The Problem with Drugs in Sport

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I doubt this is the day to post this, there are so many positive things to write about. But it says so much about why drugs in sport are bad for all competitors. I got this email today and asked if I could use it for my post. It reflects a lot of my reactions to many races, not just yesterday’s Paris-Roubaix. How sad that I think much like this, but we’ve been disillusioned so many times.

I’m watching Paris-Roubaix for the second time. I missed when Boonen escaped.

When I watched Sunday in Hell, over 20 years ago, with Merckx, I’m crazy inspired. I had just started racing. I’m thinking, I want to do that. These guys are amazing. So tough. The perseverance. The joy. The pain. It has it all. When I raced after that, I imagined I was one of them, in the race; suffering; overcoming; the joy; the pain. It was like a film reel in my head that played while I raced.

When I watched Paris-Roubaix today, the viewing is filled with doubt. I can’t quite get into the wonderment of it all because always, at the back of my mind, I wonder if Boonen cheats. If he does, it’s all meaningless. It’s a sham. The guy isn’t suffering, overcoming. He’s cheating. The question of drugs chips away at the respect I might otherwise have for him.

Do I know if he’s cheating? No, not really. I can never verify it short of he gets popped later. I want to believe he’s not. I want to believe he’s an amazing athlete who had the best day (and, given Tour of Flanders, the best 10 days of his life). I want to believe he is having one of those moments that all all cyclists have—when your lungs are as big as the wind and the cranks on your bike feel like butter—the day your bike never fitted better—the days when you’re body has the speed to take you anywhere, to make you free.

Absent the curtain of doping over the whole sport, I would have watched today like I watched Sunday in Hell 20 years ago…inspired, cheering, hoping he would make it to the end for such a courageous move. So in awe of the chance he took to win it all.

Sure, it’s still courageous; cheating or not, it’s still amazing; but, it’s not the same. From the moment he makes the move and stays away at 30 mph from a group of incredible riders, I keep wondering. Is he cheating? How can anyone win Tour of Flanders 7 days ago and turn around and do this?

And, yet, in cycling’s history, it has happened for the greatest cyclists. But, guess what? Given the pall of drugs, no one is ever going to be that guy. No one is ever going to be believed again to have the innate ability; the tenacity, the courage to be that person.

At the end of the day, with Boonen, I’m not a believer. He is not Greg LeMond. I’m not sure he is not Eddy Merckx . I’m not sure he’s not the countless others. He’s a sprinter. Sprinters don’t time trial off the front at 30 mph on cobbles to win Paris-Roubaix. They stay in till it’s whittled down to the point he’s the best sprinter.

And, how sad. What if I’m wrong? What if he is the a Eddy Merckx. He’ll never be able to make me a true believer because it’s now a given that pro cyclists cheat. He might be the sprinter who just knows how to cheat better than the other guys. And, that’s the deal. He’s really a sprinter. He’s not a time trialist.

So, there we are. We watch every pro race and wonder. Instead, we should watch every pro race in wonderment.

Champagne for all.

What if Fabian would have been in the race? Does one rider's absence make it more believable?

72 thoughts on “The Problem with Drugs in Sport

  1. Me

    The difference between the author of this letter and I, is that I love cycling enough to not ask the question. Is you asked the same question about your life partner (do they really love me,) then distilled it down and the inspected it under the electron microscope, like you do with Boonens win, you may be displeased with the true math deep in that shallow “looking glass!” Good luck with your “sour grapes.”

  2. gsoroos

    All I can say is that I agree. He is a sprinter, surviving breaks and time trialing to the win. I hope it is because he’s changed his focus and training. But the cheating will always be a thought.

  3. Joe_Beer

    Well, except that it’s been five years since he’s been a true sprinter. Hell, I doubt he’d even consider himself a sprinter these days…just a strong dude with a good kick. And while I don’t remember any massive solo moves from him, he’s done more than his fair share of work in small (elite) groups off the front in the hard spring races over the last five years. His last two years weren’t stellar, but he was 2nd and 4th at Flanders and 5th at P-R in that time. I’m told it was a strong tailwind for most of the last 50K yesterday. And I’m pretty sure he knew he was the fastest on the cobbles.

    I’m also pretty sure he’s got his medical program dialed this year. Because I don’t believe it either.

  4. Curby

    Sort like when the 6′ tall, 180Lbs. Thor hushovd won 2 mountain stages last year in the Tour de France…weird.

  5. Jed Schneider

    I can’t disagree with a lot here, but I don’t think its fair to pigeon hole an rider and their abilities. Its not really fair to tell anyone who they are or what they can do and saying Boonen is a sprinter an Cancellera is time trialist is doing just that. Besides being a sprinter in europe is not the same as being a sprinter at a USAC criterium. To even get the chance to sprint you’ve likely had to make several selections that would equal the last 10 laps of Twilight in speed and difficulty.

