Though Paul Kimmage got some instant notoriety at the Tour of California for his confrontation with Lance Armstrong, anti doping has been a battle he’s been waging since 1990 with the publication of his book Rough Ride.
Rough Ride tells the story of Kimmage’s cycling career, that of a moderately talented domestique who resisted the temptation of doping as much as he could and suffered for it. Kimmage has worked as a sports journalist (presently for the Sunday Times) since retiring from cycling, a profession he found to be his true calling.
Andy Shen: So Paul, why do you love cancer so much?
Paul Kimmage: (Laughs) Why do I love cancer so much, well…with respect to you and to Lance Armstrong, I’d rather not talk about cancer, that’s not my work, that’s not what my journalism is about, though I think Lance would prefer it was. That would definitely give him an out. Let’s talk about cholesterol if you want.
AS: That was a radio interview, right?
PK: Right. That was a radio interview I gave not long after he announced that he was coming back.
AS: The thing that really jumped out when I read that…the cancer thing was not really a big deal, it’s a metaphor you used long before he was winning Tours…the thing that jumped out at me was that you said the Garmin guys told you things that shocked you.
PK: I think they’re not the only ones. There’s been a few lately, with Frankie (Andreu), I think he could tell you a couple of things that would shock you too. I think anybody who’s been… Let me just be plain about this. When I spent the Tour, my time on the Tour with the Garmin guys, there are a lot of guys on that team that had experience at Postal. This is as much about the Postal team as it is about Lance. Lance carried the can for a lot of what went down there, and he is responsible, but he’s not the sole responsible. I think the directeur sportif got a particularly easy ride, Mr. Bruyneel.
AS: The thing that was shocking to me wasn’t that they knew things, or that they talked to you, it was that you said it publicly. Was Vaughters upset by that? Was he taken aback?
PK: He was upset by that. And I understand why he’s upset by that, because when you take the power of Lance Armstrong, the power that he exerts in the business, just look at what he did to Greg Lemond at Trek, you can understand why Jonathan would be upset by that. Is it a coincidence the first thing that happens when he announces his comeback is that Jonathan loses his star young rider Taylor Phinney? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. And I think Jonathan would be wary of the influence this guy has in US cycling and world cycling. And he was a bit upset, I think he would’ve preferred to keep a lower profile, let’s put it like that.
AS: That affidavit he had to sign, after that IM was released, I imagine it’d be a similar situation.
PK: Well, in fairness, I think Jonathan would be able to give you a better answer to that than I can. But certainly from what I’ve learned, this man…let’s take an example of his influence…you look at how Frankie was treated. Frankie came out and made a confession, at a time when he had absolutely nothing to gain from it, and when Lance Armstrong berates me about my stance on these dopers, using terms like ‘everybody deserves a second chance’, well Lance Armstrong wasn’t prepared to give Frankie much of a second chance. Wasn’t particularly forgiving to Frankie when he made his confession. I think he got a letter the very next day saying we’re going to attack you for your salary from the Discovery team. This is another example of this guy’s influence.
So I am disappointed, I’ve got to be quite honest about this, I am disappointed that more people…and this is actually something that’s happened since he’s come back…if you’d been on the Tour last year, there was a lot of talk about the Lance years by everybody, not just Garmin, but everybody in the sport, about not going back to those years again. But since he’s come back, you go back to those same riders, and they will not say a thing now. That, to me, is very very disappointing, even though I understand it. I find it disappointing, yeah.
AS: It’s interesting, if you think about it, in any other sport, if someone has cheated and keeps beating you and beating you, and no one says a thing, what does that say to you? Are they all cheating? Or are they all incredibly afraid?
PK: What does that mean? The culture of doping in this sport has always been never to speak about it. I learned that very quickly when I went to France in the 80’s. This, for me, when I used the metaphor of cancer, this is the source, or a major source of the cancer, the omerta, the unwillingness to talk about doping in the sport. And Lance has always been, and certainly since his comeback from cancer, has always been an enforcer of that omerta. You look at his treatment of Bassons, of Simeoni, two prime examples of this guy who purports to…he should be a great example, a shining light to us all, and to all those who believe in clean cycling, given what’s happened to him.
