GJ cyclist recognized for right reasons
It wasn’t that he didn’t have what it took to succeed. Rather, he wouldn’t take what other professional cyclists were taking to succeed: performance-enhancing drugs.
Handed steroids by the U.S. Postal Service team doctor in 1997, because that and the blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) were what it was going to take to remain a member of the cycling team headed by Lance Armstrong, Scott Mercier decided success at that cost wasn’t worth it to him.
So, a little more than 15 years ago, he took his bike and rode home.
That he could take the high road was possible in part because Mercier possessed something else rare in the pro cycling ranks: a college degree. He had career options most others did not.
Thus ended his cycling career.
Thus ended the relevance of Scott Mercier in the cycling world. Or so he thought.
Mercier, who owns two Carl’s Jr./Green Burrito restaurants in Grand Junction and is a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch, has become relevant in a way he never imagined. After all of those years of watching former teammates achieve success he could have experienced alongside them, his decision to quit the sport he loved because he didn’t want to cheat has become a message others want to share.
Last week, “60 Minutes Sports,” an all-sports version of the popular CBS news magazine “60 Minutes,” debuted on premium TV channel Showtime Sports, and the first segment of the inaugural program was devoted to U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart. “60 Minutes Sports” scored the first in-depth interview with Tygart about the investigation that led USADA to ban Armstrong from all Olympic sports and strip him of his seven Tour de France championships in August.
In addition to Tygart, CBS Evening News anchor and “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley interviewed Mercier and Tyler Hamilton, who in May 2011 appeared on “60 Minutes” to admit he used performance-enhancing drugs and said Armstrong used them, too.
Mercier’s name surfaced prominently twice. USADA’s investigation produced mentions of Mercier as a cyclist who didn’t use PEDs and quit the sport rather than take them. Soon after, Hamilton’s tell-all book about doping in professional cycling was released. It included several mentions of Mercier, casting him in a positive light for not doping when faced with the decision.
Mercier said he is in the “60 Minutes Sports” piece for a couple of the segment’s 22 minutes.
Now, he’s headed to New York to appear Friday on NBC’s morning show, “TODAY.” The timing will be nearly perfect, sandwiched between two nights of Armstrong’s Monday interview with Oprah Winfrey in which he admits he used PEDs. The Lance-Oprah interview will be aired in two parts Thursday and Friday on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Nothing Mercier said on “60 Minutes Sports” is new to Grand Junction cycling fans, or international cycling fans for that matter. His 1997 decision to leave cycling and his thoughts about doping and Armstrong were detailed in Daily Sentinel articles in the aftermath of Hamilton’s 2011 PED admission and September 2012 book release.
What Mercier will say Friday on “TODAY” won’t break new ground for people in these parts, either.
But for mainstream America, Mercier’s story will be new and all the more pertinent as Armstrong finally admits to doing what all of his teammates from the Tour-de-France-winning days, 1999–2005, already admitted: He used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong cheated to win.
Mercier could have been one of those teammates. He stands out because he wasn’t. He deserves this national recognition after years of thinking his decision to do the right thing didn’t matter to anyone but him and his family.
“It’s strange to me how big it’s gotten,” Mercier said. “It’s kind of an indictment of our society: Somebody didn’t want to cheat, and it’s a big deal.”
His fame will be fleeting. He knows that. But it’s satisfying.
“I’m enjoying the ride right now,” Mercier said.
And it beats the haunting infamy that will linger for those who didn’t do the right thing.