  6. Nick Hand

    I think this is a sad email. Yes you can always wonder about whether or not Boonen is a cheat. How could a sprinter take it all the way to the line? Like an earlier commenter stated, Boonen has sort of changed his stripes in recent years, just like Hushovd. I think that if you are thinking these things about Boonen then dont you have to wonder about your first experience watching Merckx? Until a rider is busted for cheating I feel you need to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  7. Pete

    Didn’t the chase group not work together because of 3 SKY riders in the group? I did’t see Sky rotating pulls often.

  8. Joe_Beer

    I’m not pro- or anti- or anything. I enjoyed the hell out of yesterdays race. The best parts were when Boom went–how can you not love Lars Boom?–and then when Turgot and Terpstra caught on at the end. And Boonen didn’t ‘chose’ to go with 56K with Terpstra…Ballan skipped his turn, coming off Terpstra and jumping on Pippo’s wheel. Pippo had just come off a turn and justifiably wouldn’t close the gap. Boonen took the race as it came to him. If Ballan is skipping turns already, at 56K, then you probably gotta ask…is this five-up move gonna stick? But the point is that Ballan dictated the timing, not Boonen.

    And returning to my cynicism, this is from Inner Ring comments: “Last year Jose Ibarguren was team doctor for Lotto and Gilbert won all around. This year Jose is team doctor for Omega and Tom and team have +20 wins already.”

    Our man Jose is some doctor.

  9. Jeff LaBauve

    2005, 2008, and 2009 Roubaix wins.

    2005 – Away with Flecha and Hincapie, wins a sprint after 250k

    2008 – Away with Cancellara, wins a sprint after 250k

    2009 – Drops everyone to finish solo

    2012 – Drops everyone to finish solo

    Sure, Tom has been successful sprinting but to say that he is only a sprinter is a gross mis-characterization. Cavendish is a pure sprinter, Farrar is a pure sprinter, Abdu was a pure sprinter.

    All of Boonen’s big wins have come at the end of really long and hard classics style races from a very select group of strong men.

    Going 50k alone at the end of a 250k cobbled race is much different than a 50k solo tt on smooth flat roads on a tt bike.

  10. Rad Renner

    During their broadcast yesterday, Phil & Paul mentioned the record in Paris-Roubaix for average speed being set in 1964 by Peter Post at 45km/hh over 265km. Boonen averaged a little over 43kmh over 260km, right in the wheelhouse for most modern Paris Roubaix victors. So why the 2km/h higher average speed in 1964? With modern training, nutrition, and machines why can’t someone break Post’s record? We now know that amphetamine usage was rampant in the 60’s & 70’s, so was Post taking greenies? With little (or no) doping controls back then, I’d have to answer “probably”. Boonen, on the other hand, is subjected to doping controls 1,000 times more stringent than those in the Merckx/Post eras. I know it’s easy to be cynical, but if you can’t believe any result at all, I wonder why you watch at all. As Joe_Beer points out, Boonen hasn’t been a top sprinter since Cav et al emerged on the scene several years ago. He’s now 31 years old, about the age when endurance begins to improve as explosiveness begins to fade (although Boonen was quicker on paper than anyone in that group). And Boonen has been working on his position and threshhold training to prepare for this season. Maybe we saw the result of excellent planning, preparation, and panache? I’d like to think so.

  11. tilford97 Post author

    Guys-I didn’t post this to try to imply or argue whether Tom Boonen takes drugs. I would never accuse a rider of that without pretty indisputable proof. Or whether he has it within his natural ability to ride like he has this past couple weeks.

    What I was trying to get across is that it is so sad for all competitors, that when they have those extraordinary days (or weeks this time), that there is always more than a suspicion of cheating there.

    Obviously that is true, or we wouldn’t be leaving all these comments supporting our “thoughts” on the very subject.

    Sports are great because sometimes it allows humans to do things that seem far out of their ability spectrum. Extraordinary things that allow us all to dream and think that maybe that can happen to us too.

    And when we compete in sports, we all have those moments where we do things that surprise us. That is what is so special about it.

    When these moments have happened over and over in professional cycling and then it turns out that they weren’t real, for me, it really detracts from the awe and enjoyment. And it leaves a big question mark over the result, which is totally unfair to the person that did the incredible feat originally.

    It’s sad, but true.

  12. H Luce

    “not real” = the rider used performance-enhancing drugs… Under this standard, none of the top riders are “real”. There’s the unfortunate fact that these guys get hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, for amassing a winning record. Under those circumstances, and the fact that only the winner gets the glory, it’s no surprise that, for the entire history of the TdF, the great majority of the winners have sought unfair advantage to come out on top, to the point where if you *don’t* use PEDs, you’re not competitive and thus not in serious contention. Right now, cycle racing is entertainment, not sport. Take away the big money and there’s a chance it can become a sport. You’ll end up with athletes like John Stamstad dominating the sport, for whom cycling is an obsession which dominates their entire being and for whom drugs would be simply a distraction – the “if it doesn’t kill me, it only makes me stronger” types, the ones who are self-obsessed and focussed to a degree seen only in people like them, the same sort of obsession seen in people who do solo circumnavigations…

  13. Captain Insano

    It’s important to remind ourselves that cheating is not a new phenomenon, we are just less naive now. How many of the riders in “A Sunday in Hell” were taking amphetamines and steroids? Marc Demeyer died of a heart attack at age 31 while at home playing crosswords. Isn’t that a bit suspicious?

