Andrew Tilin - The Doper Next Door - pops into the Café for a chat about his year as a citizen doper. Along the way we also talk about the 'anti-aging' industry, Joe Papp, whether doping is tax deductable and the general state of sport today.
Podium Café: Let's introduce you to people who don't know you and haven't read the book review yet. Forty-something. Married. Kids. Expat West Coaster now living in Texas. Freelance journalist, ex of Outside magazine. Long-time amateur-level cyclist. And you have a cat. Did I miss much?
Andrew Tilin: As an aging jock and a writer, you've hit some of the big notes.
I rode my bike across Europe the summer that Greg LeMond won his first Tour (1986), and every time I'd cross a border and show my American passport the guard would make some reference to LeMond. We were almost bros! What a glorious time to hook up with the sport!
As for me being human, which is a big part of Doper: I am often but a domestique in the home of my kids and wife. Been talking to the same therapist for a couple decades (phoners these days). My father came out of the closet when I was a teen, and then died of AIDS before I was 25. My mom acted young until she died too, also too young. Obviously some nicks in my Jew-boy armor, and then I go and decide to play Woody Allen meets Marco Pantani for this book. A little meshuggana, no?
I have a chihuahua, as well, but he's no Taco Bell type. As thick as a Texas football. Pablo. Good guy. I mean, good guy dog.
PdC: Would I be right in saying that - certainly before you started this 'project' - you figured that everyone riding the Tour was juiced up, that all pro riders on the Continent were juicers? Do you have any faith in what guys like Jonathan Vaughters and Bob Stapleton have been doing these past few years?
AT: The question I'm asked at nearly every book reading/signing: Did Lance Armstrong dope? I don't know Lance, or Jonathan, Bob, Bjarne, Virenque, Millar, Floyd, Ty, Alberto, Bill Clinton, or anyone else super-duper-high-profile who's been asked about/pontificated on the subject of inhaling or injecting or whatevering that's really taboo in their given domains.
I have some proof that cycling is a doped doped world. I spent a lot of time talking to a low-level doping pro for a magazine story (Joe Papp, and while I like him it seems appropriate to many in the sport that his last name is four letters), and he was very cynical about the proliferation of drugs at all pro levels of the sport. He told me that even his relatively humble team issued syringes the way you'd think they'd distribute water bottles, and were you on the bus or not?
I've talked to a cycling team doctor who could only shake her head at all the drugs, and the souls ruined by them. I've been in touch with amateurs who have confessed to being around fellow-amateurs who dope. And then I've done what so many other cycling fans have done: Read books by Paul Kimmage, Willy Voet, and David Walsh, and followed the joke that is Alberto Contador's postponed Judgement Day.
I've also been ashamed and discouraged to have initially believed the cries of innocence by the aforementioned Ty and Floyd. They were my homies, Americans abroad, beating the big boys! And I watched Ty on the television news program 60 Minutes, and then I totally believed him. He looked awful, ruined, and remorseful. I think he's doing anything in his realm to soothe his haunted head.
When it comes to doping in cycling, why is it so often one step forward, one stumble back? To say that the sport has generated a healthy dose of cynicism among its fan base is silly understatement, and for those who insist that cycling gets 'picked on' by the mainstream media, I say we deserve it. The Contador debacle alone - this guy is one of the reigning kings of our sport - makes the folks running the show seem like utter dunderheads. Shall we wait for AC to ride a few more Tours before deciding whether or not his name is seen in years' worth of results?
If Stapleton and Vaughters run clean programs, sorry they have to swim against the current. I also don't doubt that there are clean pros, and I'm sorry that they have to do the same. You know how every American gets blamed for Iraq wars, SUVs, and fast-food consumption? Being an American who loves cycling and hates Big Macs, I can tell you that stereotyping sucks.
I can also tell you that clichés are often based on some strand of truth, and cycling has unfortunately put itself in the position of seeming guilty until it has proven itself innocent. Drug scientists at the highest level of sport say in their sleep that performance-enhancing-drug-use is a cat-and-mouse game, and that there will always be ways to beat the efforts to police such cheating.
