How dopers stole the best years of my career
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  Posted February 2nd, 2017 by Zdenko  in Cycling | One comment

Cycling Opinions

Source: The Age, written by: Bradley McGee

A sense of deja vu
I have felt a sense of deja vu these past weeks as the Lance Armstrong story unravels. My emotions are the same as they were after the 1998 Tour de France, when the Festina team was kicked off the race for systematic doping and I was a new professional.

No dope: Australia’s Bradley Mcgee during the 2001 Tour de France. Photo: PATRICK KOVARIK

It doesn’t get any easier to deal with something that deeply concerns you and yet something you have little control over. Once again I am disillusioned. And I ask myself, “Could it have been that bad?”

After reading most of the US Anti-Doping Agency’s findings on Armstrong, the answer is, unequivocally, “Yes.”

But this time I take it more personally. I was competing not just against Armstrong, but against the Armstrong years. I feel my professional years — my Tour de France years — have been stolen. The 2005 Tour stands out in particular. It was the first time I had aspirations for a high overall position, based on my natural progression.

In the 2004 Giro d’Italia I had finished eighth overall, and in 2005 I had a top-10 finish in the Tour of Switzerland. I was well trained with strategic altitude blocks, and had a reasonable backing from my team, FDJ.

The Tour started well and in the first week I was able to match the top contenders, but then there was the first rest day… After that, Armstrong and his Discovery Channel completely changed the race. In effect they just tore it to bits. I got dropped, cramped and was lost in a sense of disillusionment for the next two weeks, until I felt the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees under my wheels on the final stage.

Even then, after I had one last dig to try to redeem a wasted Tour, I got rolled by none other than Alexander Vinokourov, who two years later would be thrown off the Tour for doping.

The more I think about it, the more it makes me mad as hell. But I have to move on from the fact that I have, more than likely, missed out on results and revenue, plus more, because of others’ doping. I can move on for two reasons: I was, on my day, still able to beat these guys. And now, knowing what I was up against, that gives a new level of satisfaction from a purely self-interested and quite vain point of view.

I can still be useful in the fight against the disease that is doping.

Somewhere in all of this has to be a mention of Bradley McGee. He’s moved to CSC and he should be the next in a long line of career resurgences with Bjarne Riis’s team.

Like many, I could say I am over it and move on. But before we do we must prepare for when – or if – such a scandal repeats itself. History says it will, but we can lessen the odds with shared responsibility, better prevention and sustained controls. We always have a choice. No exceptions. But sometimes a little help is needed.

I have never taken or used performance-enhancing drugs, but I know that cyclists are and will continue to be doubted – unfortunately with good reason. I can’t control people’s beliefs. I can only tell of my personal experiences. For four years now I have been a sports director with the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team. I have one simple rule – no doping. It’s really not that difficult.

I’m no angel. I have and will continue to make mistakes, but on the issue of doping I have stayed true to my ethical and moral standards. That means as much to me as any victory. Doping will never be fully eradicated, but a continued effort to stop it from spreading is vital. I have given the subject much thought in recent days, while trying to steer clear of sweeping generalisations, finger-pointing and speculation.

I can’t talk for every rider of my generation, but I don’t believe they were all in some ways doping. “All” is a big number. I still find myself asking why I wasn’t infected by this virus, and how can my experience contribute?

For too long I have not bothered to share my experiences. It seems only ex-dopers are invited to the table, because they can help improve control measures, whereas I can’t. I can only assist with preventative measures. My experiences aren’t of the “best seller” variety, but they have credibility. Unlike the money-making, conscience-clearing (and yet totally necessary) books we have read of late, my experiences were comparatively mundane.

During 11 years as a professional, I was confronted by doping several times by people from all walks of cycling life – including riders, support staff and doctors. Each time I was able to say, “No”. Over time, and never faltering on this stance, the confrontations became less frequent, then non-existent. In each case, the confronter would eventually say something like, “Sorry, I was wrong – you were right all along.”

Questions like Who? When? How? are not the point of my message. The point is what we can do to stop this problem resurfacing.

2004 Prologue winner Bradley McGee (La Francaise des Jeux) of Australia hopes to once again rule the prologue and take the first leader’s jersey.