But when you balance that against his supposedly anti doping stance, how do you back that up against what he did to Bassons in ’99 and to the speech he made on the Champs Elysee in 2005 where he gave this impassioned plea, "I believe in all these guys". You look through that list, you look at all these people who stood on the podium with him, Ullrich, Basso, Vinokourov was 4th or 5th, Rasmussen was King of the Mountains, all dopers. And he’s berating us for a lack of faith in these people. He can say, well, they weren’t dopers at the time, but it is actually a fact. He did endorse Basso by signing him subsequently, after Basso had been exposed in Operation Puerto. So I don’t think that’s much of an example.
AS: You go down the podium, that list, there’s so many dopers. Why do you hold Armstrong in particularly high disregard?
PK: I’ll tell you why. That’s a very good question. I hold Armstrong in particular disregard because in 1998, when the full extent of doping in cycling was exposed for the first time in the Festina affair, was blown wide open, this sport had a chance to move on. And yet, if you pick up It’s Not About the Bike, his very conveniently titled autobiography, you look at what he says about doping in his book, it’s not the slightest bit convincing at all. He glosses over, "yeah, cycling has always had a doping problem, blah blah blah".
Ok, to answer your question. Cycling had a chance to move on in 1998. Who was the first champion of the new era? It was Lance Armstrong, and Lance Armstrong did not move on, with his ties to Ferrari, his enforcement of the omerta, he dragged the sport, at a time when it really had a chance to kick on, he dragged it back to the old ways in pretty much everything he did and in particular what he said. So that’s why I hold him, for sure, absolutely for sure, he isn’t the only one to have done this, but because, for me, of the timing of it, 1998, after what happened, I really believed this was a chance for the sport to move on, unfortunately you look at who came along next. That’s my big problem with Lance.
AS: That’s interesting. I never thought of that angle.
PK: Come on, to me, that’s everything. That’s absolutely everything. ’98 was your chance. ’99, we’re back in the dark ages again. If you look at what Frankie said, I think that bears it out. I don’t think he wanted to dope, when he talks about pressure, well, he didn’t bring that pressure on himself. I don’t mean to bring this down on Frankie’s head, it’s not just him. You can look at my interview with Jonathan last summer, you don’t have to read too closely to realize that he came under the same pressure and succumbed to the same thing in that ’99 Tour.
AS: In your book, it almost seems as though, even though there was rampant doping in your time, you felt a lot of pressure, you felt you were at a disadvantage, it seemed like it was almost quaint in comparison. People would offer you something, you’d say no, they’d smile and say ‘ok, that’s fine’. It seems that at some point it became a lot more hardcore. You couldn’t say no any more.
PK: That’s partly due to the nature of the drugs themselves. We were talking about testosterone, cortisone, and then in the races where there’s no control or limited control, amphetamines. Now, obviously amphetamines made a huge difference, the other stuff, made a difference, but not the same kind of difference as drugs like EPO, where you actually could not compete without those. So the choices were much harder in the years after mine, the 90’s, it became much harder to say no. While there was rampant abuse in my time, I don’t think it altered, for example, if I had taken testosterone, cortisone, stuff like that for the Tours that I rode, there isn’t a chance in hell I’d have won the Tour. Might’ve won a stage, certainly would’ve been a better rider. But in terms of winning a Tour, absolutely no way. So I don’t think overall, the drugs had the same impact on the hierarchy of the sport as it did after that.
There’s that old saying, you can’t make a donkey into a racehorse. Well, I think the nature of the drugs that came into the sport in the 90’s the EPO, the growth hormone, stuff like that, I think you actually could transform a donkey into a racehorse, and that was the difference. And that’s what made it hard to say no. So if it’s quaint, it’s quaint for that reason.
AS: You’ve talked about Millar, you don’t believe he should’ve been allowed to come back?