PdC: Funny thing I find with a lot of cyclists and cycling fans is how, even today, they're in denial about doping. They can accept it goes on - you'd need to be a moron to be still denying that - but they reject its effectiveness. Someone dopes, they say they were only doing it to dull the pain. Someone gets busted, they declare the guy woulda won clean, he was so talented. A lot of people, it would seem, like to believe cyclists are spending small fortunes on large quantities of drugs they don't need, drugs that don't work. Or if they do work, it's nothing more than a placebo effect. Your take - is there a gain and is the gain all real or all in the head?
AT: Like you say, 'denial...' You know people like this? If my wife were writing these answers, she'd say I should hang with such sunny happy people, because I am frequently a cynic.
But a debate over the effectiveness of these drugs is, I'm sorry to say, naïve. Those who really think performance-enhancing drugs aren't effective could probably also care less if their wheels were square. Earth to optimists: Blood enhancers like EPO deliver more oxygen to starving muscles; they work for cancer patients and cyclists alike. Human growth hormone and testosterone, at least anecdotally and sorta scientifically proven, aid in recovery from strenuous efforts (tough to get $/control groups for this kind of double-blind testing). Amphetamines and even heroin (yes of course it's been used in the peloton, ditto nitroglycerine and cocaine and blah blah blah) mask pain, and BTW such drugs help you annihilate your body as you go faster than you really should.
Placebo effect is also real. Raise your hand if you bought that carbon-fiber dream-frame just because you believed that the gram savings would make you faster. No, somewhere in that cranium you also believed that the gleaming plastic would MAKE you faster, and the power of suggestion has real sway. Performance-enhancing drugs are forbidden, sinister, and in their own way very suggestive of added strength and power. Hard to measure, but science has repeatedly claimed benefits to placebo effect.
PdC: How much did your exercise regime increase once you went on drugs? Could the benefits you felt from doping simply be down to actually working harder, better? Could the fall off in performance you suffered after quitting have been more due to less training than fewer drugs?
AT: We could put all sorts of asterisks next to my name during my year of doping. Just one guy, not a scientist, no 'control' group, 'only' testosterone, drugs applied by hand (the T came in a cream, which I applied twice daily by syringe/hand), and so on.
During that year I trained harder than I ever had, probably 13 or 14 hours a week. That's a lot for me, with the wife-kids-career obligations. I had a coach (whom I of course kept in the doping-related dark) who followed my power readings the way a stock broker follows the markets. I admit that there's little doubt that I was stronger and faster for being better dedicated to the sport.
I also believe that the drugs really helped. My friends' (legal) regimens and approaches to the sport were progressing on roughly the same path as mine, and my riding sometimes leapfrogged theirs. I was riding with race leaders in races that, in years previous, had been nothing but struggles. My power was up significantly, in the 260s to 280s in previous years and then about 310 as a doper (in race trim I weigh about 145 pounds, or 66 kilos).
The telling sign, however: I spent much of an entire racing season consistently generating 300-plus watts. My coach later admitted to me that he was mystified by my continuously strong performances. I 'peaked,' so to speak, for months. That's not normal. I have to believe that the steroids consistently aided in my recovery - that's how the T likely helps an endurance athlete - and thus my ability to ride at a very high level.
Post-testosterone, the wheels came off. I suffered from some depression, sort of the placebo effect in reverse: I figured that I'd never again be as fast as I'd been while doping. Kind of like, I'm off the drugs, therefore I'll suck. Plus the season that I'd begun in March and ended almost seven months later was over, and I was burnt out on training, racing, and the act of twice-a-day doping. Subsequently, undeniably, a steep decline in training had plenty to do with a steep decline in my ability. The drugs I took only added to the work I did. But when I walked away from the drugs, I was less motivated to train.
PdC: I'm curious about the financial cost of your doping regimen. Doctor visits at $250 a pop, bloodwork at $200 a quarter, $75 a month for T-gel and DHEA. Add in the $3,000 watt-meter and the $300 a month on your own personal coach and the whole thing wasn't exactly cheap. You able to claim any of that back on your medical insurance? Can any of it be claimed as an IRS deductable against income from the book?