    It is indeed very sad that a black cloud of doubt quickly falls over every victory. Athletes are capable of wonderful, magical, unbelievable feats and that is why we are fans. Some of those performances are not natural, but many are. The day we let ourselves believe that every great performance is fueled by drugs is the day that we truly have let the dopers win.

  14. John

    It sucks that thought came to mind as well when I watched it live. When I watched the replay Sunday night I felt otherwise. The chase simply left it to Sky to do the work and only 2 of their 4 did any work. The chase looked like a Cat 3 chase group.

    Seeing Boonen just ride away like that initially the doping thought came to mind. That sucks. Would have been real interesting had Fabian been there and stayed on his wheel or if Pozzato hadn’t crashed out. I think you would have seen a very different chase after that. Those guys played poker and lost badly. They looked at Sky and said YOU chase him down and give us a free ride. I remember the peloton doing that to Highroad on more than one occasion.

  15. Jeff

    I can point out this one. The front pack rode Hayman’s wheel for miles and miles as he chased Boonen, and he basically was matching Boonen’s speed for that distance, giving up maybe 10 sec in his part of the chase. Pretty much a worker bee rider. Boonen rode fantastic through the cobbles and corners. Look at Flanders. Every time they showed the front of the race, even early on, he was 3rd or 4th guy. Not pulling, but poised for the move. He made no mistakes at all and puts himself in the position to win every time. (Not really defending him as a fan. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a flat put him back in the pack and a more interesting finish.)

  16. The Facts

    Steve, while your observation is right in that with all the news about doping in cycling, these special moments and wins can be tainted, but that’s if you let them. But to me, Boonen is probably beating a field of dopers as well. I know two wrongs don’t make a right, but certainly in the context its a little more even comparison……and again I have no proof the guys dopes, but like others I find it hard to believe in this day and age he doesn’t, and I think that is your whole argument with this post.

    Certainly we knew Eddy doped (he was caught a few times I believe), but he was still a badass and the greatest cyclist of all time in my eyes. For those that think Lemond won 3 Tours on Water are the same people that think OJ wasn’t guilty……..just because you never got caught or were never convicted doesn’t mean you innocent!

    Taking drugs doesn’t erase the suffering or hard work needed to win either…..otherwise I would inject EPO, take blood transfusions, HGH and testosterone and win PR with 5-8 hours a week in the saddle??!! Hardly!

    That would be like saying you could hit Randy Johnson’s 100+MPH fastball because you took steroids like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire!! There is still an immense amount of skill and hard work that is required to hit that ball out of the park 70+ times in a season.

    While I don’t condone the PED’s, at some point we must understand it’s in the culture of professional sports in this current day and age, and enjoy the show for what it is!

  17. Bill Laudien

    I agree with the general sentiment of your post, but I’m not sure that I agree that Boonen is a pure sprinter now doing unusual things.

    Boonen made his name at Paris-Roubix in 2002 when he finished 3rd ( likely doping like everyone else) as an unknown domestique.

    He can, and has, won sprints but he’s not a sprinter like Cippolinni – he’s more a sprinter like Museeuw or Jalabert.

  18. Touriste-Routier

    Yes it is sad that every great performance is met with the same question.

    But cobbled classics riders often evolve from being sprinters when they were younger. Top speed is sometimes fleeting, even though endurance and raw power may improve with age. Couple this with experience, and a strong team, and you have a winner in races of attrition like the cobbled classics.

  19. cl

    Jeff LeBauve is absolutely right. Boonen is not and never has been an Ale Jet, McEwen, Cippo style sprinter. He’s been called a sprinter because he out kicks other hard ass guys at the end of long breaks, or crazy sprints in the TdF when trains don’t get established.
    I think he won Flanders in 2005 all by himself after escaping on the last two hills. Don’t parse the crap out of that I could be wrong. But this was not an unusual win for him.
    The only difference this time is that his strongest competition over the last two years wasn’t around yesterday.
    Do I wonder a little? Yes. But it was a beautiful ride, and it would suck if he tests positive. That, and I sold him the batteries for the electric motor in his frame.

