Mercier praised for turning down steroids
Hamilton's book hails local as 'classy thoroughbred on, off bike'
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.”