AT: I don't think Big Brother watches me in particular, but I'm no fool. My ledger is for me and my accountant. Many doctors gravitate toward practicing 'anti-aging' medicine because, among other things, it's a cash-only service. Insurance covered very little of my research. You're right, not cheap.
Which leads us to an interesting observation: bike racing - not cheap. OK, cheap compared to competitive sailing or vintage car racing. But how many of us covet the equipment that lawyers and accountants roll on at the local, 60-competitor critériums? Some Dura-Ace Di2 here, HED wheels there. What's another $500 or so a month for supervised drug use? Not accusing anyone here. Just saying, affordability is a relative term.
Despite the significant investments, I wrote Doper because I wanted to write Doper, because I thought it was a great story that to my mind needed to be told. I found that many doping accounts were either accusatory ('He did it!') or defensive ('I'm innocent!'). I wanted to read the doping account that was not only a confession, but a three-dimensional recall of what it's like to live with this stuff, physically and emotionally, day in and day out. Pro athletes generally can't tell that story, and even when they do they can't tell it from the perspective of a journalist.
But let's dispel the Web myth that the project has made me rich. Publishing is the route to riches for a select few people, and you bet I'd like to be one of those people. I'm not, at least yet. Believe me, I listened to my head and heart first, and my accountant second.
PdC: You're a writer. The whole idea of doping was to produce a book. This may seem like a cynical question, but I'll ask it any way: in any of the situations you found yourself in, did the thought of how decision x would work in terms of the book compared with decision y ever figure in your mind?
AT: Nice question! I made many decisions based on making the story richer, although many decisions were made for me too. I am, as you say a writer, and I sought out tension and drama where I could. And yet sometimes the tension showered over me in ways I really didn't welcome.
For instance, I sought out a supplemental testosterone protocol that prescribed me more testosterone than, say, my urologist wanted to give me (prescription T has been reported to be a $1 billion annual industry). The protocol (from an anti-aging doctor) was legal, as was the urologist's suggested protocol. But the protocol I picked was also very aggressive. I wanted to find the most aggressive protocol possible because I was looking for the biggest possible changes.
I will also say that I avoided drugs that could have provided bigger changes still - like EPO and HGH. I wanted to keep in step with the spirit of the book's title (The Doper Next Door would be less of an everyman tale if I looked to the black market for my drugs). I also didn't want to threaten my health any more than I'd already done by signing up for the T. No, I'm not lining up jobs writing 'The Bank Robber Next Door' or 'The Terrorist Down the Street.'
Racing as much as I did, a couple-few times a month, was also done at least in part to chart my physiological changes and create more material for the book. But there were lots of drug-fueled situations that were out of my control, and not terribly fun: Fighting with my wife about the drugs. Scared of the drugs affecting my kids. The drugs driving a wedge between me and my best friend. Plenty of the tale's drama, for better or worse, came organically.
PdC: Something you write about - which I suspect a lot of people don't even think of when it comes to doping - is a secondhand doping. Your kids or your wife using the same towels you'd dried your hands with after applying your T-gel. When you found out about that, did you feel like abandoning the whole thing there and then?
AT: When I started doping, I was cavalier or at the very least unthinking about second-hand doping. I should've paid more attention. Second-hand doping, which the scientific community sometimes refers to as 'contamination,' occurs when the substances meant for the user's body actually find their way into other bodies. In my case, those would be the bodies of my wife and two kids.
The doping itself was a chore. Apply twice a day, make sure to keep it secret from the kids. Make sure all the cream (not a gel) rubbed onto your body is absorbed and that your skin is dry before coming in contact with your clothes, towels, sheets, etc. Wash your cream-coated hands thoroughly before touching anything else. Oh, and do all this while training, making room in the bathroom for your wife, getting the kids to school, and so on. Pain in the ass!
I got sloppy, particularly in the department of waiting 15 minutes or a half-hour or even a couple hours for the cream to absorb before I moved on with my life. My doctor kept bugging me to be careful, but it wasn't until I'd already been on the T for half a year that I spoke to someone who's toddler was growing pubic hair after being in contact with dad's testosterone cream. OMG!