  20. Andy

    I like to believe that all athletes are clean and marvellous results are the product of magnificent physiology, the best training and the mental drive to win. There certainly have been examples of clean riders with outstanding results – Edwig van Hooydonk for one. I know I have certainly competed with and against riders that I would acknowledge as being clean who have been absolute driving machines when turning the pedals. I myself have had the amazement at my own abilities with solid and consistent training when attaining hitherto unknown speeds with comparative ease.
    However, I have had my eyes wide open when things just don’t add up. When the results seem suspiciously at odds with a rider’s physique and riding style or the changes just don’t add up. Like –
    – When a rider’s jaw obviously grows over the years.
    – When a rider turns up to the start line with a suddenly puffy face and proceeds to ride like a machine.
    – When a rider continually encounters weight and joint problems, yet gets stronger and stronger each year.
    – When a rider magically wins mountain-top sprints without any apparent physical changes and they struggled with railway bridges before.
    So, I returned to Belgium in late 2005 and was visiting a friend who’s father was an absolutely mad-keen cycling fan and also happened to be the regional chief of police. He matter-of-factly stated, “Have you seen all the crashes Tom Boonen has had this year?… [shaking his head] too much doping.”
    I will acknowledge Tom as a great athlete and rider. He was a class act as a ‘beloften’ (u23) and he showed his class early in his first pro-season by appearing, if not getting results, at the business-end of a couple of big spring races. He has always been a Flandrian man for the hard classics with a solid kick to boot.
    Unfortunately, he is being tarred with the same brush as all the convicted drug cheats because of his great list of results. He certainly doesn’t seem invincible. He may have had the wins, but they haven’t been that overwhelming.
    I am reminded of the saying that you can’t turn a donkey into a racehorse. With or without drugs, he still has to be able to ride a bike and he has still had to do the hard work in the off-season. If his main opposition was Cancellara and his main weakness was driving in the saddle to hold Cancellara’s wheel, well maybe he devoted the off-season to improving that and all that hard work has paid off.
    Unfortunately, with drugs in sport, the only thing harder to prove than an athlete’s guilt, is an athlete’s innocence if everyone is decrying their performances. We should laud their achievements, but we should also keep working on a system to verify that the competition is a level and clean playing field.

  21. Bri

    Well Boonen had a great ride and his history demonstrates he is more than capable of producing this result. He has won a race that some dream of racing, others chase their entire professional career and a few a lucky enough to win. Now if he was a racer who had never won a classic and had no experience with Pave, then yes I would suspect. Watching Boonen yesterday, it was clear he was as fast as the disorganized chase and rode the stones with more power than the others…no big surprise.

    Now if we want to go into the realm of “suspect” analyze this result for me: a mild at best climber pulling off this result: Tour de France 2005 Stage 15 Lezat-sur-Leze to Pla-d’Adet. What do you think on this?

  22. Brad Carvey

    Lemond had the 2nd highest vo2max of any athlete ever tested 93. Frank Shorter was 76. Armstrong was 84 or 85. Norm Alvis was 86.

    I raced in Northern California when Lemond first started racing. With junior gears he would ride away from some of the best riders in the United States. He is a uniquely gifted athlete. I don’t believe he did drugs, unless he started when he was in junior high.

    I had the same feeling as Steve. Boonen was so strong, I couldn’t help think he had some help. Even if it’s not true, when someone dominates, it’s suspect.

    Average kph in a point to point race??? Maybe a large breakaway with a tail wind most of the way. I assume the record in 1964, was based on weather, the race and not on a long solo by a guy that was propelled by drugs.

  23. Paul

    To the point of the letter, I watched the race and also immediately had one thought: It doesn’t look ‘real.’ As a lifelong racing fan… I find that really sad.
    We race (hopefully clean.) We know what real looks like. Maybe we should trust our instincts more.

  24. Mike

    The same could be said for a guy thats into his 50’s racing at the pro 1/2 level still getting great results. Racing and still beating the best young talants across the US. Im not saying you take PEDS but someone could make the same case against you 🙂

  25. Roberto

    Brad, Lemond was truly a gifted athlete, as was Lance. But riding away from the best riders in the U.S. in the 70’s, and winning the TDF in Europe, are two totally different things. I raced in Europe, and I don’t know from personal knowledge. (I never saw him do it) But we all heard the talk, and the talk was that Lemond and Hinault were both cheating. Since everyone else was cheating at the time, i’m pretty sure, where there was smoke, there was fire. I think it would be great to have a clean peloton, but someone is always going to try and cheat to win. When it means losing your job, you’ll do almost anything to keep it. The Masters racers in this country that cheat, are a different story altogether. It gets somewhat confusing, when guys you could ride away from as a Pro, are suddenly lapping the field as Masters. Those are the guys that should feel everyone’s wrath. When all you’re racing for is glory, I don’t understand why you would cheat. I would bet my left nut, that Tilford doesn’t cheat. If you race for enjoyment, and because you love cycling, how could you enjoy winning a race, because you were doping, and nobody else was.

