It all started on Twitter. Adam Myerson, a relatively unknown pro with a modest 4,704 followers, decided to tell a story. He couldn’t stop thinking about doping—not in the wake of Tyler Hamilton’s recent book. And certainly not after Jonathan Vaughters outed Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde, and David Zabriskie—three of his own riders—for past doping.
“If you spend 20 to 30 hours a week alone, you need to turn the headphones up loud if you want to quiet the voices in your head,” he says.
In particular, he just couldn’t fathom how Tom Danielson came to use performance-enhancing drugs. Before the release of the Lance Armstrong dossier, it appeared that Danielson had started doping prior to meeting the seven-time Tour de France winner. Unlike with the other riders, the Postal Team wasn’t necessarily to blame. It appeared that he “came to it through his ‘support network,’ the people who were supposed to be there to help,” Myerson says.
So he made a quick call and soon started tweeting. By the end of the evening, one rider had appeared to sort of but not really admit to maybe considering doping (later to claim it was a case of Twitter miscommunication). One team director had been labeled a peddler. A well-respected collegiate team was put under the crosshairs. And one of the most decorated coaches in American cycling was tainted by association.
Myerson didn’t intend to uncover an underground doping network. He just wanted to vent. The tweets were part catharsis, part rant, and part admonition to everyone who said they were powerless (the coaches) or had no choice (the riders). He had proof: The story of Jason Williams, a rider he coached eight years ago.
EVEN AS OMERTA HAS crumbled, its ethical underpinnings have held. From Hamilton to Vaughters, they all say the same thing; the choice to dope wasn’t really a choice if you had any ambitions in the sport.
Most importantly, they imply the need to dope wasn’t apparent until you were on the verge of making it—after you’d already invested an incredible amount of time, training, money, and hope. At that point, riding clean was just a poor investment, something Vaughters makes clear in his New York Times come-clean: “Then, just short of finally living your childhood dreams, you are told, either straight out or implicitly, by some coaches, mentors, even the boss, that you aren’t going to make it, unless you cheat.”
And just like that, the naïve teenager who couldn’t discern extract of cortisone from EPO is forced to make a decision. He is, after all, madly and insanely chasing the dream. He rides thousands of miles per year. He wakes up early each and every day to train. He misses prom. Everything is for cycling. There is nothing—certainly no ethical line or fear of getting caught—he will let get in his way. The teenager has no choice but to choose the drugs.