The CEO of the Boulder- and Barcelona-based Garmin-Sharp Professional Cycling Team on getting married, drug testing in American sports, and a man named Lance Armstrong. Interview by Geoff Van Dyke
This was a big year for you: You got married.
Yeah, I got married in the Northwoods in Wisconsin in October.
It was a beautiful fall wedding. We had our rehearsal dinner at this place called Marty’s Place North, a classic Wisconsin supper club, and we had a fish fry. We were down in what was like the private dining room in the basement, and a fight broke out upstairs. It was fun. It was a real Wisconsin experience.
You had a few other big things happen this year. You wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times in which you admitted to doping during your career as a professional cyclist. Did people close to you know this piece was coming out?
I actually forgot to tell my parents. I spent so much effort telling every sponsor, every investor, people I knew, people I thought would be affected—I literally just forgot to tell my parents.
And how did that work out?
Well, my parents are very kind people, and they were fine with it. My mom was just always concerned for my well-being, and my parents have both always been about the decision-making process. If the decision-making process is good, then they’re happy for you. If it’s impulsive, then they don’t like it. So it was more that I had to explain to her the decision-making process of writing the piece than what had happened a decade ago.
What was that process?
There were huge problems—massive loopholes—in the anti-doping structure, and I took advantage of those loopholes, and I’m not proud of it. But, now, let’s fix that.
There was this drip-drip-drip with regard to pro cycling and doping revelations this year. Your Times piece, and then Tyler Hamilton’s book, The Secret Race. I read that and I thought, with regard to microdosing: Every elite athlete everywhere is doping.
Tyler’s book is excellent, and I’m glad it came out. But what it doesn’t mention is that there have been a lot of people caught microdosing.
Even so. I’m a baseball fan, and I was thinking, well if these guys are using a little bit of testosterone….
They may be, I don’t know. But, look: You’re never going to get purity in anything, ever. To me there are two goals of anti-doping. One is to make sure the competition is fair and the best person wins: the best athlete on the best team with the best strategy, the best tactics, the best equipment, the best training. Two is to make sure the athletes’ health is protected. Now, with testing the way it is, you still may be able to dope, but does it matter? Doping doesn’t provide an advantage like it used to.
What’s your take on testing in sports like baseball or American football?
Let me start off by saying I admire and appreciate the players unions and the fact that they’ve protected the rights of the players in those sports. That’s something that cycling needs to emulate. Now, with that said: The anti-doping that’s in place in those sports is a joke. In American league sports, the testing they have now is equivalent to the testing that cycling had in the mid-1980s.
What would you say to mainstream sports journalists like Rick Reilly who’ve basically said, “Everyone was doping during that era of cycling. Who cares?”
The argument that everyone was doing it, so it was a level playing field, is total bullshit. Let’s imagine that you and I drink this bottle of wine, and then we go have cocktails afterward, and you wake up with a wicked hangover and so do I. You go and you take two aspirin and so do I. Do two aspirin work for you when you have a really wicked headache?
It does for me. It’s the same thing with doping. One guy takes EPO [erythropoietin, a drug that increases red blood cell count and thus increases endurance] and he gets a 20 percent advantage. Another guy takes EPO and gets a two percent boost. Is that fair? No.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “Reasoned Decision” against Lance Armstrong was released in October, which led to him being stripped of his seven Tour de France wins. What happens next for Armstrong?
If Lance decided to step forward, to be honest, and to be part of the solution, he should be treated with the same fairness as the other people who’ve decided to come forward. But he’s been offered that opportunity, and he refused it. I can’t say why; it makes no sense to me. No matter what, Lance would have been a great bike racer. Would he have won seven Tours? That’s impossible to say. But would he have won some bike races, one way or the other? Sure. And would he have done that as a cancer survivor? Yes. To me, why is that any more or less impressive than winning seven Tours de France? I just don’t think he thinks of it that way. I think he felt like he needed to go beyond what was humanly possible
Do you ever feel sorry for him?
For sure. Absolutely. But the process was fair and just.
Now you’re running a clean team, with a zero-tolerance policy for doping.
Every year, we sit down the entire organization and I say, “Everyone look to your left, look to your right. You see those people? If there’s a doping scandal in this organization in any way, shape, or form, they lose their jobs. So are you personally willing to take the responsibility for 120 people losing their jobs? Do you want that on your conscience? If you don’t, then please consider your actions.” If someone tests positive on this team, we’re not going to ask for an appeal and drag it out. If that happened, everyone would pack their bags the next day and go home. It’d be done. It’d be over.
It seems like it’d be a huge relief for racers today to not have to worry about all that.
Well that’s just it. At the dinner table with this younger generation, doping is never a topic anymore. That’s a way healthier place for the sport to be. I’m incredibly envious of those guys and the way the sport is right now. I wish I could relive my career.