  26. cl

    Boonen in 2005 Flanders sprinting from 15k to go to eek out the victory.
    Pozzato quit, he quit Roubaix because he bumped his knee! Flecha wouldn’t work.
    Can’t you guys just enjoy an amazing performance? I know, all the cheats make it hard, but for crying out loud, all the tsk, tsk, tsking, unsubstantiated aspersions and knowing asides just make me so sad.
    Pssst. Michael Jordan scored 38 against Utah while he had the flu. Cheater.

  27. double nickel

    I support Steve’s perspective on Boonen, etc.

    Any “Superman” performance, as viewed by rational, experienced bicycle racers, would absolutely include drugs as a reason for an off-the-charts performance!

    As Steve clearly says, he truly wishes his (and others’) thinking didn’t include this unfortunate, modern day reality of possible drug-taking.

    This type of questioning doesn’t indict anybody! It’s normal, keen inquiry. For those not in denial. Labeling this inquiry as negative or positive is irrelevant. And stupid.

    Lastly…to sharply criticize Mr. Tilford on his observations, musings or counsel-seeking posts makes you look like sheep-mounting, Jerky-Jerk, sanctimonius, bullying, insecure, judging Freds.

    Eff Ewe. Go ride.

  28. cl

    Wasn’t talking about Steve… I love Steve’s blog and read it every day. His observations were good.

  29. double nickel

    Not you CL…the poster called Me and some others…

    it’s all about the bike.

    And Tilford…

  30. H Luce

    Mike, the reason Steve can beat some of the best talent in the US at the Pro 1/2 level when he’s in his early 50s is precisely that he never used PEDs – and still doesn’t. As you might have noticed, people who use PEDs tend to die young or retire in their mid-30s and never race again… Something to think about, eh?

  31. Bill Laudien

    Regarding Lemond. Blood boosting agents weren’t available until the end of his career, and his results were inversely proportional to their rise. If anything that strengthens the arguement in his support. Furthermore there have been no accusations against him other than the sort of anonymous and suspect ( Roberto the ex euro pro ? ) comments like the ones here. Clearly, if Lemond had done anything, and there was any sort of evidence, Armstrong would have sussed it out in his attacks.

  32. Oliver Starr

    I said this in 2006 about Lemond. I’ll say it again here, now:

    As a former professional and ten year member of the US National Junior and Senior Teams prior to that, I’ve raced with BOTH Landis and Lemond (as well as Armstrong). Of the three, LeMond is the most likely to have used controlled substances and gotten away with it. Please recall that during the tail end of his career and particularly for his epic world championship victory, EPO was commonly available but undetectable by the then state-of-the-art testing. Most of the riders from this era who continued racing later were confirmed to have used EPO (Gianni Bugno anyone?).

    Who was Lemond to have defeated Europe’s best clean while they doped? Also recall that Lemond was the first to avail himself of any available technology (Scott Bars) so what makes you think he stopped at questionable and unfair equipment advantages when other solutions were also at hand.

    If he had vials of urine stored in labs somewhere I doubt he’d be quite so smug right now.

    This is not to say that what he achieved wasn’t remarkable beyond belief or that he wasn’t an amazing cyclist (he was my hero when I first raced against him), it’s only that he should know when to SHUT THE HELL UP because there are those of us that remember what it was like racing against him, how he looked, how he rode, and how fast he went from getting dropped at Tour Du Trump to Winning the Le Tour…

    I raced against Lemond. EPO Couldn’t be detected at the time but was widely available. Who says Lemond was clean? Him? Look at his performance from beginning of the year to the end. His improvement was beyond miraculous the year he won the tour after being shot – it was indescribable; Dropped at Trump by the sprinters on the climbs, to winning the Tour de France a few months later. Unnatural is the only word that comes to mind for that kind of improvement and I was there to see it first hand.

    Lemond should shut up lest someone find an old vial of his urine on ice somewhere and run a few tests on it…

  33. Brad Carvey

    Why are we doing drug testing, if Lemond, Mercx, Armstrong and many other great cyclist, did drugs and weren’t caught?

  34. Bill Laudien

    The statement ” of the three the most likely to get away with it ” is absurd. Landis didn’t get away with it, he got caught. Of the remaining two, neither got caught, but one…Armstrong…has a mountain of evidence and on the record testimony against him.
    But beyond even that, you use Bugno as an example. Bugno was indeed at the forefront of EPO use. The problem with your assertion is that Bugno did start winning until 1990, which happens to be the very last year that LeMond won anything. As stated before, there is a clear drop off in Lemond results at the exact time EPO comes into the peloton.
    As if that’s not enough, you outline Lemond’s progression as struggling in the early season and building to a level of success come mid summer, as if that’s some sort of miracle. If anything, it’s the opposite. Before the implementation of ” modern training” and suppliments that’s exactly the progression of normal human beings.
    Finally, i find your encouraging Lemond to ” shut the hell up” intriguing. What is to be gained by silencing those against doping…regardless of your baseless suspicions ?

