Steamboat Springs At that point and at that level, Matt Charity said, everyone knew.
Charity, who raced internationally in road cycling and on the track for Britain from 1989 to 1994, said that even back then, it was easy to tell who was and who wasn’t doping.
“You could see when someone was using. You could tell,” Charity, a Steamboat Springs resident, said last week. “People could just make these repeated attacks.”
But that was the culture of cycling at the time, Charity said. And some 18 years later, fueled by a scathing report released by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, doping remains at the heart of cycling and its biggest star, Lance Armstrong.
The USADA's report establishes Armstrong as the kingpin in one of the most elaborate doping sagas in sports history. The report includes testimony from 26 people, including 11 former Armstrong teammates. It's the most damning evidence of Armstrong's alleged doping since he captivated the world with his first Tour de France win in 1999.
“The sport has a history of doping,” said Charity, who raced against Armstrong in the 1989 Junior World Championships. “Tired bike riders aren’t entertaining to watch. There were methods always employed to alter performance artificially. It’s just come to light with Armstrong and how systematic it became. It was thought out. It was so very well thought out. It wasn’t a tired bike rider trying to stay in the race. It was done to win big races and lots of money.
“It’s sad for the sport. It’s sad for him. It’s sad for everyone that watched him.”
In the wake of the USADA report, some of Armstrong’s biggest sponsors have dropped him. Steamboat company Honey Stinger announced it would take his image off the company's packaging, and Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong foundation he started.
“In 1999, I had goosebumps watching it,” former Steamboat resident Jamie Morgan said, referring to Armstrong's first Tour de France win.
Morgan lived in Steamboat until 2010 and spent many years as a pro mountain biker. He now lives on the Front Range.
“I was as excited as everybody else.”
Morgan, whose pro mountain biking career started in 2000, said no arm of the sport was clean. Although he insists most of the racers he raced with weren't doping, everyone had his or her suspicions.
Morgan points to a 2000 race in Park City, Utah. He admits he was a middle-of-the-pack rider who was a “chaser rather than a racer.” But on that day, Morgan got lapped.
“That was shocking,” he said. “I had a good race. To get lapped at that level was odd.”
Morgan thinks the latest Armstrong revelations are just a taste of the much darker truth of cycling and doping.
Now, the philosophical argument has to be made whether people continue to support Livestrong and whether they can separate Armstrong the athlete from Armstrong the philanthropist. Do the positives of what his foundation has done for cancer causes outweigh his handling of doping during the past 15 years? Or was the organization built on false pretenses?
“My emotional connection is cycling. For them, it’s cancer,” Morgan said. “I don’t support Livestrong. I would never give them money. I have never worn a yellow bracelet on my wrist. But the day he admits to what he did, I’ll go and buy one of those yellow bracelets.”
Many Livestrong supporters have a different take.
David Nagel, co-founder of the Steamboat Springs-based 4 Yellow Foundation that puts on the Ride 4 Yellow and Ski 4 Yellow fundraisers in Steamboat, attended "15: An Evening at Livestrong" on Friday. The gala benefited the cancer-fighting foundation Armstrong founded in 1997.
Armstrong spoke at the function publicly for the first time since the USADA report came out.
"This mission is bigger than me," Armstrong told the crowd in Austin, Texas. "It's bigger than any individual. Martin Luther King said, 'We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.' This team behind me has infinite hope.”
Nagel said the vibe at the event was extremely positive.
“The message was that Livestrong is not a vanity organization (and there are) no smoke and mirrors, as with some celebrity charities,” he wrote in an email. “It has robust substance, a huge $30 (million) endowment and strong financials. When a Nike leaves, a Reebok or Adidas sees an opportunity. Livestrong sees this as a time to go on the offense to tout what they do: Patient/navigation services and advocacy.”
It remains to be seen where things go from here with Armstrong and Livestrong. The USADA report seems to offer the most conclusive evidence to date about what many already thought to be true: that cycling at the highest level fostered an environment ripe for doping and cheating.
How that eventually affects the Livestrong charity will be telling. With Armstrong's legacy already tarnished, what the scandal does for the future of cycling will be just as compelling.
“If you were going to be a professional then, it was part of the profession,” said Charity, who gave up professional racing at 18 to pursue a life with more normalcy. Despite the level Charity raced at, he said he never doped.
“Hopefully,” he continued, “this has changed everything about that mentality.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com