Dear Johan,

Dear Johan,

It’s clear from your recent blog post on your site that you’re not happy with your 10-year ban from cycling. Big surprise.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The rest of the world isn’t happy with that ban, either, but for reasons I suppose are very different from yours. You see, we all think you should have gotten a lifetime ban, just like your favorite son, Lance. He earned a lifetime ban and to most of us, your sins were just as great, your guilt just as proven, your responsibility even greater, so your punishment should have been just as high.

Here’s another newsflash (I should mention I have a few more after this one): Your case before WADA regarding your role as the mastermind of the U.S. Postal Service team’s doping program has been as anticlimactic as the news of any of Hollywood’s elite walking out of court-ordered rehab after only a weekend. We all saw it coming, and in that, it was just as unsurprising as your reaction.

That you have been banned from the sport for 10 years isn’t really news. That Michele Ferrari and Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral received lifetime bans for their efforts isn’t really news, either. And what of Dr. Pedro Celaya and Jose Marti’s eight-year bans? Definitely not news.

Were this a movie about your former team, this would be footage you’d run under the credits.

This is why your exhortations about USADA’s lack of jurisdiction over your career are falling on deaf ears. We don’t need anyone to explain the various agreements and bylaws that allow an organization in the United States to sanction a Belgian living in London. There may not be much in cycling we have faith in, but we do at least believe in those sanctions.

You, like Lance, have lost the plot line. The public wanted clean sport and plausible deniability. It’s much the way we want government. We want no corruption and plausible deniability so that we can at least claim we have a working democracy.

What neither you nor Lance seem to understand is that we, the public, recognize you rubbed our noses in your lies. The spell is broken. No matter how thrilling those Tour wins were, that entire era is now, collectively, the ex we can’t be in the room with. As breakups go, this was epic. We don’t want to see Lance on a bike ever again. We don’t want to see you speak into a microphone, anytime, anywhere. If we hear the word “win” come out of your mouth, we’re going to scream. All of us.

Your statement on your blog opens really well. You say, “I do not dispute that there are certain elements of my career that I wish had been different. Nor do I dispute that doping was a fact of life in the peloton for a considerable period of time.” 

It’s such a great start. But you don’t go on to tell us what those things you wish were different were. You don’t confess your misdeeds. You don’t admit that you coerced numerous riders who would not otherwise have doped into doping. You don’t confess that you pitted the media against each other. You don’t reveal how you co-opted people into supporting the myth your team was built on.

And you continue, “However, a very small minority of us has been used as scapegoats for an entire generation.  There is clearly something wrong with a system that allows only six individuals to be punished as retribution for the sins of an era.

Did the US Postal team really operate ‘the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen’? This headline-grabber has helped create a staggering industry of books and movies, but reveals only USADA’s talent for self-aggrandizement.”

Dude, there’s this thing called hyperbole. It’s a handy device for getting a point across. You should check it out. All the cool kids are using it. Whether or not the USPS system was the most sophisticated—or not—is an unanswerable. It stands to reason that if there has been a more sophisticated system, we haven’t learned of it … because it was more sophisticated. But that, as they say, is beside the point. 

Which brings us back to you and Lance and your inability to comprehend public sentiment.

Johan, here’s the deal. We don’t care if this was a kangaroo court that dismantled you and your legacy. The truth is out. Despite Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen calling Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis scumbags, their stories have carried the day. And trust us, you’re not scapegoats for an entire generation, you’re just the tip of the iceberg. Whether the CIRC—the UCI’s attempt to do a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission—drills down far enough into the past is a separate matter, but one we will take up with them, not you.

I’m tired of writing about doping, tired of seeing someone cross the finish line and immediately calculating the odds of whether he was clean or not. I’m tired of defenses that continue to play the public for fools.

You should go listen to some Bob Dylan. The times, they are a-changin’. Early this spring I spent a day interviewing a bunch of pros with the Cannondale team. The one truly interesting, truly surprising thing anyone said to me that day came from Ivan Basso. And you know what he said?

“The young pros—they don’t ask about doping anymore.”