PK: I spent the summer with Garmin at the Tour, obviously given my somewhat difficult beginnings with David, it was always going to be a problem. I went to see him at a training camp in the Pyrenees just before the Tour. I’d already interviewed Jonathan at length at that stage, and hadn’t spoken to David. I said, I need to speak to you, and we sat down, and I said, "I’ve got to make one thing absolutely clear. I don’t believe you should ever have been allowed back into the sport because of what you did, and I don’t mean you in particular, I mean that for anybody who steps across the line. That’s just a view. I don’t believe that anybody who steps across the doping line should be allowed back in the sport now." I made that absolutely clear, that’s where our starting point was. I said, "If you want to start again, in terms of your relationship with me, here’s a blank sheet of paper. Now let’s go." So that’s the bottom line. So I don’t believe David should’ve been allowed back into the sport, as a rule.
Having said that, in terms of what he’s done since he’s come back, I have absolute and total admiration for him. In fact, I’ve got to be totally honest. Paris-Nice is on at the moment, he’s the only guy I look to now in terms of hoping someone does well, not the only guy, that wouldn’t be true, but he’s certainly the guy I look to now and think, "Yeah, it would really please me if David would win a stage or take the overall or do really well, because I absolutely and totally believe in him."
AS: The part that is hard for me to work out, you yourself did amphetamines, you’ve doped yourself. Also, I don’t know if you’re just being self deprecating, but in your book you say part of the reason you didn’t dope, aside from the fact that it’s morally wrong, was that you’re bad with needles, you just didn’t like needles. Does it not make sense that you have such a hard line? You also said that the riders are the victims.
PK: I said that in ’90 when the book was published. I felt the riders were the victims in 1990. I felt that the only reason that I ever, and it was a brief period in 1987 when I used amphetamines three times in one month for three criteriums. The only reason I’d done that was that there were no controls, I’d have never otherwise, had the controls been where they should’ve been. I wouldn’t have doped. My whole reason for writing that book, wasn’t about the guys that doped and the guys who weren’t doping. The UCI, the governing body was my target. Look, this sport has a problem, this is what you need to do to solve the problem. Bigger bans, tighter controls, that’s it, that’s the reason I wrote the book.
I wrote that as a cyclist. If my stance has changed it’s that I’m very much a journalist now, a cycling loving journalist, but a journalist nonetheless. I find it difficult to forgive. There’s one thing I wasn’t as a bike rider was cynical. I think a lot of the people that come into the sport now, a lot of the champions, are much more cynical than the guys I raced with. Maybe that’s naive, I don’t know, that’s just a gut feeling I have. So I certainly don’t regard these guys as victims in any sense at all.
AS: There’s riders who dope to keep their jobs, to not get dropped, and there’s riders who aggressively seek out every new thing and try every new thing, and are asking for stuff because they want to win, they want the fame, the money.
AS: It was really funny reading your book, you worked so hard to be a pro cyclist, and you write two articles and suddenly you have job offers everywhere. Do you find it funny that your true calling is a journalist, but you worked so hard to be a pro cyclist?
PK: Yes, I do find that funny. I find that absolutely astonishing in the sense that I started at ten years of age because of my dad and lived for the sport, it was all I thought about, until I reached my goal and rode the Tour de France and obviously realized there were a lot of problems with the sport, I wasn’t going to be what I thought I was going to be. You start thinking about the afterlife, even at that stage I couldn’t have imagined that I’d become a journalist.
I mentioned that I was in London, I got an award for being sport interviewer of the year, I’ve won a couple of those now, I was sitting with David Walsh at the table, and he said to me, "The bit I find astonishing about you is that when you were racing, you were the grumpiest bastard, the worst interview in history. I just don’t understand how you’ve become an interviewer." Don’t ask me to explain, either, I find that difficult, I couldn’t argue with him. In terms of my dealings with the media, as a rider I was a bit prickly to say the least. Don’t ask me to explain this transformation from rider to journalist, but I do think it is my true calling in life. I would say it was as a journalist rather than a cyclist.
AS: What prepared you for that?
PK: It’s a funny thing, you look back at your childhood, I remember as a kid in school getting praise for writing essays, and for stories I’d written. I suppose had I gone to better schools I might’ve gotten more praise, I might’ve been encouraged to pursue that track as against the life of a professional cyclist. But that’s just the path that I went down and it took me a while to get back on to it again. Life is odd like that. My actual profession, the only thing I’m actually qualified to do, is a plumber. I spent four years learning to be a plumber, just before leaving for France in 1979 I qualified as a plumber. That’s the only thing I’m actually qualified to do. A rich tapestry, I think that’s what they call it.
