Malaise. Anger. Sympathy. Irreverence.
When it comes to EPO-era doping admissions, reactions to them run the emotional gamut. For Ryder Hesjedal, it’s been no different. Since he confessed last week to using EPO earlier in his career, reactions have varied, with consistent choruses hard to find. Some support him, and say he won’t be regarded any differently. Others, though, have been less forgiving.
“If you build your reputation and your results off false, false earnings, you don’t deserve anything you have, you know? … There’s a lot of guys who missed out,” said Ryan Trebon, a competitor of Hesjedal’s on the North American mountain bike circuit in the 2000s.
“I don’t agree with that. You can’t expect to just get away with it, you know? Yea, some people think they’re full of shit, but they’re still making a shit ton of money, they’re still racing, and he doesn’t deserve it.”
Hesjedal won the 2012 Giro d’Italia while riding for Jonathan Vaughters’ Garmin-Sharp squad, which has now seen four of its stars admit to doping earlier in their careers. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course: Vaughters wrote a policy when the team launched that mandated riders cooperate with investigations. When the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency came knocking after the federal government dropped its investigation into Lance Armstrong, Garmin was high on its list, and Garmin riders proved instrumental in the fall of Armstrong. Trebon, though, sees Garmin as something of a safe haven for those who used PEDs earlier in their careers.
“Garmin just seems to be a place where people go where there don’t think they have any consequences for them. And Vaughters seems to think that’s an OK thing,” Trebon said.
Vaughters, for his part, has said the alternative — firing guys who admit to transgressions before riding for Garmin — would have a chilling effect on the peloton’s shedding of its dirty skin. He harbors no regrets of the way Garmin handled the investigation.
For Trebon, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, and, what’s more, there’s no real clear answer on how best to proceed.
“All those guys built their name upon what they’ve done in the past,” he said. “There’s nothing anybody can do, and nothing anybody does. It just is what it is … they assume everyone knows, like, ‘oh, yea, it was expected.’ Well fuck. A lot of us decided not to, it didn’t even cross our minds as an option, and everyone who makes bad decisions gets rewarded for it. At the time, you do things like you’re supposed to, and people are like, ‘you suck,’ because you can’t compete.”
For his part, the frustration seems to be limited to that much. Trebon, a multiple-time national champion in cyclocross and mountain biking, doesn’t blame riders for stealing a paycheck but rather for not coming fully clean. “For sure. I don’t think I’ve been cheated or missed out. I don’t look at what other people have done to beat me. I look at what I’ve done to prepare myself as best as possible. I’ve never blamed someone else for my shortcomings. … I’ve had good results racing, and I’m happy to have been racing as long as I have, and I’m happy to compete for a lot longer,” he said.
Alex Howes sees the other side
Of course, there’s another side. Alex Howes has ridden alongside Hesjedal since he turned pro in 2012. Howes said he doesn’t look at Hesjedal, or the other Garmin riders past or present who’ve admitted to doping (Tom Danielson, Dave Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde), any differently.
“That whole era was just kind of, a different time, you know? And that’s something you kind of understand, I guess. Obviously, you’re not excited about it, but for me, it really doesn’t change the way I see Ryder. I still see him as a role model, and somebody who I feel I have a lot to learn from,” Howes said. “I really have nothing to do but thank them for the work they’ve done. Because without riders like this who come forward and help clean the sport up, I very realistically would be in the same place they were 10 years ago, trying to make the same hard decisions.”
Howes also said that however disappointing it was, he was still “happy” Hesjedal came clean.
“I find it tough. Preferably, we’d have everybody come forward and get everything out of the way. I’m certainly in favor of the truth and reconciliation committee. For me, I think that’s the way things should happen. I absolutely support people to come forward. With that said, at this point in time, if any of that’s still going on within the sport, I feel there should be absolutely zero tolerance,” he said. “I think it’s hard for everybody when it comes out in little drips and drabs. It just needs to happen all at once. And I feel like it’s really hard on the riders who are coming forward, saying what they have to say, because it puts a lot of pressure on them, a big spotlight. In a lot of ways, I feel like not necessarily Ryder, but for other riders, you don’t get full truth there. We need absolute transparency in order for the sport to heal, and for people to be able to trust us. Not just transparency for the current date and time, but transparency as far back as we can.”
Creed and the character arc
Michael Creed, recently retired, hasn’t been shy about his decision not to take PEDs. He rode with Hesjedal in 2004 on the U.S. Postal Service team, and said that it’s difficult to view the issue with any sort of nuance. Asked if the public should still care about admissions from the EPO era, he wasn’t sure.
“That’s a good question. I think when you’re a rider, you have so much time — because there’s not a lot of secrets in cycling — you have so much time to kind of come to grips with certain things,” Creed said. “You have so much time with it that I think by the time the general public catches up you’re just more burnt out on it. You’re like, ‘yea, yea. I know.’”
When he looks back on that era, Creed isn’t angry, though he struggles to describe the exact emotion he does feel.
“It’s a really nuanced feeling I guess. In general I just feel sad — sad for everybody … it’s like an equal distribution of sad for fans, for cycling, even for Hesjedal, you know?” he said. “I don’t know it’ll ever stop, though. … I think in the end people like the intrigue and the manipulation … because that’s ultimately a more exciting storyline than a bike race. And that makes me sad — I’m a fan of cycling. I’m a fan of the whole character arc of people.”
If the recent past is any indication, there’s still plenty of rise and fall still to come.