Not only does the public want clean sport, even the athletes want it. Your failure to comprehend this most basic of truths is why your 10-year ban was not long enough. Even if you learn that lesson, there is zero chance we will ever trust you again, and that’s why your ban should have been for life.


Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. jorgensen

    10 years is not long enough save that It might be if he finds something else to do and never returns to cycling.

  2. Bryin

    That is a great article… this is a perfect summation of how people feel (or should feel if they understand the situation) about the entire Lancegate scandal. What needs to happen is a self-enforced ban among the cycling media not to print another word or image of LA or anything/anyone connected to the scandal. Let’s just forget that Lance ever was born and move on…

  3. IfJeff

    Padraig, there is not much else we can learn from that era that will truly make a difference, or even be surprising. At this point in the narrative, it is safer to say the entire peloton was on something and the entire administration new of it, as such I would like to move on. We the people can issue our ban, strike the names of all from that era from our conversations, render their deeds void of any historical context, forget about them, the true justice in 10 years is when my son asks me “What is this Lance Johan thing…. ?”.

    1. Author

      IfJeff: I wish I could agree with you. While I do agree that we’re unlikely to learn more about the riders that might surprise us (though as Albergotti and O’Connell’s “Wheelmen” showed, there may still be some surprises, such as Ullrich’s racing the 2000 and 2001 Tours clean), to prevent more of the same I think we don’t know nearly enough about the involvement of management and support staff. God knows how many more doctors might have been involved. Those are the stones that are not sufficiently overturned. Striking names from record books does nothing to fix this mess. Guys like Johan need to be banned for life.

    2. Full Monte

      Like Padraig, I agree, further investigation is needed. There are still managers working in this sport who were actively promoting doping (some have come clean, others continue to deny). There are still doctors and trainers working in this sport who were supporting and encouraging drug programs. I’ll even contend, there was tacit (if not behind-the-scenes encouragement in the name of win-at-any-cost) involvement by sponsors and national cycling organizations that are still very much involved in the sport today. That there were many, many riders on the juice during the Lance era is not in question. The problem which very much needs to be exposed and rooted out is what institutional and leadership entities were involved, to what extent, and how much influence do they still hold in cycling today?

  4. Tango

    Right on! Well said. Now if there was a way to ban Phil and Paul (and Roll). How in the world does NBCSports not understand that these LA cheerleader/apologists are the inextricable voices of the doping era? Frankie and Craig can handle the commentary.

  5. Aar

    Truer words were never published. It is this viewpoint that compels me to read RKP daily. Looking forward to the CIRC results and RKP’s editorial on the same…

  6. MCH

    I completely agree with the theme of this post. However, the claim, “the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”, continues to bother me. As you rightly point out, it’s hyperbole. Unfortunately, many seem to take it as fact. I think this hides the even uglier truth of PDM, Festina, Gewiss, Banesto, Once, etc., etc. Although we don’t know the full truth (perhaps not even a little) about what these teams did, we got a pretty good taste from the Festina bust.

    So was Johan treated unfairly? No way. Are he and Lance scapegoats? Maybe.

  7. AA

    I am still a cycling fan for all the same reasons you are too. I like the history, the characters, the technology, and the the bad-ass attitude and willpower required to train and race in horrible conditions and potentially deadly roads and courses. It is a sport for hard men and hard women.
    I don’t know Lance Armstrong and I don’t know Johan Bruyneel or any of the accused and punished so far. I did meet Bruyneel once when I was still a naïve fan at one of his book signings. He looked nervous and gave me one of the clammiest handshakes after he signed my book with the statement: “Whatever it takes!”. Now I know what he meant.
    But enough is enough, lets all get off our high horses and stop dishing out lifetime judgements to people that have cheated in the past to gain glory, fame and money. What they did is not defendable, and they did it because they didn’t want to work at the local pub after they retired from the sport…but I still do not believe that they don’t love this sport. I watched the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix this year and the expressions of joy from the winner’s team cars, that let’s face it were around when EPO was rampant, shows to me that they still love it. I would be bitter too if I saw these guys still doing what they love and I am crucified for the same deeds.

