MISSOULA, Mont. (AFP) — “We were fully delinquents, if not criminals. If there was one product that we could almost not do without, it was EPO.”
So says former U.S. pro bike racer Tyler Hamilton, a one-time US Postal teammate of Lance Armstrong and likewise caught up in the doping scandals that have plagued the sport.
Hamilton won an Olympic gold medal in 2004 but his doping resulted in him being stripped of the title last year and he is now coming to terms with a past he has recanted.
In his book “The Secret Race,” whose French version is being released in France this week, Hamilton explained in detail how riders would take the performance-enhancing drug EPO during the Tour de France from a deliveryman hiding among fans.
“He spent two and a half weeks on the road, kind of camping out most of the time, staying close by, waiting for the call or the text message,” Hamilton said.
In an interview with AFPTV, Hamilton insisted it was Armstrong who ensured the doping was kept under wraps.
Hamilton said the message was this: “This river is going this way. Don’t try to swim upstream. You’d better swim the same way Lance Armstrong is swimming or — if not, watch your back.
“There is the omerta, the code of silence. You don’t talk. You don’t, you don’t, you just don’t go that way, you don’t go there. If you do, your career is over.”
Armstrong has since confessed to being a drug cheat, but has not admitted to playing a role in other riders’ doping.
Hamilton opened up on the issue in mid-2011, a year after disgraced former Tour de France champion Floyd Landis came clean on his own doping practices.
He told the U.S. Anti-Doping agency (USADA) what he knew and then wrote his book, shedding light on Armstrong. Hamilton was Armstrong’s teammate during three of the latter’s seven Tour de France wins (1999-2001).
The 42-year-old Hamilton now puts together training programs for amateur cyclists.
Armstrong, meanwhile, faces lawsuits spawned by his admission to Oprah Winfrey in January that he had doped and that all seven of his Tour de France victories were fueled by banned drugs.
Last October, Armstrong was stripped of his Tour titles as well as all other results from August 1998 and banned for life after USADA determined he was the key figure in a sophisticated doping program on his U.S. Postal Service team.
Armstrong told Winfrey he used a combination of blood transfusions, EPO, and testosterone throughout his career.
Hamilton and Armstrong had earlier had an angry exchange at a restaurant in Aspen, Colo. when the latter hit out at Hamilton for his allegations, only ultimately to publicly admit his wrongdoing.
Armstrong’s confession to Winfrey “came as a surprise” to Hamilton — but he saw it in a positive light.
“A big Tour de France champion is admitting to cheating. But it’s the truth, it’s the reality,” Hamilton said. “I think the sport will gain a lot from it in the future.”