Tweets of the Apocalypse special

Earlier this week, the USADA report was released to the public. It was more damning (and detailed) than most of us ever anticipated. As usual with these types of Tweets Specials, this is by no means a comprehensive reading of what is being said on Twitter – I have tried to pull out some of the big issues over the past few days and give as many sides of the argument as I can.

The report

Released on October 10th, the summary of the USADA report ran to 200 pages, while the report itself was a thumping 1,000 pages. The official USADA link to the report is here, and Outside’s cliff notes are here. The fact that the report is so long and comprehensive means that this will be picked over for weeks/months to come and it will almost certainly reach into every aspect of cycling, bringing down more than a few people who are still active in the sport.

The riders

There were 11 former teammates of Lance Armstrong‘s who testified to the USADA: Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie. Some of these riders posted something on their Twitter page, some didn’t. Here I’ve sorted out some reactions to the testimony.

The link for Christian’s statement is here.

The link for George’s statement is here.

The article about Zabriskie’s background is here.

The recriminations, the repercussions and the ramifications

It seems almost every hour there’s another name, another line of questioning, another statement of innocence or guilt. It really is almost impossible to keep up with. I’ve selected a few of the higher profile scalps that have gone due to the USADA report – and those that almost certainly will have to.

We have to start with one of the biggest scalps of all and that is, of course, Johan Bruyneel. His statement is here. He says he left of his own accord; other reports say he was fired.

Matt White, who was key to putting together the Orica-GreenEDGE team, stepped down from his management role with the team and as a selector for the Australian national road team after he was linked to doping through Floyd Landis’ testimony to the USADA. His statement is here.

Orica-GreenEDGE’s statement is here.

One of the biggest losers in this week’s PR battle was Team Sky and their interpretation of ‘due diligence’. They have fallen foul of their own much-publicised stance of ‘no one involved in doping at any point will be tolerated on the team’. Not only did Michael Barry give evidence as one of the 11 riders (gracefully retiring from Sky before the testimony became public),  but questions were also being asked about Michael Rogers, as he was named in the USADA report concerning his links with Michele Ferrari. Background article on this is here.

Considering Sky’s stance on riders or personnel who have the shadow of doping over them, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Especially as Brailsford also has to deal with the Sean Yates question – although his past was hardly unknown when the team started (check Wikipedia). Yates did a radio interview and, basically, made a hash of it. The audio link is here. And this is what his statement reminded a few people of.

The Telegraph article that has been referenced in the above tweets is here.

But it doesn’t stop there. Note this exchange regarding Kim Andersen, who now takes over the reins of RadioShack, and Neil Stephens for Orica-GreenEDGE:

And we also have Alexandre Vinokourov and Viatcheslav Ekimov  moving into management positions with Astana and Katusha respectively.

Of course, we also have Bjarne Riis, who has been implicated in Tyler Hamilton’s book, as well as in David Zabriskie’s admission of his doping while at CSC. As someone said to me the other week, the rabbit holes go very deep.

What the other riders are saying

There was much consternation in the Twittersphere about the lack of current riders rising up to condemn Armstrong and out other riders they know to be doping. While not being an apologist for those who keep the omerta, not being a part of that world, how can we possibly know what goes through a cyclist’s mind when confronted with this? The USADA report clearly details riders losing their jobs, being shunned and bullied, for speaking up. Hopefully there’s power in numbers now and more riders will speak up but, until then, let’s cut them a little slack. That said, there were some riders who did make statements and engage with fans, both young bucks and old hands. Let’s start with Taylor Phinney.

Marco Pinotti has always been outspoken when it comes to the subject of doping and has always worked to ensure transparency around his training and his performances, and this is perhaps one of the best examples of how the doping culture helped rob him of results. A man of quiet integrity.

Marcel Kittel said it very succinctly.

Jens Voigt also had a few things to say.

Bradley Wiggins did an interview and put his thoughts forward – and it was quickly noted that he had a selective memory. The Sky Sports interview is here and here are more comments.

And David Millar‘s response.

The humorous and the heartfelt

No doubt there will be more Tweets of the Week specials as more revelations see the light of day. But in the meantime, I’ll leave it to @TourDeJose and @DeeDee315 to say what I certainly feel – and I hope you all do too.

Lance Armstrong and the USADA

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in a dark cave with earmuffs on, you will have heard by now about the statement issued earlier today by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) regarding the findings of their investigation into Lance Armstrong and the US Postal team. This was followed a few hours later by a meticulous 200-page summary of their full 1,000-page report. Even in ‘summary’ form – we’re still digesting it here, but suffice to say that parts of it read like a Raymond Chandler novel – the evidence and testimony presented by 26 witnesses (including 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates) is as unambiguous as it is comprehensive. At the same time George Hincapie, Armstrong’s most trusted lieutenant, released a statement on his personal website, as did Michael Barry.