AS: The fact that you were a pro cyclist informs a lot of your journalism.
PK: Absolutely. I didn’t understand it at the time. I tried to make the point earlier, that when I wrote my book I wrote it totally as a cyclist, it wasn’t as a journalist. This is a view of a cyclist. I didn’t understand the importance of what I did at the time. What I mean is it was a huge huge huge huge deal for me to do that book. It caused an absolute scandal in this country when you have Sean Kelly, world #1, Stephen Roche, Tour de France winner, Giro d’Italia, national icon. It was absolute mayhem here for me. A bit like Frankie, I had absolutely nothing to gain from this book. I just felt it was my duty to this sport, I didn’t feel a duty to journalism at that stage, my duty to the sport was "I HAVE to do this". Had I not done that, had I become a journalist and not written that book, I would’ve been totally compromised.
Something I never understood, and didn’t understand at the time, and didn’t understand until six years later at the Atlanta Olympics, when we had a swimmer called Michelle Smith who went there, and won I think three gold medals, a bronze, and just came out of nowhere. I was extremely questioning of her, that also caused a scandal. But that was subsequently proven that, she was banned by the governing body for a doping infraction. Had I taken that stance against Michelle Smith, and not done what I’d done in regards to my own life six years earlier, I would’ve left myself totally exposed for hypocrisy. So, quite by accident, I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I certainly appreciate it now…this is another point about the Lance thing. People say, what have you got about cancer? I don’t have anything against Lance Armstrong or cancer of any of that stuff, I am anti doping and I’ve been so since the moment I left this sport and that’s my only concern here. It isn’t about the personalities of the people involved. I want clean cycling, I want a clean sport.
AS: One criticism of your writing that I see a lot on message boards is that you write a lot in the first person, I think partly because having been a professional athlete, you’re not a typical journalist.
PK: I’ll try to explain this, and again, this is something I get irritated by. The perception of me as a writer, as a journalist, is that I’m a cycling journalist. I don’t write about cycling. I write about cycling once a year, maybe twice, three times. I’ve gone to the Tour the last three years, I think, before that I hadn’t been for ten years. I don’t earn my living through writing about cycling. I’m a sport interviewer. I’m paid to write, if you look at my resumÃ©, I’ve interviewed over the last six, seven years Haile Selassie, John McEnroe, Anna Kournikova, Ian Botham, Thomas Bjorn…there aren’t too many cyclists in there.
So I don’t earn my living through cycling, but when I write about cycling I become somewhat different in that because I was a professional cyclist, it does become more personal for me. It’s the only occasion where I feel more confident, comfortable giving my opinion, because I never set myself in any other domain I work in as an expert. Cycling is the only sport where I have a level of expertise. So the people who read me, the cycling people who read me, I can understand where they get that impression, but I’m doing my best to explain that now.
For example, I didn’t go to the Tour of California to cover the race or Lance Armstrong. I went there for a Nick Faldo interview the week before at Pebble Beach. I flew from the Tour of California to the Barbados to do an interview with a cricketer called Kevin Pieterson, who’s one of Britain’s most prominent sportspeople. So that’s my living, that’s what my job entails mostly. Except in the summer, in July in particular, when the Tour is on, because my newspaper’s interested, and they want me to go there.
AS: Along those lines, I’m totally aware you do other sports. In fact, I really enjoyed your piece on Pete Sampras. Now that you’ve interviewed great champions in many sports, is there something special about cyclists? Is there something unique about cycling?
