In Honor of Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage spoke at New York City’s Bicycle Habitat last night.  The subject was doping.  It was filmed by a documentary crew, other journos were taking notes as well, so when that comes up, I’ll post.  Among other things, he threw some cold water on Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins purity, if only because Team Sky has given up the transparency they promised when the team debuted.

In the meantime, I want to post a piece I did for cyclingnews in 2009.  It was at the start of the year and I interviewed Kimmage.  CN said they were interested and I did it.  I actually did three versions.  A longer one that the editor liked but wanted shorter.  A shorter one that he liked but waited on.  And then a third to make it more topical in light of the Armstrong-Kimmage row at the Tour of California.  None of the pieces ever ran.

In honor of Paul, I share the first iteration here with you.  In light of recent revelations, it’s interesting, for me at least, to look back and reconsider what he said then.

Paul Kimmage: A Believer Reborn

            For all the negative stories about doping and cycling in 2008, there was one incredibly upbeat story that was largely overlooked.  Paul Kimmage declared that the Tour de France could be won clean.
Like many critics, Kimmage was a believer scarred by experience. “I think it (the Tour) is the greatest sporting event in the world.  It is epic, some of the pictures on French television were stunning.  It should be the greatest sports event in the world…if we could believe the winners aren’t doping.  That is what has tarnished it, has destroyed it.  The dishonesty of the officials who runs the sport.  It has slightly more credibility than the WWF (World Wrestling Federation).  It is appalling that they let this happen to it.”
            Anyone who is interested in learning the dark side of professional sport owes it to himself to read Kimmage’s memoir Rough Ride.  He details his life as a pro bike racer in the 1980s.  The drug use disgusted him, something he makes clear, and his few jabs into the poison syringe, in post-Tour criteriums, filled him with embarrassment.  His memoir was a first in pro cycling, a tell-all.  Experiences he thinks are still relevant today.  “In my first Tour in 1986 they were using amphetamines on the Champs-Elysees.  The helpers were exploiting loopholes.”  There was no testing the final day of stage races, so domestiques often doped to help their leader and put on a good show.  He also wrote about going to a race in France where he accompanied teammate Stephen Roche, and Roche’s participation was contingent on the presence of a doping control; a promise made but not kept.  “It’s just demoralizing when they couldn’t implement the control.”
Rough Ride made Kimmage a pariah in many corners of pro cycling.  As Kimmage reflects, he “spat in the soup.”  His memoir marked his transition from bike racer to journalist.  He initially covered bike racing, but he now pretty much only covers the Tour. He has no shortage of criticism for how doping issues have been handled and hidden and he has used his soapbox at the Sunday Times to call for an end to doping and to speak up when he sees cheating, duplicity and the like.  Here’s a quote from a column in 2008, ” If there’s one thing professional cyclists have always been more proficient at than racing bikes, it’s telling lies.”  You get the sense that in his four seasons as a pro, Kimmage experienced more than enough lies for a lifetime, and won’t put up with lying anymore.
            Depending on where you saddle up, Kimmage is either a miserable scold who is continuing to spit in the soup and destroying cycling in the process, or a much-needed truth-teller who is carrying gallons of water for a scared, silent majority. 
            On June 29th,  2008, on the eve of the Tour, he wrote a column entitled, “How can we save one of sport’s greatest competitions, the Tour de France?”  He pointed to a recent survey completed in France where the attitudes toward the Tour were surveyed.  He reported the results as thus: “Doping has destroyed everything, I feel betrayed: 90% Because of doping, I no longer believe in the results of the Tour de France: 85% All top-level cyclists are doped: 69%.”
            At Tour’s end, he wrote a column, “Back From the Abyss: An anti-doping team has restored my faith in the future of the Tour de France.”  Not surprisingly, he was referring to the Garmin-Chipotle team led by Christian Vande Velde and David Millar, and run by Jonathan Vaughters.
