Cyclists chase fool’s gold with performance-boosting drugs
Editor’s note: Former Olympic Gold Medal cyclist Tyler Hamilton of Boulder last week admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career, and said he witnessed Lance Armstrong using them as well. Hamilton said he has turned his gold medal from the 2004 Olympics in Athens over to the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Scott Mercier of Grand Junction was once a roommate of Hamilton’s. He wrote this piece about doping for The Daily Sentinel.
By Scott Mercier
Many of my Grand Junction cycling friends have asked me if I thought guys like Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. While I do not have direct proof, there is not doubt in my mind that they did.
I lived in Girona, Spain, in 1997 with several teammates from the U.S .Postal Service Cycling team and Tyler was one of my roommates.
In the late 1990s, cycling was a dirty sport. Drugs like EPO and human growth hormone were rampant within the peloton. I spent one year racing in Europe and decided that I did not want to partake in the hypocrisy and lying that accompanied drug use.
The use of drugs was widely known, but rarely discussed. I never witnessed anyone using or taking drugs.
However, we had locked black lunch boxes in the refrigerator in the team trucks. When I would pick them up and shake them I could hear the glass vials clanging together. I was not a medical professional, but I was smart enough to know that EPO is a drug which requires refrigeration.
My only first-hand experience with such drugs came after the Tour of Romandie in Switzerland. I was called into our team doctor’s hotel room and given a training schedule along with a bag of green pills and glass vials.
Each day listed on my training program had dots and stars on it, which represented either a pill or an injection. When I asked what this was, the team doctor replied, “steroids ... and no racing or for sure you test positive.”
I had a difficult decision to make. Did I want to continue as a professional or go in a different direction. I decided that I would not use the drugs and that I would stop cycling at the end of the season.
I am not sure I viewed the drugs as cheating, but I knew that if I started down this path I would be unable to stop. I had other avenues open to me and, while I loved cycling and racing, the doping would make it more of a job.
Tyler Hamilton’s recent admission, in an open letter to friends and family, that he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his cycling career did not come as a surprise.
Just like me, he was a hard-working and talented cyclist who wanted to race in Europe. I am sure that he was presented with the same choices as I was, and he chose to continue as a professional. He went on to win stages in the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and an Olympic Gold medal.
While he worked hard and earned his medal, it is ultimately fool’s gold. He accomplished some wonderful things in his career, but my guess is that he cannot look back on any of it with pride.
I have wrestled with my decision for nearly 15 years now and have looked upon the sport with sadness and a touch of bitterness. But, at the end of the day, I know I made the right decision and am proud of the choices I made. Road cycling is a beautiful and painful sport, and I am praying that it can heal from the wounds of the past.
Scott Mercier will soon begin a “Weekly Ride” column for The Daily Sentinel. He has traveled the world but chose to make Grand Junction home in 2000.
He was a 1992 Olympic cyclist and a professional from 1993 to 1997. He is married and he and his wife have an 8-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.