PK: For me, the Tour de France is still the greatest sporting event in the world. I saw pictures of yesterday’s stage (of Paris-Nice) and saw how tough it was, and I don’t know any other sport that inflicts that much pain and suffering and hardship on its participants. You look at cricket, if it rains, they pull the covers and they go in. Tennis, same thing, nobody plays in the rain. Yet cyclists are exposed to pretty much everything. My admiration for cyclists and the sport never diminished at all. The demands of the sport are huge, and the courage these guys have, I absolutely have great admiration for them. That’s what makes cycling special. Tennis, you have five hour finals, that has to be demanding, but you know…
AS: Let’s talk about tennis for a second. You’ve said you’ve had your doubts about Puerto with tennis. They’ve buried their heads in the sand, more or less, and they’re enjoying this renaissance now with Federer and Nadal playing these fantastic matches. It’s certainly easy to understand how the powers that be in cycling might look at that say, "Why don’t we ignore everything and we’d do wonderfully."
PK: Absolutely, couldn’t agree more. They’re extremely irritated by that. As a journalist I’ve interviewed Nadal about charges that he was implicated in Puerto. It was put to him at Wimbledon I think, he denied it, there was no other evidence other than the rumor that he was, and I put that rumor to him and he denied it. I couldn’t take it that step further than that, so unfortunately cycling has found itself in a position where there is hard evidence there. Until that happens in tennis, in terms of what I can do, there isn’t a whole lot more I can do about it. I do try, absolutely do try, in every sport, to impose the same level of scrutiny, of questioning, where I feel there’s grounds to do so.
The question was about the irritation that cycling must feel with regard to other sports – I totally understand that. I counter that by saying, well, sorry, Mr. Pat McQuaid, you’ve expressed that, but I chose cycling to be my sport as a kid, and when you can tell my kid that he can start cycling and he won’t have any of this stuff, then I’ll say you have an argument. But I need you to address what’s happening in my sport, I need you to clean up my sport, and then, I’ll listen to what you say. That should always be his priority. This has been, in terms of pointing a finger, I’m not interested in that. As a kid, I chose cycling. And I don’t want my kid, if he were ever to do it, to be betrayed in the way that I was betrayed. And that should be his only concern, as the president of a governing body.
AS: In terms of money, I can see why these governing bodies might not fight doping as hard as they can. But in terms of the media, are they complicit? I listened to the first hour or so of that press conference at the Tour of California before I had to get off the phone, and it was the most horribly useless press conference ever. And when you spoke up, there was no follow up from the room. Why do you think the media is so useless?
PK: I’ve got to be honest here, I think they’re a complete…I think cycling has got the journalists it deserves. Not all of them, there are some people I really respect, I wouldn’t tar everybody with that brush. The Tour of California was a complete joke. One day, after the prologue, they brought everybody into a tent, an awning, just off where the prologue had finished. You’ve got fans who’ve gone into the tent. Had I asked that question of Armstrong in that forum I would’ve been lynched! Someone would’ve pulled me out and strung me up. It was just a joke.
The only difference between that and what happened at the press conference a couple days earlier is that all the fans were carrying typewriters, a lot of them were. You’re absolutely right, the media are absolutely…there’s another great example here, in England, Dwain Chambers, the sprinter, has just written this explosive book about doping and athletics and all the things he had to do and all the things he took and it’s an absolute scandal, and the people that are the most embarrassed by this are the journalists, and some athletes like Steve Cramm, Colin Jackson. They’re on TV now, moaning about the damage to the sport, why weren’t they doing anything about it? The bottom line is, they are complicit, they are complicit in this, through their silence over the years. That’s a bigger part of the problem, of doping, that’s what allows it to flourish, too many guys turning a blind eye.
AS: I’m so confused by this. As a journalist, what bigger story could there be? It’s a Woodward Bernstein level story, if you were the one to expose this. And yet, they don’t seem motivated, I just don’t understand it.
PK: Well, I think that if you look at human nature, all the fans, they all want good news stories. They all want to read about heroes, they want an escape from the reality of normal life. They want to believe in what Lance calls fairy tales. But even the fairy tales, you know, if you start painting the true reality to the fans, they don’t take kindly to it. Now journalists, that shouldn’t be a concern, but unfortunately, it does become a concern.
I don’t excuse it, but I do know that the job is getting harder. I think of Elliot Almond in particular, who I hold in fantastic regard, he has been fantastic in what he’s trying to do, but I don’t think he has time for it, in terms of his editors and things like that, he has to have time for it. It should be encouraged, but it’s not. We don’t have enough guys like Elliot in cycling.
