Benoit Joachim, a former U.S. Postal Service teammate of Lance Armstrong, defended his former boss and says he regrets his decision not to work with controversial doctor Michele Ferrari.
In a candid interview with the Luxembourg newspaper La Quotidien, the ex-pro said he missed out on making more money during his career by passing on a chance to accept the very expensive services of Ferrari.
“I had a chance to meet (Ferrari) and I could have worked with him. Unfortunately, and I say unfortunately, I did not do it for a variety of reasons. The first was economic, the second was related to my health, and the third, I was afraid of testing positive,” Joachim told La Quotidien. “It is a big regret.”
Ferrari has been handed a lifetime ban by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and is a central figure in the Armstrong affair. Joachim, who raced until 2009, obviously has a very different view of Ferrari.
“If I think of what I could have done during my career working with Ferrari,” he continued. “It would have been a big boost and I could have made more money and learned a lot. If you look at all the races people won working with him. They had a longer career than me, they are healthy, and now they admit they have doped, but everyone forgives them. They take a six-month ban in the winter and are free to race next season. If we compare that to what’s happening to Armstrong, it’s disproportionate.”
Joachim, who says he chose not to dope during his career, went on to admit he was just being honest about his views of Ferrari, who continues to work with top cyclists despite being banned to having contact with Italian athletes since 2002.
“If you look at the riders who worked with Ferrari, many won big races for 15 years and made a lot of money, and now they sit uncomfortable for a week or two. That’s nothing compared to a 15-year career,” he said. “I am just being honest. I will not be a hypocrite … only a few got caught and I could have done a lot more in my career.”
Now 37, Joachim rode nine years for embattled sport director Johan Bruyneel, who is also facing a lifetime ban, and was part of two of Armstrong’s seven Tour-winning teams. He said USADA never contacted him for questioning and wondered about the motivation of the 11 former teammates who spoke out.
“All the evidence is very loose testimony. For me, they are cowards. They made a lot of money off Armstrong and now they speak out 15 years later and all is supposed to be forgiven? They do it at the end of their own careers,” he said. “They should have spoken out earlier if they had something to say.”
Joachim defended Armstrong and said he never saw organized doping during his time riding with the Texan. He retired after the 2009 season and had his own brush with a doping violation when he tested positive for nandrolone in 2000. He was later cleared by the Luxembourg cycling federation, citing a contaminated nutritional supplement.
“Doping was not imposed by the team. Every rider had his own choice and I refused,” he said. “Maybe (Tyler) Hamilton doped, but that was his choice. I had the option to work with Ferrari and I could say yes or no. Nobody was forcing anyone to do anything.”
Joachim said he believes doping will never be eliminated, adding that “they were doped 40-50 years ago and they will continue to dope. Everyone says now it is cleaner, but they said that after Festina. If there’s money to be made, people will cheat, whether it’s in sport or business.”
For Joachim’s point of view, Armstrong was the best at the time.
“People tend to see the world too much white and too much black. The world is never black or white,” he said. “I think Armstrong is a great champion and he always will be. For me, the winner all those years is Armstrong. They now leave those years blank and they leave it blank because there are also big doubts about second and third, as well.
“So for me, the winner is Armstrong.”