Patrick Redford‘s in-depth look at Lance Armstrong in Deadspin is a blow-by-blow look at the history of doping in professional cycling generally, and at Armstrong’s not-insignificant role in spreading it. Through interviews and court filings, he shows us just how necessary doping felt to cyclists — and how heartbreaking Armstrong’s insistence on doping was for some of the athletes who were drawn into his ambit in search of professional success:
Dave Zabriskie joined USPS in 2001, and he later wrote in his USADA affidavit that he began to ride bikes competitively as a refuge from a “difficult home life” resulting in part from his father struggling with addiction. He vowed “never to take drugs” after his father died. In 2003, Bruyneel and del Moral called Zabriskie and Michael Barry for a meeting at a Girona cafe, where they brought him EPO and made it clear that the two would have to join the rest of the team on the program. Zabriskie said he felt cornered, but eventually he acceded to keep his cycling career alive. It caused him to have a breakdown.
Armstrong’s program wasn’t just a highly-organized system of doping and training, it was also a highly-organized system of evading detection:
Armstrong’s performance was scrutinized and investigated by anti-doping authorities and the European press, but no matter how loudly he was accused of cheating, Armstrong never technically failed a drug test in his career. According to USADA’s groundbreaking 2012 investigation, that was due in large part to a coordinated effort to dodge drug testers. Hincapie says he warned Armstrong at a race in Spain that drug officials were coming to test him right after Armstrong had just taken testosterone, and Armstrong evaded them by dropping out of the race. Hamilton also notes that the UCI simply didn’t have an effective whereabouts program, and USPS riders regularly hid from testers or refused to appear. When testers did show up, riders would usually be tipped off beforehand and would take a saline injection to normalize their blood values.