Here’s a good one for you. In 1993 I got back to the Tour with David Walsh. David was writing a book, a series of profiles of riders at the Tour de France. The whole reason he went to the race was to do this book, to profile the lanterne rouge, the race leader, the team doctor. And he found this young American, and I was with David in Grenoble, and he interviewed this young American, and he was really excited about it. And when David is excited about people, you hear it for hours and hours. He interviewed this kid Lance Armstrong, and he absolutely loved him. I remember when he won that stage then, how pleased David was for him.
This was the bit I find despicable, when you read the Dan Coyle book, the stuff that Armstrong says about Dave and his motives and stuff, it’s just absolutely ludicrous, madness, absolute madness. Could not be further from the truth. This is the difficulty then, anyway, I don’t know why I came to that story. It’s something that struck me as really crazy. When people attribute motives to David or people like myself, ‘He hates cycling’, ‘He’s trying to make a name for himself’, or the most ludicrous one of all, ‘He’s lining his pockets through this’, just a joke.
AS: Maybe we should try to find something hopeful. Who do you believe in now?
PK: Well, I gotta be honest. That radio interview that I gave, I really felt at the end of the Tour last year, I felt there was great hope. What was really encouraging to me was, again, the riders themselves coming out and talking about it and condemning the Ricco’s and these guys who’ve been caught. For the first time, genuinely not concerned about speaking about doping, criticizing dopers. My worry now our friend has come back is that this isn’t going to happen any more, this isn’t going to happen for a while. You know Lance doesn’t particularly encourage that sort of thing. When you speak of hope, I think the next few months are going to tell us a lot. I despaired, and I’ve got to be careful about this, my reaction to what happened Sunday, the prologue at Paris-Nice, when you see a mountain climber put 7 seconds into specialists on a flat 12k course, I think in terms of the natural laws of sport, that is absurd. That’s like Miguel Indurain dropping the Colombians in the mountains back in the early 90’s. That doesn’t make sense to me, I have a real problem with it. You can make of it what you will, but that doesn’t make sense to me.
When you ask me am I hopeful, who do I believe in, well, stuff like that upsets me and it makes it harder for me to believe. So, obviously in some ways I felt at the end of last July, there was a chance to move forward, and I really believe in Vaughters, and Bob Stapleton who I met for the first time and was very taken by at the Tour of California, with people like that I really feel the sport has a chance. But unfortunately, I still think they’re in the minority in the way that they think. Until they’re in the majority, it’s difficult to be hopeful.
AS: It’s ironic, because one of the things you said was that when you saw Bernard Kohl completely exhausted…
PK: I got that completely wrong! I got that completely wrong.
AS: I know! Even the things you think bring you hope turn around and bite you in the ass.
PK: Absolutely. I got that completely wrong. I felt extremely foolish after it, but in my defense…David Millar, and this is a point he made to me, I had forgotten, over the last couple of years, was that there are good guys here, and they need your support as much as the bad guys, the dopers need your scorn. I’d forgotten about that, and he has a point. And the guys who are doing it clean they definitely need the support of everyone.
The Kohl one, felt like a complete fool, in my defense, again, with the Garmin thing, the Garmin guys, I put my neck on the line, it would be easy for me to say, "No no no, I’m not doing that", because it forces me to make judgements. To give an opinion. It’s much easier to paint everyone as the same than to do that. But I was certainly exposed on Kohl, I got that completely wrong. But in terms of the overall race, I do think, and again, I’m using Christian Vande Velde as my barometer here, he could finish 4th and be so competitive, it gave me hope about the future. We’ll see how competitive he’ll be this year.
AS: It will be an interesting year.
PK: I don’t know if I’ve confused you or informed you, but that’s me doing my best to explain myself.
AS: No, I didn’t mean to give you a hard time about Kohl. I didn’t mean…
PK: No, you’re not giving me a hard time. I have no problem admitting it. I got that completely wrong, but I get a lot of things wrong.
AS: But it’s not just that you’re wrong, it’s that these people are trying very very hard to fool you.
