Ex-pro: Doping common in bike racing
As a professional cyclist in the early- and mid-1990s, Scott Mercier found himself in the uncomfortable position of either cheating to remain competitive or retiring from the sport he loved because of the inundation of performance-enhancing drugs.
He ultimately chose the latter.
So the Grand Junction resident isn’t surprised by Tyler Hamilton’s admission this week to doping, knowing his former roommate had tested positive twice. And he said he has no reason not to believe Hamilton’s allegations that seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was doping right along with Hamilton.
“To be a professional cyclist back then, you really couldn’t compete if you weren’t having medical help,” Mercier said in an interview Friday.
Hamilton, who gave his 2004 Olympic cycling gold medal to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, admitted to using a banned blood-booster and said he saw Armstrong injecting himself with the same drug in an interview with CBS News that aired Thursday night.
Mercier said he shared an apartment with Hamilton, a Boulder resident, in Girona, Spain, for one year in 1997. He had known Hamilton for two years prior to living with him, with both living in Colorado and competing in the same races.
“I feel bad for the guy because he was a good guy and he got caught up in the greed and fame,” Mercier said of Hamilton. “I think he made poor choices and got really bad advice.”
Mercier said he never saw another rider inject himself, saying such activity was “hush-hush.” And while he had opportunities to go down the same path, he said he rejected performance enhancing drugs.
He placed 15th in an individual time trial race in Sicily in 1994, the performance he’s most proud of in his career. He said the banned blood booster known as EPO was supposed to improve riders’ performance by 5 to 15 percent. A 2.5 to 3 percent increase would have made him a world champion.
In 1997, in what was his last year of professional cycling, Mercier made about $90,000 — a lot money to the average person. He was 28 and had been racing for just four years. With the assistance of drugs, he believes it would have been easy to make $500,000 to $750,000 annually. But with a college degree and a career away from racing, Mercier had other options. Unwilling to dope but unable to compete at an elite level without it, he retired.
“I understand why Tyler did what he did. (But) I don’t agree with what he did. I feel he and others robbed me of a career,” he said.
Mercier said he doesn’t believe Armstrong could have created such a storied cycling career “on water and training alone.”
“If you’re asking me if I think Lance Armstrong doped, I don’t have any proof of that. I think it’s unlikely he would win seven Tours clean,” he said.
While admissions of doping and allegations of the same continue to pile up in the sport make Mercier feel sad for the sport, he’s glad cycling’s dirty laundry is being aired.
“Hopefully we can get beyond this dark era,” he said. “Anyone who was racing back then should just come out and say what they did.”