  35. Oliver Starr

    Actually, Bill, your statement actually proves my point. I wrote this some time ago and now Landis HAS been caught and as you said, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting Armstrong doped, so LeMond is the one that “got away with it” which is exactly what I said.

    Beyond this did you race against Greg at the Trump Tour? I did. The sort of improvement we saw from Greg that year was so far beyond what you’d expect from training that it is simply inconceivable. That’s why I have been widely quoted with respect to this statement, it’s why Greg (who knows me and whom I used to respect a great deal) has never argued my point and it’s why all the other pros that were in these same races haven’t said anything either.

    If he was clean, it would be one thing, but the truth is that “he doth protest too much” and that’s why most of us that raced with him, with Landis and with Lance think he should just stay out of it. He’s just as dirty as anyone. You don’t go from being dropped before the sprinters in May to winning the tour in july because your training program worked miracles. Sorry. It doesn’t work like that. Never has, never will.

  36. Skippy

    Joe_beer’s comment # 10 , containing the following quote from another Blog , sums up a lot of the problem with the current “ Pro Tour “ racing scene :

    “Last year Jose Ibarguren was team doctor for Lotto and Gilbert won all around. This year Jose is team doctor for Omega and Tom and team have +20 wins already.”

    One wonders where on the recent podiums , Phil Gilbert , now with BMC , would have been if “ Jose “ was with his current team , if as suggested there was any input by this “ Doctor ” ?

    Enjoyed comment#25 :

    Do I wonder a little? Yes. But it was a beautiful ride, and it would suck if he tests positive. That, and I sold him the batteries for the electric motor in his frame.

    Roberto’s comment #31 , reminded me of Masters racers at St Johann Worlds bragging about their bike weight and what sups they were using , did they waste all that money to be there for the ego ? Wouldn’t cross the road to talk to a cheat let alone tear up money to be able to say I had beaten another in a masters race !

  37. Liam

    After looking up that Jose Ibarguren guy, I found it rather interesting that Omega-Pharma Quick Step has five physicians on the team. Is that normal among Pro Tour teams? Just looked at BMC, they also have six docs on the team.

    One doc for every five~six riders seems excessive, no? Not like cyclists are the unhealthiest bunch of people out there.

  38. Botanybay

    Oliver, you’re a smart guy, right? I remember racing with you. Now, when do you think Epogen was first approved? Do you know anything about inventory control on drugs still in the trials stage? Please elaborate on just how “widely available” EPO was in 1989 when Lemond won the worlds. Because it was approved for use in Nineteen Ninety THREE.

  39. Botanybay

    “That’s why I have been widely quoted with respect to this statement”

    Oliver, If you could show me 3 instances of your being quoted on this statement, I’d be thrilled. But I’ll accept just 2 and still let you characterize it that way.

    I think that you seriously mislead the youngins on here in terms of your level of “insiderness” in regards to Lemond. Greg was a super-star then. Your were merely Oliver Starr.

  40. JoeP

    As regards his performance here, Oliver Starr is at best “moronical,” but probably also a bitter troll who’s talking out his ass with neither inside information nor “outside” perspective or understanding. Fail.

    Raul, so predatory and cruel of you to invite him to the slaughterhouse! At least warn the guy lol…

  41. tilford97 Post author

    Guys, I told Oliver about your forum discussion. Here’s what he had to say-


    Thanks for the note. I’m not sure I care to jump back into the fray. I raced against Lemond at Trump the year he beat Fignon in the Tour (and contrary to what these people are saying I was absolutely a pro). He was dropped every single time we hit a hill. His transformation was beyond superhuman. Anyone that raced with him there can/could see it. If people that couldn’t beat me or didn’t like me as juniors want to bash me because I had my own program and approach to racing still have sour grapes, that’s not really my problem. If they want to attack me still for what I do for a living now, that’s just pathetic.

    As for attacking my racing pedigree, I don’t feel the need to defend it. Especially to people that post these attacks behind anonymous screen names. I’m fully public with my posts across the board. If they don’t even have the courage to face me frontally, it’s no wonder I didn’t find them worth knowing when I was a junior.

    By the way – and for the record, as a junior (at 14, actually) I was legally emancipated by my family over my desire to race instead of do what they wanted which was attend law school. In other words, I can pretty much guarantee that those people bashing me in whatever forum this is weren’t self supporting (as I was) from their career as a cyclist. I had tremendous pressure to perform. Pressure made worse because of a contentious relationship with the coaching staff at the OTC largely because I trusted Len Pettyjohn to be my coach as he was Alexi’s. As a result I had to be top two in any trials to make any team. So… if those that resented me for my focus and attitude want to bash me, they can go right ahead. I don’t even know their names or remember their faces while they clearly remember mine. I guess that says it all.