PK: I get a lot wrong, but I try, you know? I think the governing bodies, the UCI, and this is the problem that I have. As much as I’ve been encouraged since Puerto, how they’ve moved things forward and their attitude towards it, I just despair when Armstrong comes back, and suddenly rules that are set in stone are changed to allow him back to race in Australia, stuff like that. I just don’t like that. I just don’t understand why he should be a case apart, and yet he is, and he will be, for as long as he’s in the sport. And I don’t know how much the rules are going to be used to accomodate his comeback, let’s put it that way. That makes me very uncomfortable. Very very uncomfortable.
Pat McQuaid, who’s been openly critical of Vinokourov’s association with Ferrari, and he should be, openly critical of Vinokourov’s association with Ferrari, and yet, Lance Armstrong was associated with Ferrari for six Tour wins, or four Tour wins, McQuaid won’t say a word about it. He doesn’t see the inconsistency in that. This is what I’d be very very worried about.
AS: Some people think business and money have been very bad for the sport, and certainly with Armstrong there’s a lot of it.
PK: Yeah, you see it now, already. Eurosport, who are covering Paris-Nice over here at the moment, they’re already flagging their Lance Armstrong comeback commercials during the race.
AS: Exactly, good for the ratings.
PK: Yeah, it’s already huge. It makes it difficult, yeah.
AS: Did Roche and Kelly ever reconcile with you?
PK: No. I get along ok with Sean, but I don’t have a very good relationship with Stephen. Not at all.
AS: That’s terrible.
PK: It is sad, but that’s life, isn’t’ it? We make choices, and we live by those choices. I made a choice, Stephen’s made a choice, and he’s got to live with the consequences of his choice and I have to live with the consequences of mine. I’m comfortable with what I did, and I’m sure he’s comfortable with what he did. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean we’re going to speak to each other again.
AS: There was not one unkind word about him in your book.
PK: Well, I did try to explain that to his father at the time, but unfortunately it didn’t register. Again, when I hear him on TV now talking about doping in cycling, how it’s a new phenomenon, something that just came around in the 90’s when he was retired, I think it’s a little disingenuous of him. Yeah, we’re not going to be friends again, that’s for sure.
AS: It really brings home the idea of ‘spitting in the soup’. You can say nothing but nice things about someone, but if you do that one thing (speak about doping), then it’s over.
PK: Yeah, that’s it. And obviously I was very aware that when Rough Ride was published it would make life difficult for both of them, because of the implications of what I was saying. But I couldn’t allow myself to not do it for that reason. I had to accept my responsibilities to the sport, and they have to accept theirs. That was the bottom line. If our friendships were going to fall on that, as it did, then that was too bad. That was too bad.
The reason I’ve got a good relationship with Sean is that, the only thing I expected from Sean after Rough Ride was published was ironically enough, silence. That was the best I expected from him. And he gave me that. He wasn’t critical of me in any way in the media. At a time when he could’ve made life very difficult for me, he didn’t. His response was the exact opposite of Stephen’s, he made life extremelly difficult for me. That was the difference in our relationships.
AS: So I guess in this skewed moral world silence is support.
PK: It certainly was then. He commentates now, Sean, on Eurosport, and he was doing the commentary on Sunday. And they showed it delayed, after the race had finished, so I knew Contador had done this astonishing time. As Contador was finishing Sean was in the commentary box with David Harmon, and Sean hasn’t realized that Contador had gone so well, you know? He said this is going to be a day for big strong men, he wasn’t aware that Contador was going to absolutely blitz this time, and when Contador crossed the line, it went completely silent, and Harmon says, "Sean Kelly is here shaking his head in the commentary box"! For me, that said everything. I’m not sure I could do that job. I wouldn’t last very long, that’s for sure.
AS: You’ve said you don’t have any respect for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, right?
