Mercier praised for turning down steroids

Hamilton's book hails local as 'classy thoroughbred on, off bike'

Scott Mercier is shown with the United States Postal Service team in 1997, when he encountered a team doctor giving him a Ziploc bag with pills and glass vials filled with a clear liquid: steroids. Mercier knows he made the right decision to walk away from the idea of taking steroids.



More from USADA’s Travis Tygart

Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, contacted Grand Junction’s Scott Mercier, a former professional cyclist, after reading Tyler Hamilton’s book “The Secret Race — Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France; Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs.”

Tygart spoke about his conversation with Mercier, with Mercier’s approval, in an interview with The Daily Sentinel.

The following are a few of the points he made:


On why he believes Mercier has an important voice in the antidoping discussion going forward:

“What’s gotten lost in the shuffle, especially in the mainstream media, are the victims. We, USADA, stand in the shoes of the victim, and they rely on us to protect their rights and to validate to some extent the decision they’ve made not to use these dangerous drugs in order to cheat sport. And so their voice has sort of just been thrown under the bus, and they’re the most important voice behind what we do and why we’re here.

“Hearing from (Mercier) and speaking with a lot of others who have talked to us or we’ve been in touch with has just given reassurance that athletes care a lot about this issue. And the clean athletes out there aren’t really controlling the discussion or even really having any voice in the discussion. It’s the dirty athletes and the team behind this conspiracy that has sort of led the discussion, and that’s unfortunate.”


On why he considers passages from Mercier in Hamilton’s book to be powerful:

“I think it was just the authenticity of someone confronted with the decision, blatantly pressured — you know, I think it was pressure — who did the right thing. … Anyone who put themselves in that position could justify and rationalize going one way or the other. And people that cheat with dangerous drugs are not axe murderers. I mean, they’re good people, they’re tough competitors, and they’re presented with a choice. ... I know if I were in his shoes, I would have said, ‘But what if?’ And, ‘What if I would have done what everyone else did? How big could my house be today? How deep could my kids’ college fund be today?’ All those sorts of questions, and yet he did the right thing. And when he told me our efforts have validated that choice, it just brings it full circle. He absolutely made the right choice, and it’s been rewarded.


On his respect for Mercier walking away from the premier U.S. cycling team?

The crew of doctors that the team brought in to administer and professionalize the drug program, the ones we’ve now sanctioned or have charged, (Mercier) was under their tutelage. And he could have been one of their greyhounds if he wanted to. But he had the courage and the moral fiber, the strength, education to fall back on, whatever it was, to say no.

More from Scott Mercier


The following are excerpts from The Daily Sentinel’s interview with former professional cyclist Scott Mercier after the release of Tyler Hamilton’s book “The Secret Race — Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France; Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs.” The two were teammates for the U.S. Postal Service team until Mercier left the sport at the end of 1997.

Mercier, now 44, said left professional cycling at age 29 because he decided against using performance-enhancing drugs, which he would have needed to use to remain competitive in the sport.

He is now a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch in Grand Junction and owns two Carl’s Jr./Green Burrito restaurants.


DS: Tyler Hamilton admits he doped and lied about it for years? Why should people believe him now? Why should people believe his claims about Lance Armstrong?

Mercier: Obviously there are credibility issues with Tyler. He’s got a book to sell, and controversy helps him sell it. But when you look at the volume of evidence that’s coming out, it seems unlikely that every single person on the team is going to be doping with the exception of the leader. … Logically, that doesn’t make sense.


DS: Initial reaction to Tyler Hamilton writing his book and giving the details about who was doping and how?

Mercier: This is the cynical side of me saying this: Tyler wrote this not because he cares about cycling or because of a confession. I have no reason to doubt that what he says is true; in fact, the parts that I’ve seen about me are for the most part accurate ... I guess I hate that he’s profiting still from doping. This is a way for him to profit from it, and that really bugs me.

But on the other hand, I can imagine, it must be incredibly cleansing for him.


DS: You say you haven’t spoken to Tyler Hamilton in 15 years. If you would run into him today, what would you say?