    And for the record, I’ve never proclaimed myself an “Internet Guru” or anything like it. I was one of the first professional bloggers and the first employee of what went on to become the largest tech blog in the world, TechCrunch. I started and sold a couple of technical database companies and one that sold supplements online. I’m not going to apologize for my successes or be embarrassed about my failures. It just so happens that because I was an early entrant into things Internet there are a lot of google results with my name in them. I didn’t put them there.

    As for my claims about LeMond I raced against him and saw it first hand. If no one else making those comments did, then I think they are the ones talking out their asses. It’s pretty telling that he has never once responded to my very public attacks. He knows the truth. That’s enough for me.

    Feel free to post this from me in its entirety. If people are still smoked over things that happened 25 years ago, I think that’s their personal problem and their tweaked egos talking. It has nothing whatsoever to do with me.

  42. Botanybay

    Pettyjohn was Alexi’s coach. Wasn’t Alexi into some serious drug-use of his own during your transformation from “high-level, OTC junior” to top-ten at USPRO?

    I’d be more curious of you then a post-shotgun, post-tendinitis, post-appendix surgery Lemond.

    Greg (in shape) was almost superhuman. And I’m sure that watching him get in shape from right next to him must have been something to watch. Consider yourself fortunate to have been there.

    And what about that question I asked you about your relationships with Wunderboy?

  43. Jack D

    What’s interesting to Mr. Starr response is his initial claim of “racing with” LeMond was modified to “racing against”. The first statement suggesting they rode on the same team(?) or even at least on the same continent? He certainly claims that “he knew” Greg adding further validity to “racing with” LeMond.

    As you can see from the following website Mr. Starr’s career wasn’t even in the same era as Mr. Lemond let along on European Pro teams! ( – yet somehow he knows he was using EPO?

    Appears Mr. Starr is making is certain assertions based purely on one race that he happened to be in with LeMond? A man who had already finished 3rd, 2nd and 1st in the Tour de France!

    I think Starr should have been much more clear in stating that he didn’t actually ride “with” LeMond he just a happened to be in a single race with him and if that means LeMond used illegal drugs his entire career then I think there’s no hope for any of us! For a man so fascinated by science does that logic actually pass the acid test? Seriously thats what he’s asking us to believe?

    To the point that Mr. LeMond never respond to his “very public attacks” (which weren’t referenced); does LeMond actually know who Oliver Starr is to even respond? Starr a lowly cyclist who didn’t even ride anywhere near the level of LeMond. Does responding through the media asses someones innocence or guilt?

    Interesting that Starr suggest that because Mr. LeMond never responded to the claims in the media means he might be guilty and by the same token Mr. Starr want to enter into debate in regards to the varsity of his claims! I’m seeing pots and I’m seeing kettles and I see a lot of black.

    Based on Mr. Starr’s logic I assume anyone who’s even been dropped on a hill in a a race and later improves is a drug user. Heaven help Andy Shleck if he gets anywhere near the podium at this years Tour!

    Back to the point of not proclaiming to be a “Internet Guru or anything like it” his own Bio begs to differ:

    Mr. Starr owes Mr. LeMond and apology. Thats if Greg even knows who he is!

  44. Botanybay

    “It’s pretty telling that he has never once responded to my very public attacks. He knows the truth. That’s enough for me.”

    Because he is a real star. You’re just… Oliver Starr.

  45. Botanybay

    Oliver. Give the younger kids some perspective on this. How many events did you actually race with Lemond?

    I’d also like to see a link to one of your other “very public attacks”

  46. tifosi

    Hey I am a lowly Cat 3 and I dropped one of my riding buddies a couple of years ago on a early season training ride up a small climb. He ended up being Elite National Champion later. I felt great that day – I even rubbed it in a little singing “I am on top of the World” just to mess with him. He still talks about it. He can drop me with one leg most days.

    He must have doped later that year according to the arguments here – or why else could I have possibly dropped him since he went on to win national later among lots of other races that year.

    Reminds me of Chad G screaming at guys to pull in Nor Cal claiming I should be in Europe right now…yeah that will make guys pull harder for you.

    How many people could drop Steve right now since he only has one good arm/shoulder? A lot more now than could 2 weeks ago! (Heal up Steve)

  47. Botanybay

    Wow, “dropped on every hill”? Are you sure you don’t want to revise your facts, Oliver? Glad you’re just a blogger and not a “journalist”.

  48. Jack D

    “I think that’s their personal problem and their tweaked egos talking. It has nothing whatsoever to do with me.”

    – Except it does have everything to do with you because you threw it out there?!!

    Back it up with some fact or don’t say it. Or at least defend your position.

    What sort of man are you? Throwing around the accusations and then shutting up shop?

    Thats so lame.

  49. Jack D

    Looks like Starr is a liar. Fancy that. Accusing someone else of doping with no fact or evidence. Its bad. A sounding so confident about riding the Tour de Trump as if thats some form of evidence that he knew what was going on? It be good if Starr could actually tell us if he finished or not or if he was even able to stay with LeMond. Did Starr even ride in Europe? Totally lame.