            His weekly columns tell his story.  Basically, he demanded complete access to the team for five weeks, no locked doors, always able to get on the bus, etc.  He got it.  He could grill any rider, any member of the support staff.  Impressively, he came really close to getting Vaughters to admit to doping.  He pushed team physiologist Allen Lim to explain why he thought Floyd Landis, whom Lim coached in 2005-6, might have won clean. 
            Clean team.  For those watching the sport, clean teams and clean riders aren’t exactly news.  In the wake of the 1998 Festina scandal, French cycling started longitudinal testing riders on French soil.  The CSC team, now Saxo Bank, has had their own testing program for years. The T-Mobile team, in their final year of sponsorship,  2007, under the management of what is now High Road Sports, instituted their own testing program; and it has continued on with the team’s new sponsor, Columbia.  In the wake of the doping positives at Astana in 2007,  the management team there was sacked, Johan Bruyneel was brought in, and he instituted a testing program as well.  Bradley McGee, at the top of his racing career, made the same offer to all journalists that Kimmage asked for and received from Vaughters; stay with me and you’ll see how people train and win clean.  Kimmage himself has written about Philippe Gilbert, portraying the Belgian cyclist as a clean rider, one of the good guys.
            That Kimmage came to his conclusion with Garmin seemed odd in light of all the other teams doing the same.  Columbia won 85 races, the winningest pro team in the world in 2008.  They won world championships, classics, short stage races, stages at Grand Tours, and even held the green and yellow jerseys at the Tour.  Astana won both the Giro and Vuelta. 
            The main difference is a surprisingly simple one.  Access.  He could never get any from other pro teams.  A pre-bust David Millar even had his lawyer write a threatening letter to Kimmage after Kimmage approached for an interview.  And what he saw thanks to the access convinced him.  “I went in with a blank sheet of paper, I said, “if they’re willing, I should go in with an open mind.  I went to their training camp in Spain.  After 5 weeks of being on the road with them, my enthusiasm for the sport was enhanced.  If there are more people like Jonathan Vaughters, the sport has a greater chance of sorting itself out.  I don’t give the same credit to the sport that I give to Garmin.  I think they’re 100% clean.  I don’t know that about anyone else.” 
            Access, to Kimmage, means transparency.  “Take the example of Garmin, who offered me open doors, while other teams won’t even let me step on the bus in the morning.  When you see someone who is willing to be totally transparent, and you put it all together, it isn’t rocket science.  One of the things that most impressed me with Garmin, is that they used no syringes whatsoever.  For me, that’s the way to go.  I love the people looking after them.  The whole deal stacked up for me.  I know I’ve heard that Columbia has the same mindset, I’m encouraged by that.”  During his days as a pro, riders used, “B12 injections, iron injections, and that stuff through syringes.  That was something that I wasn’t comfortable with, but it went on…I wasn’t proud of the fact that I succumbed to caffeine use.  It’s debasing using it with suppositories.  Everybody knows the difference between taking a Coke and shoving a caffeine suppository up your ass.  When it comes to doping and that line between what’s doping and what’s not, I think everybody knows.”
            Even though he wasn’t granted access to other teams, Kimmage thinks it likely that there are other clean riders. “I’ve great sympathy for the French cyclists.  They were deemed to be lazy by people like Bjarne Riis.  It was obvious that they were subject to more stringent dope controls than anyone else.  They were riding cleaner than anyone else and they struggled through that.  The playing field has leveled and we’ve seen their performances have improved as a result.”
            The case of Riis is, in many respects, what Kimmage sees as stumbling block for cycling.  “My view has always been, the fundamental problem is riders came into the sport and were shown doping, became successful, and then became team directors, and the cycle continued.  Continued recycling of the doping problem. Anyone in a position of power shouldn’t have been a doper.”