Here at VeloVoices we like to express the positive side of cycling fandom, but we are not blind to its harsh realities either. We have previously discussed how we felt about Armstrong’s decision not to contest USADA’s charges against him, but in truth what is important is not what we say on the subject, but what you say about it. In recent months we have brought you Tweets of the Week specials capturing a cross-section of the cycling community’s views in reaction to USADA’s decision to proceed against Armstrong in June and, a little over seven weeks ago, the announcement that he would not call for a hearing. Some of these views we agree with, others we don’t. But what is important is that these are the honest thoughts of fans all over the world who, like us, care deeply and passionately about cycling.

While everyone else is rolling out official statements, we are going to take a step back, absorb USADA’s findings and listen to the depth and breadth of commentary across social media. It’s your voices that matter at a time like this.

For now, the series of tweets below is our only word on the subject. But, like the Terminator, we’ll be back with a round-up of the fall-out from this most significant of days.

Thanks for your patience.

Jack, Kitty, Panache, Sheree & Tim

The Secret Race – Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle

As Tyler Hamilton relates it, ‘not normal’ was one of Lance Armstrong‘s stock phrases for commenting on something unexpected or out of the ordinary. In that vein – now there’s a doping-related pun for you – The Secret Race is not a normal autobiography. Nor is it a normal tell-all exposé. It isn’t even a normal confessional.

So what is this book? It is a no-holds-barred account which shatters the omertà, the code of silence, which has hung over cycling for decades like a thick fog and provides revelation upon revelation about the extent to which doping infected cycling during his career.

This is an autobiography in name only, as it defies most conventions of the genre. The cover features not the traditional head shot of the subject, but a smaller image of Hamilton racing against Armstrong, recognising the truth that this book is as much about Lance as it is about Tyler. There is no selection of childhood-to-retirement photos gracing the middle pages. And, after Armstrong, the most frequently referenced person in the text is Edgar Allan Poe – ‘Edgar’ being the riders’ code for EPO. (E Poe, geddit?)

Details of the nefarious practices employed both within Armstrong’s US Postal squad and the wider peloton come thick and fast. At times the narrative reads more like something out of a spy novel. Riders take ‘red eggs’ (testosterone). They talk in code using pre-paid (and therefore untraceable) mobile phones. A motorbike courier – nicknamed ‘Motoman’ – is used to ferry drugs to riders when needed. Blood bags are concealed in soy milk cartons in the back of a fridge. Used syringes are casually discarded in Coke cans. Armstrong and US Postal team boss Johan Bruyneel are accused of employing strong-arm political tactics to suppress positive tests and exert untold power over the entire sport.

The book takes us chronologically through Hamilton’s three years with US Postal and his subsequent stints with CSC-Tiscali and Phonak, through to his Olympic gold medal-winning ride and subsequent fall from grace, but it is less about the racing and more about the hive of activity surrounding the riders’ ‘training’. The 2002 Giro d’Italia, where he coped with a broken collarbone by grinding his teeth down – he needed to recap 11 of them afterwards – is glossed over almost as an afterthought but is testament to Hamilton’s uncanny ability to endure and embrace pain.

Similarly, his stage-winning ride in the stage from Pau to Bayonne in the 2003 Tour de France – a mammoth solo effort, again with a broken collarbone – is dealt with in matter-of-fact fashion. It was a victory widely considered to be one of the greatest solo rides in the Tour’s history, and one that most fans – myself included – still talk about in reverential tones. And yet, as Hamilton reveals, it was an achievement fuelled by an illegal blood transfusion.

And this is the crux of the matter for the reader. How does this book make you feel?

It left me feeling conflicted. I was simultaneously appalled and enthralled. Hamilton pulls no punches. His tone is neither apologetic nor begging forgiveness, merely factual and honest (a Hamilton family trait, as he explains up front). As such, by not looking for sympathy, I finished the book feeling nothing but sympathy for him. He comes across as an uncomplicated man, one who is fully aware that he reached a crucial decision point early in his career and – like many, many others – chose to dope to compete at the highest level. It was wrong. He knew it was wrong. But, as he himself posed during his infamous 60 Minutes interview last year: what would you do? If one is being truly honest, it’s a difficult question to answer.

Guided by the expert hand of Daniel Coyle – an author who once spent a year following Armstrong at close quarters to research a book about him – The Secret Race takes us through Hamilton’s career, his complex relationship with Armstrong and the substance of the seven-hour testimony he gave under oath in 2010. It’s a damning account of systematic deception and the extraordinary sleight-of-hand riders employed to avoid detection, and points the finger at many significant names in the sport both past and present – sometimes obliquely, at others in plain black-and-white. Let’s just say that Messrs Riis, Basso, Ullrich and Valverde (among others) will not be pleased.

Critically, Hamilton comes across as a credible subject. This is not hack-job tabloid sensationalism but factual testimony which lays bare a web of corruption which reached out across the entire peloton, with Armstrong the mother spider at its centre. Hamilton acknowledges that he will be seen as both hero and villain by people, while seemingly accepting that he is probably more of an anti-hero.

But at its core, The Secret Race is not about heroes and villains. It is a tale of highly competitive people who make choices about how far they will go to win. If you are a genuine fan of cycling, if you want to have your eyes opened about the sport’s dark underbelly, you must read this book. It really is ‘not normal’ – it is quite, quite extraordinary.

Rating: 10/10