Mercier: I don’t have any animosity toward Tyler. We were put in the exact same situation and made different choices. It’s not that I didn’t want it as badly as he did, because I did. I wanted to be a pro. I loved my profession. I loved living in Europe. I loved the history of it, the grandeur or it, I loved all that. I loved being a pro athlete. But there was a side of me — and I don’t know why — I couldn’t do the same things that he was going to do. I don’t know if it’s an ethical thing or whatever. I can’t pinpoint the reasons behind it.

... What would I say to Tyler? … It’s probably unlikely that I will see him. … I would probably say good for you for coming out, even though I don’t like that’s he’s profiting from this. But at the same time, it seems truthful.


DS: How tempting was it for you to go the doping route?

Mercier: For me that point came when at the end of ‘97; I did have an opportunity to race in ‘98 ... You get really frustrated with a bunch of guys beating you that are your peers. Tyler and I, I consider peers. Some days I’d beat him, and some days he’d beat me. But then there was a time when he just had two more gears than I had. And we’d been training together, so it got frustrating.

But for me, I knew that if I signed a contract and kept racing, that I was going to do what I had to do to win or to be competitive.  There’s a million ways to justify it — you want to level the playing field or whatever — and I just felt if I were to race one more year, it wasn’t a temptation, it was the competitiveness. You want to compete. When you’re fighting a boxing match with one hand behind your back, eventually you’re going to get beat. So, you’re either going to be a boxer with two hands, or you’re going to do something else. I chose to do something else.

And I don’t know why. It took me years to make as much money as I would have in cycling. And I’ll probably never make as much as I — Tyler was making over $2 million a year.

... Once it got to the point where I had to turn my ass into a pin cushion … I didn’t want to do it. That’s just not what I was doing it for. It took the romance out of it. Maybe I was naïve, a kid. At that time if you wanted to be a professional, you had no choice, so I decided I didn’t want to be a pro.


DS: Were you provided any of the performance-enhancing drugs Tyler Hamilton wrote about?

Mercier: I was given the pills. ... They were testosterone. … It probably would have been April of 1997; there’s a five or six-week break before your next race. And (team doctor Pedro Celaya) called me into his hotel room and gave me a calendar with a training program on it. And in the middle of the calendar there was about a 12- to 14-day significant training block of 200 kilometers a day, between 100 and 130 miles of training every day. … This training block then had each day dots and stars, and each dot represented a pill, between two and three pills each day, and the stars were the injections. So, he gave me a bag filled with this stuff, and I asked him what it is, and he said it’s steroids. And I asked, “Well, is it going to make my balls shrink up?” And he’s, “No, but you’ll go strong like bull, strong like never before. But no racing. For sure you’ll test positive. When you go through customs you keep it in your front pocket. And if they see it and they ask you, you just tell them it’s B vitamins.”

So, I’m down in South Africa to train — that’s where I was kind of based at that point, I was based in Spain and South Africa — and it gets to the time that’s when I knew I was going to not continue with racing anymore. So, I decided I’m not going to do these, but I’m going to try to do the training anyway.


DS: Testosterone pills and steroids, you didn’t use either, not even try one pill?

Mercier: I didn’t use either one. Did not try one pill.


DS: It appears Tyler Hamilton is sort of what Jose Canseco was to Major League Baseball with his book about steroid use.

Mercier: But Canseco was right. And Tyler’s right.


DS: Tyler makes the point the people who were doping weren’t evil.

Mercier: I agree with that. They made bad choices.


DS: If the cheaters aren’t evil, should people forgive them, condemn them, or both?

Mercier: Everyone’s got to make their own decisions. But nobody’s perfect, and it is really easy for people to judge, when you don’t know, you’re not in that situation. It’s too easy to say, ‘Well, I would have done this, or I would do that.’ You’re not necessarily in that person’s shoes. And you don’t know what that person’s motivations are or alternatives or what’s going on with them.

I guess it’s just: Don’t be too quick to judge. ... They’re not necessarily bad people. They just made a choice. The choice at that time was: Do you want to be a professional or do you not? It was as simple as that.


