or backing it requires. I have thus have no interest in doping but do a minimum of work to get healthy for a race. In this case it was to be a sub 3h marathon we were a small group of guys and one girl, the day before I wasn't feeling 100% and thought it could be an iron deficiency, the girl suggested I take one of her time of the month iron supplements. All went well for the first 10k and then nature called unexpectedly and fast, hopping out to a gas station to ask for use of the bathrooms didn't help as they refused and I was forced to leave some very messy sludge by someone's garden gate after panicking about not finding a spot out of sight. The rest of the race did not go well and everything inside was working overtime. I doubt very much Lemond would have been given any large quantity of iron, am sure a tablet or two would have been sufficient for next day absorbtion, anything more would be too risky and so there would be no need for injection.

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  26. Weren't Lance's competitors cheating just as much? Wasn't that playing field level?
    RobD

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  27. But according to Lance he wasn't doping - so the field was actually stacked against him. lol

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  28. JMP, congratulations for your temerity, holding on to your convictions re: doping in the face of acrimonious judgment by fools. Stay the course, man; in the end, you win.
    I'm in northern California, and remember racing with Greg Lemond when he was a teenager; wow is all I can say (1977-'78, before he just went to Europe, and the rest is history). No one, senior or junior, could best him at the line; he was at a whole different level then. God & he only ultimately know, but as for me, I'm one that by knowing him back then, my vote would be that he played his cycling career hand with a clean deck.

    Cheers,
    Danielg
    Watsonville, CA

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