In 1990 a book was published called ‘Rough Ride’, it was the candid story of a young Irishman’s journey from raw, green amateur to disillusioned, cynical ex-pro. Rather than the usual ‘Boys Own’ comic stuff it dipped into the murky world of damaged individuals and proscribed substances.
In those pre-Pro Tour days, ‘omerta’ ruled; the Sicilian code of silence – the author had ‘spat in the soup’ with his revelations about his own drug-taking that was instrumental in his quitting the sport.
Paul as a pro in his Team Fagor days (C. early 90′s).
Paul Kimmage has remained a thorn in the side of those who would rather we didn’t talk about drugs; he’s the guy who pops-up with the awkward question at exactly the wrong moment.
Pez: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Paul. As a pro you were well on the ladder to better things, any regrets about not going as far as you could have?
Paul: None, I’m very happy with how my career has gone since I quit as a pro. I have no bitterness and I regard it as an enriching part of the school of life. Maybe if I hadn’t had a successful career as a journalist I would feel different.
Pez: What were your thoughts when the Operacion Puerto storm broke just before the Tour started?
Paul: I was thrilled. I watched the Giro and was appalled at what I saw, riders going up huge climbs like robots, with ease. Look at old videos of Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon in the Tour; you won’t see them climbing like that.
It’s not recognisable as the same sport I participated in.
Pez: Do you think that the success of the French riders in the Tour was due to a more level playing field with the Puerto exclusions and fears scandal?
Paul: There’s no doubt about that. Initially I was very hopeful about this Tour, especially when I saw Landis crack on stage 16. I thought – well, he’s human, he’s taken a bloody good hiding, there’s good days and bad days and that was a bad one. It helped rekindle my enthusiasm for the Tour. However the non-performance of some favourites – we all know who they are – speaks for itself. The French teams have had a hard time of it [ed. Note - it is generally acknowledged that the French Government’s ‘linear health checks’ on professional riders are very stringent] with journalists writing about the riders being lazy – not doing the training or not looking after themselves.
Pez: What’s your take on Landis’s initial line of defense?
Paul: How many times have we heard it all before; how do they say it with a straight face? I saw his first tele-cast to a couple of American journalists, he was shaken and subdued. The next day he’s in Madrid with his high-powered lawyers telling us the way he’s being treated is outrageous. When he took the jersey for the first time, I wrote in the Sunday Times that I hoped his performance was for real and that he wouldn’t betray me, but that’s exactly what he did.
I got out of the sport at the right time, the decade from 1990 until the EPO tests came along was one which saw substance-abuse practiced on a massive scale. Many of the individuals who were involved in that are still involved in the sport as team and race officials.
There has to be a clear-out, root and branch.
If a rider is found guilty of doping they should ban him for life and not let him back in to the sport. There are people out there who purport to love the sport but whose background and attitude to the problem – refusing to condemn drugs – means the problem won’t go away until we get rid of them.
It’s ingrained in these people and they are running teams.
Pez: What about Landis’s claim that his samples were spiked?
Paul: You might not believe this, but I knew he was doping before the test results were even released. It’s the answers these guys give – they refuse to condemn drug use; Landis refused to criticize Ulrich and Basso, his answers were indirect and evasive, even when pushed. I like how Bradley Wiggins speaks-out against drug-taking. As for samples being spiked, it’s laughable – nobody believes it any more.
Pez: During the Tour you had some harsh words for your fellow-journalists on the subject of doping – what do you want us to do Paul?
Paul: Don’t give them an easy ride – ask that awkward question, go down the rocky road, ask for clarification. I was at a certain rider’s press conference and it was just after his advisor Michele Ferrari had been banned from the sport for his involvement in doping. I asked how the loss of his mentor would affect his preparation; not one of literally hundreds of journalists present asked a follow-up question, the next question was about what he would do after he retired, or some-such.
Many journalists are frightened to ask the searching questions.
When the Cofidis affair was breaking I asked to talk to David Millar; he said he wouldn’t because he didn’t respect my work. I wrote that he was deeply implicated in the drugs scandal that Gaumont had gone public on, his lawyers threatened me with legal-action; shortly after that he was arrested and eventually banned for two years.
It seems incredible to me that Millar has now announced he’s working with Luigi Cecchini; he’s telling us he’s learned his lesson and now he’s working with a man who’s has been investigated by magistrates over doping allegations.
[Cecchini was Tyler Hamilton’s ‘trainer’ at the time of the American’s infamous 2004 Vuelta positive A & B tests and positive A sample for the Olympic time trial. His name has also popped-up in the Operacion Puerto scandal.]
If you want a ‘clean’ reputation you stay well clear of these people.
Pez: What do you think we have to do to have a clean sport in the future?
Paul: There have to be tests and more tests, along the lines of the French model. There has to be the will at the top too; Prudhomme talks the talk, but will he walk the walk? I think it’s a very bad sign that he won’t release the blood samples to the Puerto investigators.
No doubt there’s a list of legal reasons for his decision but you have to ignore that and take it on – go for it! The sport won’t be right until it stops treating people like me as pariahs and stops welcoming returning drugs cheats as heroes.