Instead of wanting to abandon, I re-doubled my efforts to live by all of my doctor's anal anti-contamination rules. I wanted to do this doping right. And I mostly did, and then I closely watched my wife and kids for weird developments. Contamination-wise, they almost emerged unscathed. Almost.
PdC: The doctors and other 'anti-aging' specialists you met on your travels. A couple of things I found strange about some of what happened there. Like the way they insisted you stay on the programme the way they wrote it. Or the way they seemed to want to bring your wife onto the same programme you were on. The latter looks like up-selling, the former, I dunno, some kind of indoctrination. Do you think this is an area that needs, well, if not tighter regulation, then maybe some better ethcial standards?
AT: We don't like to think of medicine as business. Nobody savors the notion that our doctors are salespeople trying to pitch us products and services. Physicians are supposedly physicians to make us healthier, or to help us maintain our health. But our high-minded expectations are increasingly unrealstic, maybe in part because everyone's feeling the pinch of a shrinking economic pie. Dentists want to whiten your teeth. Dermatologists want to remove every blemish. How about a new knee or hip?!?! There's also the influence of the mega drug companies, which have huge marketing departments that sway the opinions of consumers and family doctors.
The anti-aging industry has long promoted itself, in part because that particular world has more than its share of hucksters and quasi-scientists. However, anti-aging doctors and various anti-aging 'gurus' often genuinely want their patients and believers to live better, not necessarily longer. One way to do that, many of them honestly think, is through the use of supplemental hormones (like testosterone, which is a hormone that's also a steroid). I think many in the anti-aging community are fully convinced that supplemental hormones are the path to better living as one ages, and they're rather outspoken in their efforts to spread the word and sell their product. Unfortunately, the science is inconclusive, and the lack of results combined with anti-aging's self-promotion makes many of us squirm.
Yes, anti-aging could stand to gain from better regs and ethics. But honestly, all of medicine could benefit from more monitoring. Government-approved drugs in the past have gone down in health-scare flames. In the end, everyone should be far more mindful of the meds they take, and why they take them. You didn't ask but I'll say it anyway: Question any physician. Read fine print. Be your own advocate.
PdC: This Wiley HRT programme you were on. Susie Wiley talked to you about the level of training her practioners received, and you were shown the detailed manual she produced for those preparing her lotions and potions. I have to confess something here: I know some people who sell cosmetics door-to-door and receive more training and supervision than Wiley's people seem to. I'm not sure I'd have had the same amount of faith in the Wiley Way as you did. Has your faith in her waned since you came off the drugs?
AT: I chose to work with Susie Wiley and use the Wiley Protocol for several reasons. She's sharp and charismatic (which, yes, make for better storytelling). She's controversial because she believes we middle-age folk should almost to a person be on gobs of supplemental hormones (which the Wiley Protocol calls for). She's only the 'visionary' in the chain of command - I worked with a physician. And she's fearless. She could care less that she's not a doctor, but instead a student of endocrinology. Wiley doesn't feel handicapped by the absence of an advanced degree.
All that said, I'd bounce back and forth from feeling confident to insecure about Wiley etc. I liked that she was so headstrong, and also that my doctor sometimes questioned Wiley herself. My doctor was very up front with me that I was on something of an experimental protocol. (Wiley only opens her door to legit physicians / nurses / pharmacists, so I don't think anyone seeking the protocol would encounter the anti-aging equivalent of the Fuller Brush Man prescribing the meds. Still, I was careful about my chosen medico, and she turned out to be a very sharp, seasoned internist who also questioned traditional medicine.)
Even honesty, however, wasn't enough. I'm a lab rat? I have a wife and kids! I'm doing this for little $!! Wiley is utterly convinced that her dosages are right, and that lower doses can sometimes have ill effects. I'm not sure that she's right. When she raised the dosages soon after I walked away from the protocol, I was really relieved to be done. Again - it's your body. I say buyer beware, whether you're prescribed testosterone, antibiotics, or Flomax.
PdC: Outside magazine - which has published some solid, informative pieces on doping down through the years - set you loose on a profile of Joe Papp. This was, I think, before you started your own doping 'project'. You kept in touch with Papp off and on, he even offered to write a foreword for the book. I have to confess, his is a story I haven't paid much attention to, but I'm conscious of how Americans react to him. What's you take on him: a whistle-blowing hero or a self-aggrandising doper-cum-dealer?
