After all, the eventual cleansing of professional cycling has been a long time coming. For many years, whispers and accusations of blood doping, performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and EPO, a synthetic blood booster known as Erythropoietin, have been linked to some of the sport's most popular yet polarizing names.
On the morning of Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, the International Cycling Union (UCI) stripped notorious cycling star Lance Armstrong of his record seven-consecutive Tour de France titles (1999 to 2005) following an extensive report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. That historic news came in conjunction with two cyclists with Utah ties that have starred on the sport's largest stages who admitted to the use of performance-enhancing drugs in separate signed affidavits on Oct. 10. As the dominos continue to fall, the hierarchy of one of the world's most prestigious and arduous sports was finally shaken to its core.
"This is still a shocker," said Testa, who works for Intermountain Healthcare as a sports medicine specialist in Salt Lake City and at the Park City Medical Center. Testa is also the chief medical officer for the BMC Racing Team. "I love cycling, that's why I've been involved with the sport for so long. The sport has been growing, and I think it's been growing healthier in the last few years.
Levi Leipheimer, a Rowland Hall Academy graduate and two-time Tour of Utah winner, and Utah native David Zabriskie admitted, in separate sworn affidavits, that they, at one point in their careers, used PEDs and had knowledge of the widespread doping cover-up surrounding Armstrong, the embattled cycling star.
According to a report by The Associated Press from Geneva, Switzerland, Monday morning, International Cycling Union President Pat McQuaid announced that the federation accepted USADA's report on Armstrong and would not appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling," McQuaid told The Associated Press at a news conference.
The decision came 12 days after the released testimony of some of Armstrong's former teammates, including Leipheimer and Zabriskie, who stated that they had cheated during a point in their competitive careers and knew first-hand what Armstrong's doping regimens entailed. A two-time Tour of Utah king and four-time top-10 finisher at the Tour de France, Leipheimer, now 39, said in his affidavit that he was first offered EPO in 1999 and tried it for the first time during the second half of that racing season.
Leipheimer joined the vaunted U.S Postal Service Cycling Team following the 1999 season, the year of Armstrong's first Tour de France victory. Following the 2001 season, Leipheimer left U.S. Postal and joined Rabobank. In his affidavit, Leipheimer said he and his wife Odessa Gunn were invited by Armstrong to go to the island of Tenerife to train four years after leaving U.S. Postal. It was there where Leipheimer first met Dr. Michele Ferrari. Leipheimer asked Ferrari if he'd start working with him. Leipheimer said he and Ferrari discussed how much EPO to take in preparation for the 2005 Tour de France, were he would finish sixth overall.
He went on to describe how he used a testosterone known as "Andriol" and also underwent blood transfusions (doping) in 2005 through 2007.
"That was kind of the perfect storm," said Testa, who has worked closely with Leipheimer as well as 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans and other top names in cycling in his two-plus decades in the sport. "There was the ability of the product on the market that can make you faster. (Behind-the-scenes) people were pushing this because they were making money; these are young men in their 20s, and they want to make sure they start at the same start line as everyone else."
Zabriskie, who raced for the U.S. Postal Service squad in 2003-2004, said in his affidavit that he witnessed "teammates getting injections from team doctors. It was explained to me that the injections were for 'recovery.'" He said he began using the "recovery injection" in 2002. In the affidavit, he said, "Sometimes the doctors injected the recovery and other times we did it ourselves, with the instruction to inject the product in the vein. This was the first time I ever used a needle."
Said Testa: "I like the fact that some of these guys are coming out. They're coming out and want to clean their past. It's time to move on.
"We need to look and learn from the mistakes that have been made. Most of these (drugs) are detectable, but there's still blood doping that can fly under the radar. But with the right testing, we try to limit the opportunity for cheaters to cheat."
In a statement, USA Cycling was notified by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that five U.S. riders -- Tom Danielson, George Hincapie, Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and Zabriskie -- have each accepted six-month suspensions, effective Sept. 1, 2012, as a result of their testimony in the Lance Armstrong investigation. Both Leipheimer and Zabriskie have been suspended from cycling until March 1, 2013. Zabriskie lost all racing results from May 12, 2003, to July 31, 2006. Leipheimer surrendered results from June 1999 to July 2006 as well as results in July 2007.
Leipheimer won back-to-back Tour of Utah titles in 2010 and 2011. Officials from the Tour of Utah could not be reached for comment.
Steve Johnson, USA Cycling president and CEO, said in a statement: "I would like to personally acknowledge the extraordinary courage of these riders who placed their careers on the line in order to come forward with their experiences of past doping practices. While this is an extremely difficult time for the sport, I believe that riders of today understand that doping is intolerable, that it will be discovered, and that a decision to engage in doping in any form is senseless."
