The Colorado racing community was reeling Wednesday evening over the news that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency handed amateur racer Charles “Chuck” Coyle a two-year suspension for purchase of synthetic erythropoietin and insulin growth factor in June 2007.
Based in Boulder, Coyle, 38, spent his cycling career straddling the line between a professional and amateur racer. He rode for two pro teams, 7Up-Nutra Fig in 2002, and Successful Living in 2007. Career highlights include podium finishes at Rochester Twilight Criterium and the Tour de Toona. He has also been involved as a rider and manager with several Colorado-based amateur teams, including Vitamin Cottage, and most recently, the Groove Subaru road team and Hudz-Subaru cyclocross team.
Doping suspensions in cycling are nothing new, and Boulder has been home to several riders suspended for allegedly doping, including Tyler Hamilton, Scott Moninger and Tom Zirbel. Nevertheless Coyle’s case came as a shock to those in Boulder racing circles, due both to his lack of any significant results, and his popularity within the community, where he is well known and runs a web site that sells used racing gear. His popularity is such that his nickname in the local peloton is “The Mayor.”
Following the news, Boulder-based Greg Keller, who maintains the popular cyclocross blog mudandcowbells.com, posted on Twitter, “At this moment I do not understand this. My friend. I don’t get it on any level.” Another top Boulder racer, Brady Kappius, linked to results from a 2004 cyclocross race, writing, “As a clean 16 year old I beat you. I don’t even know what to think.”
Not everyone was discouraged by the announcement of Coyle’s suspension, however. Cyclocross racer Ryan Trebon, referring to recent suspensions of domestic cyclists involved in purchasing performance-enhancing drugs from former rider Joe Papp, posted, “All those S.O.B’s buying drugs from Joe Papp are getting what they deserve, drives me nuts hearing about all this BS.”
Papp did not return messages left by VeloNews. Sources close to the case confirmed that Coyle’s suspension was related to information Papp provided to USADA. Coyle said he could not comment on certain details of the case, but denied having ever used or possessed any performance-enhancing drugs.
Instead, Coyle said in 2007 he naively allowed teammates to borrow his laptop computer, which they used to purchase doping products from Papp’s web site, eposino.com.
“There were several guys on my team that didn’t have bank accounts,” Coyle told VeloNews. “They didn’t have anything — no laptop, no credit cards. They literally cashed their paychecks at the bank and paid for everything with cash. Whenever they needed to buy something online, they’d ask to use your credit card and pay you back in cash. As far as I can tell (with the evidence USADA presented), we were at a race, and someone used my computer, had access to my email, and bought dope with it. I was none the wiser.”
Coyle said he was first presented with USADA’s evidence, which included email correspondence related to the purchase of EPO and insulin, earlier this week.
“USADA said I was expecting the call, and honestly, I wasn’t at all. They were instantly pressuring me and offering me deals, asking me about riders in the area,” Coyle said. “At first I was comfortable cooperating, and not using a lawyer, because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but because they were pressuring me so hard, I realized I’d better talk to someone. It was clear USADA was hoping I would point them to something bigger.”
After consulting with attorney Howard Jacobs, Coyle said he came to the conclusion that he had no resources to counter the evidence; he accepted the sanction, though he denies ever having purchased, possessed or used any performance-enhancing drugs.
“(Jacobs) told me he could help me fight it, but that it would cost me $20,000, and that without these guys coming forward and admitting they did it, it wasn’t going to be easy,” Coyle said. “I don’t have $20,000 to fight it, and these (former teammates) have ghosted, just disappeared. I can’t find them. USADA was threatening me with a four-year or lifetime ban, and in the end I had no choice but to sign their document and accept a two-year suspension.”
Coyle believes he knows who ordered doping products using his computer, but was said he was “explicitly told” not to name them for fear that he would be slapped with a defamation lawsuit.
Coyle said he is aware his story sounds implausible, but he said that those who know him know his stance towards doping in cycling.
“I was always known as the nice guy on the team, and I always tried to share what I could and help how I could,” Coyle said. “And people that knew me knew that was who I was. I love to ride, and I love to race. I’ve never had anything suspicious, never a questionable test, nothing. But I know that people aren’t going to care about that. And I don’t expect anyone to believe me. Unfortunately, I was used by my teammates, and I’ve had to learn this terrible life lesson.”
Former national time trial champion Chris Baldwin of UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis, a neighbor and longtime friend of Coyle’s, was quick to defend Coyle.
“I know that Chuck did not do that,” Baldwin told VeloNews. “He’s one of my best friends and I know who he is and what he is about. If he’s guilty of anything, he’s guilty of terrible judgment in letting people use his computer unsupervised. He was naive. But in the context of the moment in time, some guys on his team didn’t have computers, he’d loaned them his laptop before, it’s not as crazy as it sounds. My heart is torn out over this. I know Chuck, and he is such a nice guy, if someone asked to use those things, he wouldn’t even flinch, he would hand them over no questions asked.”