The way Canadian cyclist Michael Barry tells it, he had to choose between doping and falling hopelessly behind drug-revved competitors.
The Toronto native, who raced for years on Lance Armstrong’s teams, on Wednesday admitted years of doping, saying he “crossed a line I promised myself and others I would not.”
“Feels good to be honest and not have to live a lie anymore,” he told The Canadian Press after releasing a statement of contrition that coincided with the publication of a massive report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency into drug use on Mr. Armstrong’s teams.
Mr. Barry was among the 15 riders interviewed, and his affidavit, released by USADA, depicts a cycling world in which drugs were used openly. Twice he describes finding needles and other detritus left behind by teammates. One rider had “chemical burns” on his body from using testosterone patches to recover.
After the 2002 Tour of Spain – in which he was hard-pressed to keep up with the pack – Mr. Barry began to realize he had to dope to compete.
He says that he used the banned blood booster EPO “off and on from 2003 until 2006” and experimented with other drugs. “I obtained doping products from the U.S. Postal Service team doctors and staff and from fellow athletes,” he testified.
Mr. Barry says his attitude changed in 2006 after a horrible crash. He woke up “all alone” in hospital, being asked if he could move his toes, with no one from his team bothering to come see him.
“That was when I realized that I was competing and taking risks for people who did not care about my health or value my well-being,” he testified. “The crash was a big turning point for me.”
Barry’s 16-page affidavit lifts the lid on the U.S. Postal Team doping. What starts with him finding used drug paraphernalia in a teammate’s apartment eventually leads to the Canadian joining the brotherhood of doping himself.
According to Barry, riders shared drugs and ways to use them.
“When you’re sharing a lie together, that bonds you in some sense but it also breeds jealousies and a very kind of toxic environment,” he said. “And ultimately when I look back on those years, they were difficult years — very difficult.”
As for Armstrong, Barry says he can’t offer much.
“I can’t comment on Lance because I never saw him dope and I don’t know what he did,” Barry told CP. “But if he is lying, I hope he comes clean. For me personally, it feels good to be honest and to not have to live a lie anymore.”
But in his affidavit, Barry does say teammate David Zabriskie told him about a time that fellow Postal rider Floyd Landis “had to babysit bags of Lance Armstrong’s blood while Lance was out of town to make sure the blood did not go bad.”
He also says Armstrong emailed him in 2010 after both were implicated in doping allegations from Landis. Barry says Armstrong asked him if he would testify there was no systematic doping on their old team.
Barry told him to have his lawyer contact him. He subsequently got an email from the lawyer but never spoke with him about Armstrong’s request.
The USADA has banned Armstrong for life and says his seven Tour de France victories are nullified.
In the wake of his admissions, Barry has received the minimum six-month suspension. Since he is retired, it does not mean much, but he says the USADA is pushing the world governing body of the sport for amnesty for those who co-operated in their probe.
Never a star in the sport, Barry was a foot soldier who played a support role for stars like Armstrong.
But he was one of Canada’s longest-serving cyclists on the elite world stage. And he was no mere “domestique.”
He has written three books, including one called “Inside the Postal Bus,” and has authored pieces on cycling for outlets from the New York Times to The Canadian Press.
Barry’s admission of doping guilt is not unusual in his sport. An array of top cyclists have previously confessed their sins or been caught.