AT: Door number three: Joe is a well-mannered, smart, scared, confused, conflicted guy. I ran into Joe and the Joe Papp story opportunity while trying to find a citizen doper whom I could follow. (That was my initial goal re: Doper - to write about some other guy taking the drugs.) In Papp I found intelligence and forthcomingness on a topic where most refuse to say anything.
My story about him for Outside was the classic tale of a desperate, disappointed, and moderately talented athlete trying in vain to make it to the highest levels of his chosen sport. Papp packed himself with the drugs that others took in more moderation with the hopes of harnessing the speed needed to become a Tour de France-caliber rider. His acts were the stunts of a crazy man. He told me so much. I found him quite brave in his admissions.
He was also a narcissist, and a drug dealer. I know it sounds crazy, but I still found much of what Papp told me credible. Without sounding patronizing or like I have all my shit together, I will say that I want Joe to pull out of his crummy life. I don't think he's a hero, and I don't believe he thinks of himself as a hero no matter how many people he rats out and how much he says doping equals ruin. Joe Papp is a tragedy.
PdC: There's two threads central to the overall story you tell: the one is about reclaiming lost youth, turning back time; the other is about what makes a man a man. The latter first: from a sporting perspective, do you think we bang on about winning too much? That by obsessing about winners as much as we do - and thus categorising the rest of the field as losers - maybe we miss much of the real beauty of sport? Dehumanise the story?
AT: Is libido, muscles, swagger, and leading a bike race what makes a man a man? Or is it manly to recognize yourself for who you really are, and be OK with that? I take 300 pages and burn a bunch of T trying to sort it all out.
About winning: Cycling is among the cruelest of amateur endurance sports. Sign up for a local 10k or triathlon and most age-groupers readying for the event smile a we're-all-in-this-together grin. You know, everyone will toe the start line, we'll all do our best, and we'll finish accordingly, trickling across the finish line. In cycling? You see a lot of pre-race game faces. Nobody wants to show vulnerability, and when the race starts nobody wants to fall behind the lead group, or at least the main peloton. Falling off the back is a painfully obvious indicator of your cycling shortcomings, one that says not only are you not a winner but you are a loser, you can't even hang with the field. Indeed, competitive cycling is a caste system - leaders/attackers, main field, and then the rest - ranging from pedaling Brahmins to untouchables. So I think the sport, by its sheer nature, exposes the 'loserest' of losers and the winners, too.
In the end, just about every finisher in a bike race has suffered greatly from the effort, at least at one point or another. That misery is often the sport's common denominator, and its weird grace. Does that mean, at the end of a race, everyone's first question to their fellow-racer should be: 'Did you enjoy all that pain?' I don't know, maybe that would be better than, 'How did you do?' because the latter immediately makes the event a matter of results.
Maybe we should ask each other, 'What was your greatest memory of the race?' A little soppy-sounding, even for a sentimentalist like me. But everyone has a memory from a race that was important to their experience. Of course we want to know who won and how the winner's race unfolded, and perhaps how his/her team worked smartly for their leader. And yet this is amateur cycling. A hobby. Everyone has something to say, and maybe it's the last finisher - the very last person to come across the line - who has the best and most entertaining story of all.
I once raced for a guy who's first post-race question to folks on his team always concerned results. If you were out of the top ten, the conversation frequently ended fast. Watching this guy quickly turn away from me to find someone else wearing our team kit made me feel as big as a cockroach. After 100 kilometers of racing, with my muscles shot and lungs raw, this fucker would emasculate me in a matter of seconds. Even in a stupid bike race, metrics pull on our self-worth and sensibilities as if they were gravity. It's too bad, and if I could have another such post-race moment with my old team leader I'd absolutely call him on his heartless behavior.
PdC: The other thread of the story, turning back the clock. Was it worth it?