PK: I find it difficult to respect them, because for sure, it’s a different job than the one I do, but I think you’ve got a duty to the truth, a duty to recognize the problem for what it was. And for many many years the d word, the doping word was never mentioned. Even at the height of the Festina scandal, unless they absolutely had to talk about it they didn’t. It’s hard for me to respect that. Sherwen was a professional, Liggett organized the Tour of Britain that I almost won in 1983. Look, I don’t know, these guys are obviously extremely well paid, they love being the voice of cycling, they’ve earned a hell of a lot out of it, but I think they pay a big price for that. They haven’t got my respect, and I don’t think they want it anyway, but they don’t have my respect, no.
AS: It doesn’t help that one of them turns around and sells videos after the fact. Not gonna sell a lot of videos of a doped up race.
PK: No, that’s right. We talk about journalists being complicit, well, they’re two great examples. Two great examples. I’d like someone to sit down with Paul and say, "Paul, tell me about your time in cycling and when did you dope, how did you dope, why did you dope? Why do you never talk about it? Why do you never explain that to any of your listeners?" I’d really like someone to ask that question, I’d be really interested to know what he’d have to say about it.
One of the things when Rough Ride came out, it was as if I had invented this problem, in 1990, it was this world exclusive, that there was doping in cycling, when…and I didn’t really understand it at the time, I didn’t find out about it until much later…but the first Irish rider to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France was this guy Shay Elliott. And Shay Elliott had come back and given a series of exclusive interviews to a newspaper in the 70’s where he’d spoken about drugs in cycling and races being bought and sold and all this stuff, and contemporaries of Shay, Shay was the same age as my dad, raced with my father, these were the people who were giving me a hard time, who’d been with Elliott and knew exactly what was going on, but it was as if I had invented this problem. And that’s difficult to take.
Unless everybody’s prepared to be honest about it, unless everybody’s prepared to be honest about what’s happened in the past, and the need to sort it all out once and for all, we ain’t gonna move forward. And unfortunately, if you look at the makeup of the professional peloton in terms of the team managers, there’s still a hell of a lot of dishonesty there.
I found it interesting, actually, on the day after my press conference with Lance, I met a former contemporary of mine, and he said, "Paul, what you said in that press conference, everybody here’s thinking." That made me feel quite good in one sense and quite bad in another. Why aren’t more of you guys prepared to say it? That would make my life a hell of a lot easier, and more importantly, it would do a hell of a lot for the sport. Unfortunately this is where we get back to the old omerta. There aren’t enough people prepared to stand up and be counted. More than anything that’s what the sport needs to move forward. Brave people who are prepared to say we’ve had enough of this now and we’re moving forward, and we’re not going to have it any more.
AS: I agree. At the press conference, if 10 or 20 or 90 percent of the reporters followed up with you, hammered away, didn’t let it go, things would be very different. In fact, the backdated prescription, in ’99, where one person asked the question, and the response was "Are you calling me a liar or a doper", no follow up. And that issue died right then and there.
PK: Absolutely. Right there. That’s the problem. On the Tour this year you’re gonna get a thousand journalists coming from all over the place, and it’ll be all about Lance Armstrong’s comeback, and they won’t be interested in what really should be discussed about it. That’s going to be very very frustrating. I don’t know, it’ll be interesting… I really enjoyed last year’s race, I really really enjoyed it. I enjoyed being with the Garmin guys.
Another example. The day after the press conference, I met Christian at the team hotel. He said, "Hey Paul, come back to the room", and I walked back to his bedroom and we sat down and had a chat. You wouldn’t get beyond the Astana…I wouldn’t get within a mile of the Astana team bus, I can’t imagine many journalists would get beyond the first step of the Astana team bus.
AS: Astana’s own team managers can’t go on the bus either, right?
PK: Yeah, well, exactly. In terms of transparency and all that…look, we’re a long way from that. But that’s what I enjoy so much about Vaughters and Christian and all those people, I think they’re good, great people. And that would be the end for me, that would be the end for me, if I discovered that Garmin weren’t what they purported to be. That would absolutely crush me. I would walk away and never come back after that, ’cause I’ve invested a lot of faith in those guys, and don’t have any qualms about it, ’cause I think they’re terrific. I think what they’re doing, what Jonathan is doing for the sport in terms of…and I don’t think he’s the only one. I think Bob Stapleton has done really well, I want to get to know Bob better this year. Just not enough of those guys, not enough, we need more people like that.