“I tried my best never to use performance-enhancing drugs,” he said. “I did make a couple of bad choices, but that was a long, long time ago. It’s not something to be proud of. I did use EPO, but only for a couple of races.”I've talked to many people this week and this year about the doping in cycling issue and I hear many different opinions and reactions. Some people stand up in fierce defense of their favorite riders, others meet each breaking story with a deeper sense of dispair for our favorite sport and others still almost seem to revel in the "house-cleaning" we are experiencing. My reaction through all of this - especially over the last 2+ since two of my favorite riders met their fate (David Millar turned himself in for EPO use and Tyler Hamilton tested positive for blood-doping during the Tour of Spain) - has been that if you've abused the system, you deserve to serve the commensurate punishment for your wrong-doing. Additionally, if you turn yourself in - while you need to take what is coming to you - I have the utmost respect for you as an individual.
Frankie's conscience was eating him alive. He couldn't stand the thought of raising his family and trying to teach them right from wrong all while knowing what he had done himself. That level of integrity is something that is missing in much of our world - and blatantly absent in professional sports. Frankie is to be commended for forgetting about himself and his image and doing what is right. Some will say that he has turned his back on his former team-mates and friends and some will resort to legal action; but if they were involved in a program as well - whether individual or team-wide - they do not deserve to hide from the light any more than Frankie did. Regardless of who they are or what they have accomplished.
A Sports Illustrated.com article by E.M. Swift from the same day the NY Times story broke makes some pretty bold statements about doping in the pro peleton on the heels of the Andreu confession:
"...In 1999 I went to see Willy Voet, the Belgian trainer of the French-based Festina cycling team who was at the center of the '98 Tour de France scandal when he was arrested while crossing the border with literally hundreds of vials of EPO, growth hormones and testosterone."...Of the 500 cyclists he'd worked with over the years, only two had ever failed a drug test. "A racer who gets caught by doping control is dumb as a mule," Voet told me."And how many of those 500 cyclists he worked with did not take drugs to enhance their performance? "I can count them on two hands. Maybe two hands and two feet if I'm generous," Voet said."And where did the clean ones finish? I wondered."'The back of the pack," Voet said."Armstrong never finished at the back of the pack. Neither did his onetime teammate, Tyler Hamilton, the '04 Olympic champion who was suspended for two years for blood doping. Neither did another former teammate, Floyd Landis, who failed a doping test after winning this year's Tour de France. Neither did Italy's Ivan Basso, or Germany's Jan Ullrich, or Spain's Francisco Mancebo, who finished second, third and fourth to Armstrong in the '05 Tour, all of whom have been implicated in the Spanish doping investigation that rocked the start of this year's Tour. Each disputes the allegations.There's nothing new in any of this. Voet was telling the truth, but not enough people were listening. The sport of cycling is dirty, was dirty and will continue to be dirty until more athletes like Andreu and trainers like Voet come forward and break the code of silence. Remember those names. They're the heroes.Here's the thing about truth: It may take a while. It may take years. But truth's a tenacious battler. Eventually it will come out."Swift's article hits the nail on the head and is a much needed, rude-awakening to many. This year's Tour de France was probably the cleanest race we've seen in years - however still clouded-over by the potential of performance-enhancing hormone abuse.
As long as there are loose and inconsistent controls for performance-enhancing drug abuse in our sport and penalties which do not reach every level of the teams involved we will continue to see individuals trying to gain the slightest advantage over others by whatever means they see possible. Just look at professional football or baseball. Penalties that are so tame they are probably laughed at by the individuals they are served upon are the norm. And while the governing bodies of the sports (and the Congress of the U.S. who stepped into the issue of steroid abuse in baseball last year) claim to be cracking down on drug abuse - until real penalties like multi-year suspensions and no-tolerance policies like those in profesional cycling are instated our nations most popular passtimes will continue to have problems as well.
Pro cycling is taking it on the chin right now for stepping forward and setting an example for other sports to follow when it comes to doping control and consequence. The athletes like David Millar and Frankie Andreu who step forward and admit that they are wrong deserve our unwavering support - in spite of what it means to their careers and those of their teammates.
Oh, and by the way - in case you missed it, a drug-free David Millar won a time-trial at the Vuelta a Espana this last week. Great job, David!