AT: Gaining youth through drugs was often an out-of-body experience. At least it was for me. To be 25 again as a 43-year-old - sometimes, even right in the middle of feeling incredibly horny, powerful, or vainglorious - was like something I'd watch from a stage: 'There's Andrew, giving another hot woman a luxuriously long look!' 'Oh look at AT, just playing with everyone else in the Saturday group ride. They can't keep up!' 'Hello wifey, yes I am walking out the door for another bike ride!'
Those moments were great, and they also weren't me.
Once you're middle-aged you can't be 25 years old a second time, even if your body in some ways acts like it is that young. Because your brain, conscience, and worldview are no longer 25. Youth was a nice place to re-visit, but I couldn't live there.
PdC: You were asked this question before you started, but I want to ask it again of you, now you have some distance on the whole thing: were you doping to write a book or writing a book to dope?
AT: I love thinking about this one. The questions ran neck and neck in my mind for a long time.
After enduring the painful and exhausting process of writing the book, experiencing a lot of controversy around the book, and the effort spent continuing to promote the book, I can safely say that I doped to write a book. Otherwise I probably would've quit before I was halfway through the first draft of the manuscript.
PdC: You were assistant coach on your son's Little League team, your sister's kid was on the team too. A question about expectation and reality here: how did you expect the other kids' parents to react when your book came out; and how did they react when they found out you'd been doping yourself?
AT: I expected some of them to think that I was nuts.
I didn't think they'd blackball me, and they haven't. Many have been very supportive of the book, because in the end it's a tale about the struggles of middle age more than it's a book about winning or losing bike races.
Some folks who I'd thought would hate the book or care nothing about cycling love the book, and have even gone the extra step of writing something positive about it on Amazon. They say that I hit directly upon issues in their own lives.
I also haven't heard from many people who picked up the book. Maybe they were bored. Or they hated it, and have decided to say absolutely nothing.
PdC: Your son. How do you feel about him having Lance Armstrong as a hero? Have you had to have that father-son talk with him yet about some heroes having feet of clay and muscles fuelled by PEDs?
AT: Not saying this just because I moved to Austin. Lance Armstrong is my hero, too. So are Barry Bonds and Marion Jones.
OK I don't love everything about these people. I don't believe that Armstrong and Bonds have told us everything. I think clean athletes have suffered badly at the hands of dopers. The clean athletes played by rules, and they got screwed. I wish there was an I-Got-Screwed victim fund, because the clean athletes who compete with the hopes/goals of putting food on the table deserve better.
But mercy, Bonds, Armstrong, and Jones are all unbelievable athletes, with or without the rocket fuel. I have to believe that they went far far far in their careers without doping ever bubbling up on a horizon. As for Armstrong in particular, the Livestrong juggernaut is overwhelmingly positive.
I'll also say that, while I shed no tears for Bonds etc., I do feel like high-level dopers are also victims. Baseball, track, cycling - there are drug-sourced stains on all of those sports. Come on. The Tour de France was built on pain, and the tales of drug use to deal with that pain (sorry, lessening pain can have a similar effect as enhancing performance) go back to its origins. Drugs are institutionalized in sport. Whether or not Bonds and Armstrong are guilty of doping, they're still just two more guys to have received paychecks in long-running, corrupt industries. They did what they were told to do - or maybe what was implied that they should do - to play their games at very high levels.
My son knows that I doped. He knows I have mixed feelings about it. I expect him to have mixed feelings, and as the years go by for us to discuss those feelings. Go back to what it is to be a man: human. Not perfect. Flawed. My son knows the accusations against Armstrong etc. He still wears his Livestrong bracelet. Fine with me. That yellow band still represents a lot that's positive.
As my children grow up, I'll explain what I think. Top athletes are entertainers. They're paid to win, yes, but from a corporate overlord standpoint they're paid to capture an audience. They make compromises to do what they do. Sometimes those compromises are unsavory, and I try not to think too hard about those deals with the devil. If my son were ever to approach elite status as an athlete, and wanted to keep progressing, we'd have a long talk. He would have to be very clear on the reality that some might beat him because of drugs. Or that he might have to take drugs to compete.
PdC: When you discussed with your wife the possible downsides of doping - the shrunken testicles, the man cans, the roid range and the like - did the possibility of being busted rear its head?
