1998 EPO List: The Biggest Little Secret In Cycling

Some people were doping in the ’98 Tour. Wow. 

The French Senate’s dramatic reveal of retroactive positive and ‘suspicious’ tests from the 1998 Tour might have opened some eyes this morning, but in reality, there wasn’t much to be surprised about it. The big names like Livingston, Escartin and O’Grady rode through an era where EPO use was rampant and even expected.

The UCI has already announced that it won’t alter the 1998 results, much to the satisfaction of Marco Pantani’s family and fans. The UCI states that because the results weren’t administered within the statute of limitations, and that some secondary samples were used in testing, there is no legal way to alter those results. However, active riders would face the possibility of sanction or suspension, which undoubtedly sparked the retirement of Orica-GREENEdge’s Stuart O’Grady. The Aussie had only a week ago vowed to return to France for his 18th Tour.

O’Grady claims the 1998 Tour was the only time he’d used EPO or drugs, though obviously it’s a line many riders have used. He may well lose his stage win and yellow jersey from the ’98 Tour, perhaps his most successful campaign as a professional. Lance Armstrong claimed to have made his 2009 comeback clean, taking third in that Tour after over three years away from competition. Armstrong had agreed to an independent testing program, which he scrapped within a month, and skipping a portion of the mandatory time before competing according to UCI regulations. He made his return to the Tour Down Under, which later admitted to paying Armstrong millions in appearance fees. The 2009 comeback, plus his entire 2010 season, would be within the statue of limitations, which would open Armstrong to even more lawsuits.

Best remembered for his Paris-Roubaix win, O’Grady spent much of the latter part of his career working for Fabian Cancellara in the Classics, first at CSC under Bjarne Riis (himself a Tour winner and admitted doper) and later in the same role at Leopard-TREK and RadioShack-Nissan. Like too many riders, O’Grady was under the tutelage of former USPS directors and riders, including Johan Bruyneel and Matt White, once he moved to Orica-Greenedge. Matt White has only recently returned to his role as a director on the team after serving a suspension.

O’Grady will face the most uncomfortable questions now, being known for so long as a rider with some credibility. He’s kept out of most drug scandals even while being on teams littered with positives. The other names, however, have long since been disgraced. Escartin was linked to multiple investigations, including that of Dr. Fuentes, and was named as a client of Fuentes in several investigations and Tyler Hamilton’s tell-all, The Secret Race. Marco Pantani, while still a revered figure in his native Italy, was famed for his unreal hemacrit levels as much as for his big ears and dramatic attacks. Pantani won the 1998 Tour after taking the Giro in May, becoming the last rider to take the Giro-Tour double, and that with his blood thicker than motor oil.

The names are already fading, but the years they wasted for cycling will be empty much longer than our memories fixed on the riders that ruined them. There are two excuses that will ruin the sport in the years to come, and they need to be addressed. First,  the everyone was doing it, and it was a level playing field are disgusting. You wouldn’t teach your three year old that popular behavior is universally acceptable, so holding grown adults to a lower standard is reprehensible. We cannot allow our athletes and role models, in cycling or football or any sport, to set an embarrassing and dangerous standard. The level playing field excuse is scientifically and statistically untrue. PEDs have varying levels of impact on different athletes, while the percentage of use in professional cycling changes constantly based on rider, time of season, team and myriad other influences, perhaps the least of which might be the improvements in testing.

These people are guilty. Those on the suspicious list, which is laughably forgivable by 2013 standards and would have triggered immediate suspension in the current regulations, are guilty by post-2010 standards. However, we’d like to think that new rules have curbed widespread use and that riders are being caught, even big names like Frank Schleck, Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and others.

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