In December 2006, Chuck Coyle gave an interview to VeloNews for a story that was not published. Excerpts from that story are published below.
Like many talented cyclists, Coyle moved to Boulder in 1995 to chase his passion for cycling. A mountain biker from upstate New York, Coyle took a job at a Boulder bike shop and raced at every opportunity. Riding for Rocky Mounts, he entered a local criterium, and was drawn in by the high speeds and heavy doses of adrenalin. Within a few years he’d upgraded from Category 4 to Cat. 1, becoming somewhat of a criterium specialist.
By 2001 Coyle had landed a job as a technical analyst at Schwinn. He spent weekends and vacation time racing for the local amateur road team THF Realty, a team sponsored by a St. Louis-based company brought aboard by teammate Dan Schmatz, a marketing manager for Schwinn. When Schwinn went bankrupt mid-season, Coyle and Schmatz lost both their jobs and their team’s bike sponsor. They took the opportunity to step up to the next level, merging their team with the 7Up-Colorado Cyclist squad run by South Carolina rider-manager Jeff Corbett.
“The dream was to go pro,” Coyle told VeloNews in 2006. “I was basically racing for prize money, and I had some money saved. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to race as a pro. In cycling, everyone is there for the love of the game. Everyone has to pay their dues. I was a nobody. My job was just to work.”
Coyle had a solid 2002 season with 7Up, racing alongside Coors Light veteran Clark Sheehan, brash Kiwi sprinter Greg Henderson and Charles Dionne, a Canadian sprinter who would win one of the year’s biggest races, the San Francisco Grand Prix, ahead of Tour champ Lance Armstrong. When it came time to sign a deal for 2003, Corbett gave Coyle a verbal agreement, but it fell through at the end of the year.
Instead Coyle signed with the amateur Vitamin Cottage team, which offered equipment, $500 a month, and a chance to travel and race for prize money with the best amateurs in Boulder. In 2003 Coyle estimated he earned $5,000 in prize money, plus his $6,000 annual stipend, a rarity in the world of amateur racing and a salary on par with many lower-tier American professionals.
To make ends meet Coyle ran theprosstuff.com, a Web site that sold clothing and equipment used by him and his pro buddies. Former pro Will Frischkorn started the site in the fall of 2002, but stepped away from it when he caught heat from Saturn team management, worried it could upset sponsors that had given the product to riders for race use. Frischkorn passed the keys to the site over to Coyle.
“Teams didn’t know what to do about reselling gear,” Coyle told VeloNews. “They thought it might piss off the sponsors. But I think that’s sort of ridiculous. The sponsors are giving it, they are getting the exposure, and the way I look at it, the gear you are getting is part of your salary. Guys should be able to do with it whatever they want, as long as they’re not stealing extra from the team van just to sell it.”
Coyle also rented out rooms in his house to make ends meet. Most often he rented rooms to fellow bike racers looking to come train in Boulder, including Henderson, who had remained with Corbett through the years as the 7Up-Maxxis team merged into the Health Net-Maxxis program, the most dominant North American road team of the decade. Henderson moved on to ride for T-Mobile, Columbia-HTC, and most recently, Team Sky.
Coyle continued on with Vitamin Cottage, using his garage as a storage space and shipping department for prosstuff.com. His site grew popular for its gear and also a gossip page, featuring rumors traveling around the peloton, as well as a section on pro racers “dos and don’ts” and a list of rider nicknames.
Coyle’s nickname was once “C.C. Rider” or simply “C.C”, but the nickname that stuck was “The Mayor,” coined by race announcer Dave Towle, because in Boulder, everyone connected to bike racing knew him, and he knew everyone.
“I love to race,” Coyle said in 2006. “I’m not making a ton of dough doing it, but I’m able to get by. I’ve been focusing more on the web site, which has allowed me to still race, for the love of racing and the love of training. For me, it’s always been a big lifestyle thing. I’m pretty self-motivated. I don’t mind working hard and training hard.”
The Boulder racing community
According to USADA, at the time Coyle gave his December 2006 interview to VeloNews he was six months away from purchasing performance-enhancing drugs over the Internet. His suspension disqualifies all results achieved on and subsequent to June 13, 2007, the date he first committed the anti-doping rule violation based on evidence in USADA’s possession.
Because he signed USADA’s document, Coyle’s sanction is not in question. Without admitting guilt, he accepted a suspension that ends November 24, 2012. However several people contacted by VeloNews, including Towle, said they believe Coyle’s explanation.
“I know people are going to fry me for this, but I believe Chuck,” Towle said. “There are scumbags out there. Chuck is not a scumbag. He couldn’t have just come up with this explanation. If you know the way Chuck operates, this is the kind of stupid bullshit he would get hit with just for being such a good guy. I think he deserves a two-year suspension, just for making a mistake like that — if you are on a USADA testing list, you can’t just hand over your laptop to someone. But he doesn’t deserve to be vilified. Every now and then in life you get screwed by poor decisions you make; I see this as a grave example of good deeds coming back to haunt you.”
Coyle’s former 7Up teammate Clark Sheehan, a well-known and respected member of the Boulder racing community, said he also has a hard time believing Coyle used EPO.
“I think there’s a lot to his story,” Sheehan said. “I never saw anything suspicious when we were teammates. His story is definitely plausible. Chuck’s a good friend, and you can easily see him being the nice guy, helping out people without ever considering that they might be using him in that way. I’m speechless. It’s like the Zirbel and Moninger cases, people that know them know that it’s not right. It makes you really think, and question why this is happening.”
Baldwin said he is aware that Coyle’s popularity within the racing community proves nothing about his guilt or innocence, but he stressed that he felt compelled to speak out in defense of his longtime friend.
“I know being well-liked doesn’t carry any weight any more, we’ve seen nice guys make bad decisions,” Baldwin said. “But this isn’t about whether or not Chuck is well liked; this is just the truth. He didn’t do it. Chuck realizes as well as I do that as deep in this war on doping as we are, this story is hard to believe. I know everyone sees a headline and wants to demonize a rider for doping. But I feel it’s my duty to tell the story as I know it, that this is so wrong. If anything, Chuck has been a moral compass for me, helping me see the big picture. It’s sad that he can’t just out the guys that did this, that it then turns into financial battle and spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”
Hudz-Subaru team owner Lance Johnson was quick to defend Coyle, posting on the comments section of Wednesday’s VeloNews.com story reporting his suspension, “Anyone who knows Chuck Coyle knows that he wouldn’t do this…. To everyone else who is puzzled by this story, know that it isn’t as simple as it seems. And know that Chuck has never cheated anyone.”
Coyle said he is “emotionally drained” over the events of the week, and that the hardest part is being viewed as a cheater while knowing he never did anything wrong.
“Throughout my career,” he said, “there were guys I had suspicions about, but so what, I had a suspicion, what am I going to do? I also had suspicions about guys getting off when everyone knew they had doped. But I just tried to stay concerned about what I did. I tried to have a good career and do things right, and now it’s all tainted, and I’m going to be seen as just another one of those guys who cheated. And there are probably people that know me and think they were wrong about me — but they weren’t.”