He doesn’t care what Riis has done since retiring from the sport because of the regular doping Riis copped to. “Bjarne Riis is a liar and hypocrite and has no place in cycling.  He lied for years about his doping.  He confessed when he had no choice but to confess.  He shouldn’t be allowed to take any active part in the sport. I don’t care who he has implementing his controls.  You can’t have people like Riis running teams and claiming to be a force for change.  He’s not alone.”
            Likewise, if he owned a team, he would have sacked Columbia’s Directeur Sportif Rolf Aldag.  And for riders, he is generally of the mind one offense and out for good.  He’s not happy to see Tyler Hamilton winning, and Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso, and Floyd Landis back to racing.  “With Basso, Landis, Hamilton coming back, that isn’t very encouraging.  These are people who have profited from doping and are from the old system.  And I don’t think it is very healthy for the sport.  What message is it sending to clean riders, to the public.  Rape the sport, fill your boots, but you can come back next year, we don’t mind.”
            Armstrong in particular has earned Kimmage’s ire.  “It has been one rule for Lance, one for everyone else. It is hard to take the UCI’s anti-doping stance seriously when they do this.”  He is referring to Armstrong coming back to race before the UCI rules state a returning pro rider is eligible to race.  “For too long they’ve indulged, encouraged, honored dopers.  I’d like to see them tell Armstrong that it isn’t alright to associate with Ferrari, have samples (that tested positive for EPO) in the lab, and not acceptable to come back early for the Tour Down Under.”  He thinks if Armstrong has his own testing program, his testers should look into those samples. 
“All he (Armstrong) ever did was stick the boot in anti-doping people, from Bassons, to Simeoni.  All he did was align himself with people like Ferrari.  Whatever he does now won’t change how he conducted himself in the past.  I don’t know if (Don) Catlin has done even one test on him lately. It’s just ludicrous.  He talks about transparency, he can’t spell it, let alone implement it.”
While he doesn’t have much interest in repeating his embedded five weeks with another Tour team, he makes an exception for Astana. “If Astana offered it to me, I’d be more than willing, even pleased to accept. Hell will freeze over before they do that,.  But I’d be happy to do that and poke around for a month.”
            For all this vitriol directed at dopers and alleged dopers, it is surprising to read his columns and find he has a soft spot for David Millar.  His July 6, 2008 column entitled “The Doper’s Redemption,” gives Millar lots of credit, credit that Kimmage is unwilling to give most other former dopers.  “What I like about David is that he has acknowledged what he did, number one.  He’s prepared now to take it to the next step, where he’s now outspoken against the practices he once indulged in.  It needs a zero tolerance approach.  I think he’s been impressive about how he’s come out and spoken about the problems of the sport.”  Following through on that, he doesn’t think Millar should have been allowed this second chance.  “I told him this summer.  ‘In my view, you should not be allowed back into the sport.’  I admire him greatly for what he has done.  David Millar should not be allowed back in.  Anyone who steps across the line, should not be allowed back in.”  Still, he says of other dopers, “If you get the same level of honesty that you get with David, maybe.”
            It’s the seeming honesty that had Kimmage entranced by Garmin.  “I absolutely believe it (the Tour) can be won clean.” And at the end of his final column on the 2008 Tour, he had a most interesting reflection,
“I’ve spent a good portion of my past 20 years enraged by dopers such as Virenque, Riis, Ivan Basso and Hamilton and seized every opportunity to expose them. No apologies. They deserve our contempt . . . but not as much as the guys who are trying to compete clean deserve our support. I’d lost sight of that. To David Millar, Christian Vande Velde, Ryder Hesjedal, Will Frischkorn, Danny Pate, Julian Dean, Martijn Maaskant, Trent Lowe and Magnus Backstedt, thanks for the reminder.
“The sport has a hell of a lot to do before it drags itself from the mire, but with guys like Vaughters it has a chance. I hope Vande Velde comes back and wins the Tour next year. I hope Millar wins the stage on the Champs-Elysees and then sits down to write his book. I hope that every Tour I watch from now is as much fun as this one was. I hope.”

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