DS: EPO vs. other performance-enhancing drugs, such as testosterone and steroids?

Mercier: In our sport, though, EPO was not marginal differences. It was exponential. … This was a serious game-changer where you could not compete without it. Sure, in the olden days maybe you were disadvantaged, but it wasn’t career-ending the way that these were.


DS: Why do some people continue to believe Lance Armstrong?

Mercier: If you look at Lance — set Livestrong aside for a minute — he’s legitimately an American hero. He was an American hero. And people don’t want to believe that part of it’s a fraud. Because he went out there and kicked ass. He really did. He won seven Tour de Frances; nobody’s ever done that.

With respect to Lance, I can’t speak for him, but the evidence is damning. He always finds a way to discredit somebody, or this or that, but at this point with the exception of (Armstrong’s former teammate) George (Hincapie), who hasn’t come forward, nearly 100 percent of the people who rode with him have come forward and said, ‘I did this,’ or, ‘This is what happened,’ or, ‘We did this.’ It just seems unlikely that he’s the only one who doesn’t know anything about any of this, and he’s the leader of the team and the most powerful man in the sport. That doesn’t make much sense.

I don’t know what Lance’s motivation is. Obviously he wants to keep his legacy intact. To me it seems like he’s making more damage for himself by perpetuating what is clearly a lie.


DS: Lance Armstrong said he’s done fighting the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and moving on with his life.

Mercier: He’s claiming, ‘I’m not fighting it; it’s a witch hunt. (USADA CEO) Travis Tygart has a witch hunt against me, a personal vendetta.’ That’s his job. That’s like a tax-cheat thing. Leona Helmsley said taxes are for little people, said the IRS had a vendetta. That’s their job, to catch tax cheats. His job is to catch doping cheats, and the evidence is clearly overwhelming. This is damning. It’s very detailed. It’s easy to discredit Tyler. But it would be pretty hard to make all that stuff up, too.


DS: What about Lance’s claim that he never failed a drug test?

Mercier: Neither did any of these other guys. Tyler passed hundreds himself or thousands himself.


DS: Years ago Lance Armstrong did a Nike commercial saying he’s been on his bike, busting his ass, that’s why he was successful.

Mercier: He did work hard. He worked harder than anybody else. And he was more driven than anybody else. He was so driven, apparently he made a bad decision.


DS: Are there indications the sport of cycling has cleaned up, such as slower race times?

Mercier: The times are slower. If you look at the times today, you’d expect you’d be faster on times and time trials, but the times have gotten slower even though the technology has advanced, training techniques have advanced, the weight of the riders is substantially less. So, it’s gotten … I mean, it was scientific as well in the ‘90s, but now it’s really specifically focused for whatever your objective is: whether to one day race a stage race or a grand tour or a time trial. But the times are slower than they were 15, 20 years ago even though the bikes are lighter, and shoes are lighter, the helmets — you know, the equipment is substantially better. It’s just conjecture or anecdotal evidence, but typically you see things getting better and better and faster and faster, the natural progression of mankind and technology, but you are seeing that times are slowing down.

Former professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton didn’t break new ground in his recently released book when he said Lance Armstrong doped to win the Tour de France seven times.

He revealed that to the world a year earlier in a May 2011 interview aired by CBS news magazine “60 Minutes.”

What’s new in “The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs,” written by Hamilton and Daniel Coyle, is the greater amount of detail Hamilton provides: what was done and how it was done in an institutionalized doping program.

Also, several mentions of former professional cyclist Scott Mercier, now a Grand Junction restaurant owner and financial adviser, will be of interest to Western Slope cycling fans. Hamilton described Mercier, a U.S. Postal Service teammate before Armstrong began his domination of the Tour de France, as “a classy thoroughbred both on and off the bike.”

The book provides two outtakes in Mercier’s words, the more prominent one being Mercier detailing his encounter in 1997 with a U.S. Postal Service team doctor during which the doctor handed him a Ziploc bag with pills and glass vials filled with a clear liquid. They were steroids, Mercier said, and he thought about it but decided not to take them, and he left the Postal Service team at the end of the year.