    He’s gone from telling everyone about LeMond’a doping to lot a lot when he was found out.

    He should come back he and defend his words. He did appear very confident in the earlier posts.

    Can he be trusted?

  50. Jack D

    If you type into Google “oliver starr public attacks greg lemond” you can’t actually find any of these “very public attacks” that she keeps talking about?

    What is this guy on? Does he just accuse people on a whim? With no factual basis? Does he just make stuff up?

    Thats not good. Thats slander.

  51. botanybay

    Find Oliver’s pro ranking (on page 206), almost 20,000 rungs down the ladder.

  52. Hushovd

    LOL, gotta love how the obsessed with Lance brigade starts coming out in force to attack anyone who dares put Lemond anywhere near where they put Armstrong. These guys have names on just about every cycling forum and gang up on anyone who does not think LA is the devil. The best part of the thread that is linked is that it is full of the kinds of statements that they attack people for using to defend Armstrong. It’s too bad they are too stupid to look in the mirror and too dumb to know what hypocrisy means.

  53. Jack D

    Who said anything about Armstrong?

    The comments are being made that a lowly US domestic half-pro was “certain” Greg LeMond did drugs because he happened to be a in race with him at sometimes or another in the last 20 years.

    I think everyone has their collective jaws on the ground because the theory behind the “certainly” is so outlandish that no one can work out how Starr came to his conclusion.

    Armstrong gets fingers pointed at him because half his team have already come out and told the world what went on at USPS. They actually saw it rather than drawing a stretched conclusion based on seeing a guy in a race at one time or another.

    You have to admit its fairly funny the manner in which Starr made his conclusions and probably didn’t think he was going to be caught out in his muddled lies in the comments section on a forum. He appeared very happy for people to take him up on his certainty. Do you think he would have appreciated it if it was in the other direction? Judging from his response it doesn’t appear so.

    Its more of joke than anything; local bike shop sponsored half Pro who never rode in Europe pretends he knows Greg LeMond and knows for certain he did drugs. Really?

    He deserves all the ridicule he gets.

  54. Mike Anderson

    Please come to NZ so I can punch you in the face. And bring your weasly one nutted perpetrator of lies with you.

    Mike Anderson

  55. Botanybay

    Mr. Tilford here was a true contemporary of Greg Lemond.

    Steve, do you consider Mr. Starr to have any “special level” of Greg Lemond insight that the rest of us “schmo’s” couldn’t possibly have had?

    Please tell us about Greg.

  56. tilford97 Post author

    Botany-Oliver did race with Greg. I don’t know how many races, but he was at the Tour de Trump where Greg was a disaster. I would have bet anything at that point that Greg would not go on to win the Tour that year. He was a mess. Obviously I would have lost.

    But, like I’ve said here before, Greg Lemond was the most talented cyclist I had the pleasure to race with. I started racing juniors with Greg and he most likely could have won the Tour when he was a junior if all the stars were aligned. He was that good. I raced in Europe with Fignon when we were amateurs and Fignon wasn’t even close to Greg’s abilities. And with Hinault on mutilple occasion, on his team and against him. Greg was much better, but Bernard was getting close to retirement at that time.

    Greg had some shitty luck in life and got shot. That was a game changer for him. He never got back to the form or the unbeatable mental capacity he had before he was hurt.

    The question is, could a shot up Greg Lemond win the Tour de France without drugs. Absolutely. He was that much better than everyone else at the time.

  57. Jack D

    Steve thanks for the update and input. Puts things in perspective.

    There’s an article here in LeMond’s own words in regards to his form at the 89 Trump Tour (

    What impressed me most about Greg is he had an anti-doping stance when he was a rider not just once retired. He was never afraid to tell it like it was.

    One only needs to watch the youTubes from his era and compare them to ’99 onwards to know LeMond’s rides were not fuelled by EPO. If they were then he must have been a poor rider to begin with as he’s not pushing the 500 watts like others did for 40 minutes straight! Its nice watching the riders rocks the shoulders on the mountains rather than putting the breaks on going around corners uphill!

    None the less what impress me most about LeMond was the respect he had for his fellow competitors. He always spoke highly of Fignon and they were good friends a few years after 89. Even when Hinault was dancing around his promises he still has nice things to say about him.

    Thanks again.

    A true champion is Greg LeMond.

  58. Botanybay

    Thanks Steve T and Jack D. As seen in Jack’s link above, Greg still attended TdT with no almost no mileage in his legs for many weeks, yet he still managed a podium position on one of the stages (Stage 8, Arlington VA). Only Chuck Norris could top that.

  59. Botanybay

    Certainly not in the top 20, and no podium positions. But in reference to Lemond’s 3rd place on stage 8, it’s not like Phinney was known as a sprinter 😉


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