Canadian cyclist Michael Barry: 'I doped'
Cheating was never part of Michael Barry's cycling dream. But once on the pro circuit, the Toronto native soon found it was part of the sport's reality at its highest level.
"My first year on the [U.S. Postal Service] team I was clean but I saw what was going on around me," Barry told The Canadian Press in an interview from his home in Spain.
"I figured out my roommates were doping. And then it started to wear on me, seeing all the drug use around me and I was suffering, I wasn't performing that well."
Barry, who joined the Lance Armstrong-led Postal team in 2002, was pushing his body to its limit. Instead of challenging, he was "really suffering at the back of the peloton."
A bad crash on the eighth stage of the Tour of Spain — Barry was hit by a motorcycle — was the nadir of his year. He wondered if he could compete without cheating.
"And then the next season, one of the riders suggested that I might want to try using some EPO [a banned blood-boosting hormone]) and testosterone. I started considering it and eventually I approached the doctors and asked them. And it was supplied to me."
The 36-year-old Barry, who retired last month, had succumbed to the dark side of his sport. And although he says he stopped doping in 2006, he has been forced to live a lie ever since.
That's when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency revealed that Barry was one of 11 former teammates who had testified against Armstrong.
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.
Michael Barry's full statement
Cycling has always been a part of my life. As a boy my dream was to become a professional cyclist who raced at the highest level in Europe. I achieved my goal when I first signed a contract with the United States Postal Service Cycling team in 2002. Soon after I realized reality was not what I had dreamed. Doping had become an epidemic problem in professional cycling.
Recently, I was contacted by United States Anti-Doping Agency to testify in their investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs on the United States Postal Service Team. I agreed to participate as it allowed me to explain my experiences, which I believe will help improve the sport for today’s youth who aspire to be tomorrow’s champions.
After being encouraged by the team, pressured to perform and pushed to my physical limits I crossed a line I promised myself and others I would not: I doped. It was a decision I deeply regret. It caused me sleepless nights, took the fun out of cycling and racing, and tainted the success I achieved at the time. This was not how I wanted to live or race.
After the summer of 2006, I never doped again and became a proponent of clean cycling through my writing and interviews.
From 2006 until the end of my career in 2012, I chose to race for teams that took a strong stance against doping. Although I never confessed to my past, I wrote and spoke about the need for change. Cycling is now a cleaner sport, many teams have adopted anti-doping policies and most importantly I know a clean rider can now win at the highest level.
I apologize to those I deceived. I will accept my suspension and any other consequences. I will work hard to regain people’s trust.
The lessons I learned through my experiences have been valuable. My goal now is to help turn the sport into a place where riders are not tempted to dope, have coaches who they can trust, race on teams that nurture talent and have doctors who are concerned for their health. From direct experience, I know there are already teams doing this but it needs to be universal throughout cycling.
Progressive change is occurring. My hope is that this case will further that evolution.
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," Barrie 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 said he changed his mind on doping after almost dying in a crash at the 2006 Tour de Flanders.
No one from his team — then known as the Discovery Channel team after the new sponsor of the U.S. Postal Service squad — came to see him in hospital.
"I was all alone," he testified. "That is 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 started speaking out about the need for clean cycling and left the team in 2006.
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.