    I for one do not want to hear of another member of our cycling community dying in their hotel room from an overdose, suffering depression, walking around pennyless (and know who I am talking about) or the worst, committing suicide because they were “banned for life”. Give them a chance to redeem themselves and prove that they love cycling. They can take some of the millions that these athletes and corporations gained from illegal practices and put it up to fund something that helps current and past professional cyclists. I am thinking training centers, health centers, pension plans for the ones that need it. It is time for truth and reconciliation, and to give these people the chance to show us that they love the sport more than the money.

  8. Rod

    Thanks, Padraig.

    These guys really don’t get it. Even their own apologies are flawed. By definition, a scapegoat is innocent. If these guys were saying “we’re being made an example, Vs. the 6 month suspended athletes” I’d at least entertain the notion of discussing things with them. Not for determining whether they are guilty (duh) or deserving punishment, but to start drawing lines in the sand to determine what sanctions can/should be imposed on doping athletes and ancillaries.

    We have now a 4 year first-offender ban. Good revision. What about establishing good guidelines for the motomans, the O’Reillys,, the Martis that are still lurking?

  9. Scott

    Thank you, Padraig, for reposting excerpts from Johan’s blog. I will not be clicking on the link you provided, however. From the time of the Reasoned Decision, I’ve consciously avoided contributing to the click count for Lance’s Twitter or Website. Same goes for Johan. I won’t feed their narcissistic delusions. I’m just one guy who won’t. Perhaps if no one does, they will eventually learn that their own deeds have relegated them to nothingness. Ultimately, that will be the punishment that stings most.

  10. SusanJane

    Johan is 49 right now. [SARCASM ALERT] When he gets “out” he’ll only be 59. Plenty young enough to get back into cycling somewhere. Why not a feeder team? Or better yet high school?

    As for slamming the media… sigh. I was pissed off by the way things were reported while Lance was winning without knowing about the doping. I believed the lies but Lance was never a nice guy. I knew LiveStrong was a p.r. move just not how much. The media has a different problem then the riders who doped. Last I checked _truth_ is on the journalistic rules page… but entertainment and profit won there apparently. In my mind the doping is the bigger sin since it impacts rider’s bodies and minds as well as their families, careers, and likely their health in the long term. The media just lied and/or looked away… acquiescence is passive assent or submission and not the same thing as the act of doping.

    As for commentators I like the two guys who did the Giro last year. I learned more from them then I ever did from Paul et al. Two sentences about tactics in play (or the same tired graphic about drafting) do not substitute for 10 minutes of details and potentials. Also, certain riders have proven skills but these change over the season influenced by wins, loss and injuries — again two sentences do not substitute for detailed analysis. At the Giro they talked over the obligatory castle shots when they had something to say about the racing. Personally I’d rather hear about blocking and the races where it did and didn’t work in the past. Instead we get something like “Sky is blocking the front of the peleton… look at that field of poppies!!!” Groan.

    1. Full Monte

      SusanJane, so true on commentators.

      Paul and Phil are like vacation tour directors, “And if you look out the left, you’ll see some beautiful orchards, first planted in the 1600s by Catholic monks.”

      “Yes, Phil, and this same orchard is used today to make the lovely hard cider so admired by locals and visitors.”

      All casual fan commentary for the benefit of stick-and-ball fans NBC would so like to attract, if only for enough minutes to show the ratings points necessary to lure more advertisers (if I see that insipid, pandering Michelob Ultra spot one more time: “You’re a diverse and complex creature…” Ugh.)

      The race commentary is such weak sauce — they barely mention strategy, tactics, and barely point out how the race itself is unfolding. Instead, we get a close-up of Laurens Ten Dam on a climb, face covered in snot and spit. “Oh, he’s really suffering up this brutal climb.” “Yes, indeed, you can see he’s literally turning himself inside-out.” Puh-lease.

      Or we get highlight repeats, over and over, of crashes (like Johnny Hoogerland’s heart-stopping, leg-shredding flip into a barbed wire fence. “Oh, we’ve got riders down. Carnage everywhere. Phil, can you spot any favorites in the bunch?”