AT: Not once. I still think there's about a one-in-a-zillion chance that an amateur at a local race will get busted. The United States Anti-Doping Agency won't tell you that, and they didn't tell me that either. But testing at every podunk race in the land would require an awful lot of time and money - neither of which are plentiful at USADA or among the noble staffers working for sport at grassroots levels.
I know, I may be giving people ideas - that anyone can get away with doping. But I recently talked to one leader of a cycling governing body in one of the Rocky Mountain states, and we discussed what I think is a smart idea: spot testing. Race organizers and local cycling governing bodies can state that they've established testing programs and protocols and... they need say little or nothing more. Maybe the testing will occur every other weekend, or every month, or once a year. That's a secret best kept by the organizers. I bet the threat of testing would discourage plenty of potential citizen dopers from grabbing a syringe.
PdC: You doped throughout 2008. At the beginning of 2011, with the book already pre-selling on Amazon, you tried to turn yourself in to USADA. Remind me, how long and how many phonecalls did that take?
AT: I left USADA perhaps a half-dozen messages before anyone responded with real intention. The folks there are busy, and they didn't know what to do with me. I'd had a previous professional relationship with Travis Tygart, USADA's CEO, as a journalist. You know, I'd call and interview him regarding doping issues. So what does he do with the same guy when I suddenly say, 'I doped.'
After a while, I pretty much screamed to USADA, 'I DOPED!!!!' For a while I thought Tygart and Co. were actually going to look the other way, and ignore me. But maybe that was never their intention. I think they realized that I would've been very critical and outspoken of non-action. Talk about setting a terrible precedent.
PdC: USA Cycling have sin-binned you for two years. You're not exactly banned from cycling, but you can't enter any USAC-sanctioned events, even sportifs. Any regrets?
AT: Regrets, regrets, regrets. I have regrets, and only some of them involve missing out on two years of bike racing. I do miss racing, because it's the only riding where you have to be absolutely truthful to yourself: Can you go any harder? Can you be better than you think you are? Can you be OK with disappointment and defeat? I think those are really great questions answered best by racing.
I also regret the encounters I've had with cycling enthusiasts who, yes, judge my book by its cover. My detractors mock me by saying that the drugs didn't even make me competitive, and that I lied to them and owe them. I did lie. But ironically, I feel like I'm really a truth-seeker, and if folks read first and judged second they might understand that my goal was to cast some light on the severe physical and emotional repercussions that doping can create. I think I've given back plenty to the sport: a cautionary tale about what it's like to be a regular guy on drugs. Nobody lost money or a shot at going pro because of what I did. If anything, I hope what I wrote makes the sport - at least among amateurs - cleaner.
My final regret is that I haven't convinced more people that the universe of elite sports is overwhelmingly a doped doped doped world. The current standoff between the National Football League and its players regarding mandatory testing for human growth hormone is a joke. The reality is, despite what the image-makers might say, nobody involved with the NFL wants HGH testing for the players. The beer vendors don't want it, nor do the players, owners, or guys who wash the team jerseys and jockstraps. They don't want it because the NFL is humming along quite fine right now. Why run tests that show some embarrassingly high percentage of the players are on the stuff? Why bring them down a few notches? Oh, because the players are frauds and rule-breakers? Because the drugs' long-term effects are unknown? Because the players have unbelievably muscular bodies that every football-loving boy in America hopes to someday slip into? We're voting with our remote controls, folks, and the results are in: keep doping.
And cycling and other endurance sports? Some guy said this on a November 2011 day: 'We are catching the dopey dopers, but not the sophisticated ones.' The same guy also cited a statistic that he sees as incredibly negative. Of 258,000-plus doping tests carried out last year, only 36 came back positive for EPO. This guy said that number is remarkably low because more and more dopers avoid getting caught - not because so few folks take the drugs.
'It is pathetic,' said this guy.
I agree, and if you don't want to take my word for the inroads being made by these drugs, believe this other guy. He happens to be David Howman. Howman is director general for the World Anti-Doping Agency.
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Andrew Tilin is the author of The Doper Next Door (Counterpoint Press, 2011).
You can find him on Twitter @ATilin.
Our thanks to Andrew Tilin for taking part in this interview.