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.
Many have returned to action and succeeded. This summer, Alexander Vinokourov won gold in the Olympic men’s road race.
The 38-year-old Kazakh, who served a two-year ban for blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France, had to wait just two questions at the post-race news conference in London before being asked about it.
He called it “a closed chapter.”
Like Vinokourov, who still has a steel plate in his femur from his crash-filled career, Barry sacrificed his body for his sport. He currently has a metal plate and 10 screws in his arm from his latest tumble.
Barry’s story of feeling the pressure to dope — and later regretting his decision — was echoed Wednesday in statements by former Postal riders Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde and Zabriskie, who are now part of Canadian Ryder Hesjedal’s Slipstream Sports team.
In his affidavit to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Barry testified that in 2002 Vande Velde offered to let him stay in his spare room at his apartment in Spain. Teammate Jonathan Vaughters had just moved out.
Barry found used syringes and ampules under the bed.
The Canadian also said while Vande Velde tried to shield his drug use, he found vials of EPO in a coffee bag in the fridge.
Eventually his teammates became more comfortable with Barry and stopped hiding their doping. And in March 2002, he was injected for the first time with a so-called “recovery” product which he was told contained vitamins.
A team doctor deflected questions about such injections, he said.
The next season, Barry testified, teammate George Hincapie “told me he thought I was a talented rider and suggested that I consider using EPO and testosterone.
“He told me the products would make me feel better and that I would not need to use a lot of either substance to see results,” Barry said.
Barry said he met with Dr. Luis del Moral and team director Johan Bruyneel to discuss doping. Instead of a conversation of the merits, he said he and Zabriskie got pointers on how to use EPO before receiving an injection.
They were also given “the basic essentials on how not to get caught.”
“I used EPO and testosterone off and on from 2003 until 2006,” Barry testified. “I also used cortisone on one occasion in 2003 and experimented with hGH (human growth hormone) on one occasion in 2004.
“I obtained doping products from the U.S. Postal Service team doctors and staff and from fellow athletes.”
During the 2003 Tour of Spain, Barry says he and other team riders were given a testosterone product known as “the oil” — a mixture of Andriol (an oral testosterone) and olive oil. Doctors administered it by squirting it into the mouth.
Barry says there was a noticeable difference in his riding while he was doping. But he says he felt better when he stopped using — he slept better and felt better about the way he raced.
“The greatest of ironies, I started having fun again. ... When I look back on that (doping) period, I lost the spark and it’s only in the last five, six years that I realized I regained it .. It was a nice way to end my career. I really, really enjoyed training again and I enjoyed racing again.”
Barry says while doping, he worried “every day” about getting caught. But he never used “massive amounts” so he could avoid test results spiking.
“The only risk was someone coming to the house unannounced after I had doped,” he said. “But generally speaking it was fairly easy to get away with it.
“But I always had a guilty conscience. And when I was out training, I would think about it quite often. And when I was at home. It’s not a great way to live.”
Barry says he was contacted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in the last six weeks.
He had been expecting the call.
Barry acknowledged he could have kept lying.
“But this felt like the right thing to do,” he said.
“And when they called me, I agreed to co-operate,” he added.
Barry said a fellow rider had put it best when he said he felt like they were inside a bubble and there was a pin scratching the side.
“I lied a lot,” he said of the past. “I lied to the media and I apologize for that. I hated lying and I didn’t like what I was a part of. And it feels good to be truthful.”
Barry sees positives in his sport these days, pointing to the success of Team Sky, for whom he rode most recently, in winning while clean.
“Cycling has made remarkable strides in the last six years,” he said. “The culture is changing. Hopefully through this case, it continues to evolve and we have a culture in the future years where all teams are providing nurturing environments for young riders. And riders consider their health before the victory or performance.”
Barry also hopes that riders can avoid the “bad advice” he got on drugs and his health.
In confessing his past sins, Barry says he feels a whirl of emotions. While no one welcomes such attention, he says it feels liberating to finally be able to talk truthfully about his past.
He sees this scandal as more than just the hangover of a sport trying to clean up its act.
“And I don’t think this is just about cycling but about how when we’re with a group and we’re influenced by groups, humans can make grave mistakes and do unethical things.
“That’s probably one of the best lessons that I’ve taken from this — is that it’s so important to maintain perspective and to step outside the group and realize what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
Barry is currently relishing the time at home with his wife and two children. He plans another book and hopes to stay involved in cycling at some level.
With files from The Canadian PressReport Typo/Error