      Phil, Paul and Bobke have all revealed themselves to be Lance apologists (and in some cases, mutual business investors), and I would love to see the level of commentary on NBCSports elevated to even novice race fan level. All of the intricacies and beauty of the sport are ignored in favor of scenery, suffering, and crashes. There’s so much more to the sport, and if we’re gonna start over, begin a new era, let’s do it without the old broadcast team.

  11. Patrick O'Brien

    I still wonder why there weren’t some criminal cases pursued on the illegal importation and distribution of controlled, prescription only, drugs. I know that the statute of limitations on most of these incidents has long expired. But certainly laws were broken again and again during the time doping was widespread, and yet no arrests or convictions that I recall. And, that probably explains why we are only now finding out the details about the extent and sophistication of the doping that was occurring on the teams. I still think many of the people involved in the doping got a pass, and that is what bothers me a little. I think the bottom line in this is money talks, and lots of people made lots of money from the doping era. And other than a few civil cases between teams, sponsors, and riders, Ulrich comes to mind, they got to keep it. Bruyneel kept his to the best of my knowledge. I would think many of the people involved in distributing and transporting the drugs, motoman is one for sure, should be glad they didn’t get arrested. An article that explains in plain English what the effects of doping has on long term health would be interesting.

  12. Robert

    Agree 10 years is too short. There is one thing that bothers me though. From the picture posted with this article, the guy in the center has been banned for life. The guy on the right has been banned for 10 years. And the guy on the left? Well, he’s currently directeur sportif for the Trek team.

    That’s the only point I agree with Bruyneel on. Not enough people have been punished (yet). There are still many dirty elements from the past in leading roles in pro cycling.

  13. Kurti_sc

    Thanks for so clearly stating a popular sentiment. Perhaps the message will get thru one day. I imagine any and all of us would look forward to personally expressing these thoughts.
    About the media and sportscasting- it’s an insult and a shame the way cycling is covered in the US. We find ourselves relegated to our tiny smart phones or some creepy over advertised internet connection trying to get a current feed. I went days without reading the P-R news so I could wait a full week for broadcast coverage. I gave up and peeked a few days ago. It’s stupid. Somehow HS basketball from towns 1000 miles away from me will be on prime time but pro cycling?? Nada. Whatzupwiddat? (Thank you DirtRag).

  14. Bryin

    Anyone who wants to debate that “Postal ran the most sophisticated doping system'” misses the point. Don’t forget that Lance (and by extension those that surrounded him) rubbed the public’s nose in his/their lies. Sure other riders were on drugs and admit that now but you can’t go to YouTube and find video of them committing perjury. You can’t find enough people to field a baseball team to tell how they were persecuted by Lance. You can’t find an instance where they used every means possible to stop someone from reporting the truth.
    Was Lance/US Postal worse in a moral sense than anyone else?
    I can’t see how anyone who can read would argue otherwise. What Lance did to protect his lies was worse than the lies themselves. Any rationalization of the doping itself is moot as the actions to cover the doping were so heinous. The rest of the peleton used drugs that is true but it is what they did not do in conjunction with doping that makes them less reprehensible than LA and his gang.
    When will everyone realize than LA is just a bad guy and has no place in public spotlight…. The man committed perjury, witness tampering, assault, libel, fraud, slander and God know what else. These are facts. Why would anyone care what team had the best doping program from 99-2005?
    Strike his name from the record books. Ignore his existence. Move on.

  15. Mike Yakubowicz

    Patrick nailed this one….watching Lance get interviewed by Opera brought similar thoughts to mind.
    These guys do not get it…no real remorse, responsibility…it’s all an act, calculated years ago when they made their decisions to go down this road. The only honor left is to take responsibility and go away forever…you get caught, you get punished. Period. Pat’s comment about calculating the odds that current race winners are doping is too true. I remember thinking this exact thought when Hesjedal won the Giro. We’re making progress, slowly, and keeping guys like Johan in the conversation hamper the sport’s ability to finally turn the page.

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