The three most important points I see in preventing doping are:
1. Knowing the rules and difference between right and wrong. Never knowingly or unknowingly crossing the line. Sports institutes and federations like the Australian Institute of Sport or Cycling Australia have the resources to provide education, but there are holes in that process outside these systems, for instance in smaller teams. I see national-based big budget teams like Sky and Orica-GreenEDGE playing an important role.

2. Know your capabilities and set achievable targets. Bravado and headline-seeking lofty ambitions can create, in my mind, a trigger for bad decisions further down the road.

3. Know the people around you. Be sure they will support you in success or failure and will never support unethical choices. We all have a responsibility here — from the parents of juniors, to coaches and even fans.

How we respond to athletes’ poor choices is as important as the poor judgment itself. I have personal experience of this, relating to British rider Dave Millar, who in 2004 was arrested after police found EPO in his apartment in Biarritz. I should have done more for Dave. After the 2003 Tour, in which I won the prologue by less than a second from Dave, who dropped his chain three times, I spent several days at his home. He confided in me that I was the rightful winner, even though he’d had mechanical problems that cost him time. I knew enough to know what he was talking about – that he was doping. But instead of taking action, I selfishly accepted his words as a compliment and enjoyed the kudos.

I still beat myself up for this inaction. Dave is now a great asset to the fight against doping and is probably a better person for what he went through, but the pain and suffering he experienced during his suspension was heartbreaking to see.

How many other times have similar situations occurred, and how many times will they occur in the future? What I now realise is that there is a moment where a small effort could make a huge difference.

I can thank my family, friends, schooling and upbringing for the platform that gave me the ability to tick all of the above and make the right choices. I can also thank Cycling Australia, the New South Wales Institute of Sport and the AIS for developing this ability. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

And then there are FDJ and CSC, the teams I rode and worked for, both leaders in implementing strong team-based anti-doping policies.

At Athens 2004, Australia won its first gold medal in the team pursuit since Los Angeles 2004. In the final Graeme Brown, Brett Lancaster, Bradley McGee and Luke Roberts.

When prevention has failed, we also now have better anti-doping measures. These include the blood profiling “biological passport” system and the threat of criminal proceedings, which I have experienced firsthand.

In late 1998, in my first year as a pro with FDJ, I was one of many riders on French teams who were summoned by police to give a statement on the Festina affair. There I was, face-to-face with a burly French narcotics agent yelling as he demanded that we reveal all that we knew. In this regard I can feel for the young pros of today, who are forced to respond to the bad behaviour of a previous generation.

The French process — known as “garde a vue” — meant a few hours behind bars while statements were checked, and I remember the sense of despair and anger. I felt violated.

But looking back, I realise this was of great importance in a culture shift that French cycling still enjoys today. The real and present threat of jail stopped a long-standing doping culture in France.

There is also the threat of being exposed, either by another person or your own guilty conscience.

So why do we bother fighting?
I have lived and worked and travelled the world for nearly 20 years. In Australia, sport has a huge impact on our culture. It teaches us to be team players, to be fair, to support and encourage others, to challenge ourselves and be competitive. From international competition to the weekend club game, there is a right and a wrong way.

The problem is not “out there”, it is right HERE in front of us all.

It wasn’t too long ago that Bradley McGee was winning Tour stages and swiping leader’s jerseys in all of the Grand Tours.

Comprehending the extent of the impact of the Armstrong case is difficult. Yet when we decide to look, we can already see some positives. Any athlete who now chooses the wrong path after being taught preventative measures, believing they will not get caught, is either incredibly foolish or pathologically ill.

Bradley McGee was an Olympic track cyclist and professional road cyclist from 1998 to 2008.

Bradley McGee

Twitter: @Bradley-McGee

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One comment to “How dopers stole the best years of my career”

  1. Comment by Natalia:

    Hi there,
    It is not very often that I get a chance to read such an insightful article. It is so sad that cycling is infected with drugs. Thought this guy has a story to tell. What a pleasant surprise to find such a wonderful well written article. Your informational content has proven very useful. I like your blog…

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