Park City resident and former professional cyclist Evan Hyde moved to Belgium after racing at Vanderbilt University and spent two years as an elite amateur racer in Europe. In 2011, he raced for RealCyclist.com, now Competitive Cyclist, a professional team under the umbrella of Park City-based marketing outdoor company Backcountry.com.
"I don't think cycling is above and beyond other sports as far as how dirty it is," he said. "I think it has a higher level of scrutiny. At the same time, cycling is a really, really difficult sport, physically. In road cycling, at least, there's not a big skill factor. The fitter you are, the faster you're going to go. The shortcut to that type of fitness for some people is drugs. That's just the nature of cycling."
He said during his time competing both as an elite amateur in Europe and as a pro stateside, Hyde said he never heard any competitors talking openly about taking PEDs or blood doping, but said, "There's definitely guys who we all assumed were taking drugs."
Hyde, 28, who now coaches the Park City High School mountain-bike team, said during his time competing professionally against the likes of Leipheimer and Zabriskie and others who testified regarding the doping cover-up, he never felt cheated.
"I got pretty close to the limit of my natural ability. I know there are a lot of guys that are way more talented than I am (who are) clean, and so I don't have a sour taste about it," he said. "I'm not like bitter or going to say I would have been in the Tour de France if everyone was clean. But it will make a good story for the rest of my life, I guess."
The trickle-down effect of PEDs and other ways to garner extra seconds in a race can be noticed even at the Masters or amateur levels. Oakley resident and Summit County conditioning coach Tom Noaker remembers one race in particular that stands out. It was a national championship Masters mountain-bike race in the late 1990s where Noaker recalls, "a middle-of-the-pack guy who had just gotten into riding three years prior (and had) finished 8 to 10 minutes behind me at the previous year's race."
The next year, the two were in different age groups, but Noaker said he saw the man in the parking lot afterward.
"He said, 'I won. Unbelievable! I won by six minutes!' and I thought to myself,
'Did everyone else have a flat tire? How did that happen?' Noaker explained. "It's incredible. Then he never came back again. I never saw him again at another race -- ever. That kind of performance, from the out-of-nowhere, a middle-of-the-pack athlete is what raises questions."
Noaker said there is quite a bit of cash on the line at these high-profile Masters national races and that, while the races aren't overly high-profile or UCI-sanctioned, it's enough to cause problems in the future.
"Across the board, you're looking at a small percentage of users, but that is just enough to upset things," he said. "This is a generalization, but people who, for example, have financial success in their lives, they get on the bike, start riding on the bike and want to get to the next level -- it's there.
"In older athletes -- and your ability to recover -- you can still put forth the effort, but you can't train hard enough in a week. Your body just can't take that intensity week after week. You don't have that gain or athletic performance that you once did when you were younger. If you can take a synthetic drug, it's a real fine line. Is it widespread in amateur athletics? I don't think so, but I think it's there."
Testa said in Europe many Masters riders test positive for PEDs, but said he believes many of them do so in order to keep the clock turned back.
"They start training just to stay younger, and some of these people eventually start to run marathons, triathlons or bike racing," he said. "Is it complete doping? Some of these people just want to stay younger. I don't really agree with putting people on hormones just to keep them younger."
The sunlight breaking through
Having coached some of Summit County's top cycling and mountain-bike athletes for the last decade, Noaker said he worries about the youngsters of all sports. When put into a compromised situation, it's hard to tell how each individual will respond and Noaker said the temptation to win at all costs has obviously taken its toll as evidenced by the recent cycling fallout.
"Every generation has to face it," he said. "There's so many benefits to these kids being in the sport -- they don't have to use in order to produce results. But I'm always concerned about it."
Hyde said as long as there is money to be had and talented young riders to poach on, the powers-that-be will be there ready to lure "the next big thing."
"I'm not super optimistic that we're all squeaky clean," he said. "I think the young riders are facing the same choices today. I'd be pretty surprised if those young guys haven't already faced those choices. Maybe nobody's saying, 'Do it or go home,' but I'm sure those guys have the option to take drugs if they want to.
"There's always going to be someone willing to cheat. I would need to see a lot more; I need to be convinced that there's actually a cultural change happening. Right now, we're hearing all about it; a year from now, we probably won't even be hearing about it and it'll be back to business as usual."
Testa said he sees sports science and different types of evolving training methods as the key to the future of cycling. Rather than taking a shot or pill for an extra 15 seconds on a mile, he said he'd like to see riders embrace the mentality of riding clean and using technology to help better prepare the body for such grueling physical activity.
"These riders, they have to do so many things now. They have to tell the anti-doping agency where they are every day of the year and with the specifics," he said. "They kind of have to be on-call every single minute of the year.
"These top teams nowadays, I think definitely they're trying to go in the direction of making the sport clean. It's a matter of surviving. I really see a better year for cycling in front of us -- it's the light that's coming after all these clouds and all these storms."