That passage earned Mercier a call from Travis Tygart several days before the 
Sept. 5 release of Hamilton’s book. Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, actually sent a text message, identifying himself and asking if it was a good time to talk, Mercier said.

Mercier said he at first thought it was a joke but responded by saying if this is serious, he’d be happy to talk.

Tygart, only a couple of weeks removed from banning Armstrong from cycling and stripping him of his Tour de France titles, wanted to discuss Hamilton’s book, which was about to be released. He read to Mercier the passage about Mercier being given the steroids, deciding not to use them and leaving the sport.

“He said, ‘That’s the most powerful thing I’ve ever read in terms of antidoping,’ ” Mercier said. “‘That’s the reason we do this.’ And I was like: Wow, this is Travis Tygart calling me, saying, ‘Thanks for the decision you made 15 years ago.’ “

Tygart granted The Daily Sentinel an interview regarding his discussion with Mercier on the condition Mercier approved it. Mercier did.

Tygart said he made the call to Mercier for several reasons. One, because upon reading Hamilton’s book, he thought Mercier would be willing to talk.

But the driving reason, Tygart said, was to tell Mercier he is an important voice in the discussion about doping, that “what he represents and who he represents is really, really important.”

“It’s easy for the media and others to say, ‘Well, who cares? They all do it. And, should we hold any of them accountable because they all did it?’ That’s not true,” Tygart said. “There were victims, and the clean athletes are the ones that walked away from it, unfortunately prematurely, because they were unwilling to sacrifice their health just in order to be competitive.”

Mercier was 29 when he left professional cycling “just as I was starting to enter my peak years,” he said. He had been a pro for five years and raced for seven.

Tygart said it’s unfortunate cyclists who were cheating were the ones leading the discussion about doping, while the clean cyclists didn’t have a voice. Some of that, Tygart said, was cyclists honoring a code of silence, not wanting to be ostracized or not wanting to be viewed as making excuses for their inability to compete at the highest level.

Mercier said he’s not sure why he stayed silent on the matter.

“It’s just one of those things that you beat your head against the wall,” he said. “Back then, in ‘97, ‘98, ‘99, no one wanted to hear any of that ... It sounds like sour grapes at some point, too.”

Tygart said he also contacted Mercier to ask him: How were you able to be strong and not succumb to the temptations that led so many other cyclists to dope?

Mercier said that answer is easy: He had a college education, a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California-Berkeley to fall back on after cycling. Most cyclists, he said, don’t have anything else they can do. Many, he said, have only a high school education.

That answer, Tygart said, is something Mercier can share with young cyclists, educating them to make better decisions.

Mercier emphasizes the importance of education, and he said cycling programs such as the one at Colorado Mesa University are vital for the future of U.S. cycling. Cyclists with a college degree, he said, should be able to make better cycling career and life decisions.

Mercier also puts forth Hamilton and Armstrong as examples, saying hopefully cyclists see what has happened to them, and that demonstrates why remaining clean is the right decision.

Mercier said he knows he made the right decision in 1997, but that doesn’t mean the past 15 years went by without him often wondering, “What if?”

“You see Tyler winning an Olympic gold medal, winning a stage of the Tour de France ... You see the success that he had on a bike,” Mercier said, “and you think, ‘Wow, where would I have ended up? Would I have won the Tour?’ I don’t have any idea, but I know Tyler and I were peers. He worked hard, I worked hard. He raced smart, I raced — I guess, to share a peer like that, to point to me as an example of a different path, I guess that’s rewarding in itself. That maybe nice guys don’t always finish last ... but that you can do things the right way.”

Mercier said amount of times he was mentioned in Hamilton’s book, and the respectful way it was done, surprised him and provided vindication “that I made the right decision walking away.”


Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Search More Jobs

734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
970-242-5050; M-F 8:00 - 5:00
Subscribe to print edition
Advertiser Tearsheet

© 2015 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy