Scott Mercier rode as a professional cyclist between 1993 and 1997 then retired. He rode for Saturn, Levi Leipheimer's old team, from 1993 to 1996 and then had one year riding with Lance Armstrong and US Postal.
He's gone on record several times with various newspapers and websites as lambasting doping and its adherants, and was singled out by Travis Tygart as one opf the very few good guys from this era. Scott rode clean and was known for to be totally against doping even within the Postal team.
He was surrounded by dopers and by dope and on a team with an institutionalised doping program. Rather than cheat though - and he says that had he stayed in the sport he would have - he quit.
Scott made headlines however in January of last year and again early this year when he stated, first to the Telegraph and then to the BBC, that he believed that Lance Armstrong deserved his Tour titles and revealed also that he had struck up an unlikely relationship with the Texan.
I was more than intrigued. Had Scott fallen prey to the socipoathic charm of the 7 time non-winner of the Tour de France? What was the explanation for this sudden turnaround, one that had, in the eyes of many from the anti-doping side of the tracks, pretty much destroyed his once-solid reputation as an anti-doping advocate?
I sent him a mail and he replied. What followed was a one hour interview that I had intended to shape into an article. However, I feel that the whole conversation is the fairest way to present what we discussed. I have cut this into three parts, here is the first.
Lee Rodgers: Thank you for your time Scott.
Scott Mercier: No problem at all.
LR: I have a series of articles here that go through from 2012 to recently. The first I have here is an article from The Daily Sentinel from Colorado, an article by Tim Harty in which for the first time someone pointed out that you'd done what you'd done clean. It was Travis Tygart talking around the time of the Tyler Hamilton case [specifically about Mercier being mentioned in Hamilton's book, a section that says Mercier was handed steroids and turned them down].
SM: Yeah it would have been.
LR: The quote I have here comes from you, and reads:
“He [Tygart] said, ‘That’s the most powerful thing I’ve ever read in terms of antidoping,’ ” Mercier said. “‘That’s the reason we do this.’ And I was like: Wow, this is Travis Tygart calling me, saying, ‘Thanks for the decision you made 15 years ago.’"
So what was the driving force behind that [decision not to dope], and was it a conscious one from the beginning or something that grew as you went along?
SM: I knew I wasn't going to dope. I raced domestically on a team called Saturn for four years and, well I know now that more people were doping than I thought at the time.
LR: That was with Leipheimer right?
SM: No he wasn't on the team with me, he came I think the year I was on Postal or even later. It was interesting because you could compete for places in the Tour of Taiwan or in Australia or South Africa or even early season when other guys weren't full gas, you could win a stage or an overall here and there and then, a couple of months later the same guys were flying at Amstel Gold Race.
I remember my first race in Europe was Milan-San Remo, that's how Postal decided to break me in. I was 27 or 28 and I remember thinking, it was 40k into this thing, it was strung out, single file, and we were going 60 or 70km per hour, flat out.
I'm towards the back and I look up and I see them attacking [up front] and i just thought 'damn, this is gonna be a long day'.
The doping decision to me was more to do with the lying associated with it and I know this is gonna sound weird but at that point in Europe it was like, you're either gonna be a doper or you're gonna be out of a job.
I knew I loved my job, loved traveling and my job, I loved everything, but I just thought well, I've had a good run so it's time to move on. So it was really the hypocrisy and the lying more than the doping, and it's hard for me to reconcile that but that is where it was for me.
LR: I feel similar to be honest because for me , recreational drugs, whatever you are doing, if it doesn't impact on anyone else, I don't necessarily have to agree with it but I don't essentially have a problem with it.
SM: Yeah I'm the same as you, if someone wants to go smoke a joint then whatever, go ahead. But if you're gonna drink drive or affect others, en that's a whole different situation.
LR: Yep. But when it comes to doping, for me sport is one of those few areas in life where people can see what we as humans can become, however briefly, what we all aspire to be, pure, honorable, clear even, and clean. I think that when people cheat it's not just the fact that they doped to get stronger, it's the whole game that comes with it, fooling yourself, fooling us, fooling sponsors, fooling everyone really.
SM: Yeah but again, at that time it was institutionalised right? I mean when I was with Postal my contract had a clear doping clause in there that said that if I was tested positive I would be fired – but the only thing I would have tested positive for would have been the drugs that they would have given me. I don’t know how far up the food chain it went, I don’t know how much the management knew about it or not, that was way above my pay grade.
LR: So in your opinion should we forgive them because it was institutionalized?
SM: It’s nuanced. You know what really got me first talking was Floyd, did an interview with Paul Kimmage. In it, there was one quote that stuck out and it was that you were either gonna cheat or be cheated, and there is some truth to that but at the same time I thought you know what, 'Fuck you Floyd, you cheated yourself too.'
Right? I mean there was another choice. People don’t like to talk about the other choice but it was, at least for me, to get out. I knew if I raced in ’98 I was gonna dope, cos you get tired of these guys being so smug, tired of them riding you into the gutter.
I mean, you know what it feels like, to be in the gutter, it sucks.
LR: I raced in Asia where guys are still doping like in the old days in Europe, almost full teams dope and everyone knows it, you can see it. You’re hanging onto a wheel and you know you are going ok but you’re getting your ass kicked. I do know what it feels like yeah.
SM: Yeah. So, I guess forgiveness is a personal thing. Everyone can make their own decision. Travis, we still have discussions and one of the things he tells me is “Scott, you have a problem with imperfect justice.” And I told him he’s right. Maybe it’s cos I’m too idealistic or naïve or whatever, or I see things in black and white when really they are grey, but I thought about it – and this is just 2 weeks ago – and I thought ‘Yeah that’s true.’
He said 'I get where you are coming from' but he said go to any jail house in America and you’re gonna see imperfect justice. He said that they can’t just take people down on rumors, they need evidence.
But back to forgiveness. I think what happened to Lance needed to happen for the good of the sport but then you look at the federal government going after him when there were lots of guys on that team, most likely they all did the same thing, I got a problem with that.
I think Lance won those Tours. Should he get those jerseys back? That’s a whole different conversation. We all know doping affects people differently so you can’t say Lance would have won those Tours clean but you can’t also say he wouldn’t have either.
LR: OK, some really interesting points there, one of them was that you said that there were two choices, dope or don’t dope – or a third, leave. But there was another, to speak out. Did you do that at the time?
SM: No but it was well known on the team that I wasn’t gonna dope. I wonder… Darren Baker and I left the team the same year and we were both a bit squeaky wheels about it. There was a box of EPO, I never actually looked in it cos it was locked but I’d shake it, it was in the team fridge, and you’d hear the glass vials clinking and it was 2+2.
What’s held in glass vials and has to be refrigerated and is expensive and locked? I mean, you could deduce this was EPO. So we’d [we being Mercier and Baker] make fun of the dopers… There was a third choice of course [sic]… I think some guys could have raced clean… I don’t think I could have though, I think I might have just said ‘Screw you guys, let’s even the tables and see…’.
That’s what scared me. It’s a slippery slope, you start making the money and there’s the fame and the power, I didn’t see how you could get off that Ferris wheel so I did the only thing I thought was reasonable for me – and again I don’t begrudge what George or Lance or Tyler Hamilton did, those guys made their own decisions…. I’m not trying to avoid your question but it is a difficult one for me to answer.
LR: If you say you don’t begrudge what they did but then at the same time if the doping drove clean riders out of the sport, how can you not begrudge them? It’s not like they cheated one time. They cheated every single day that they doped.
SM: I guess it goes back to that collective accountability where to be a professional in Europe at that time, it was institutionalized, so one guy leading [a cause for anti-doping] wasn’t going to make any difference. I certainly have an issue with the UCI, that is a whole different issue. They allowed it to permeate the whole sport. So I don’t begrudge some guy trying to keep his job.
For me it wasn’t the riders that forced me out of the sport, it was just the way the sport was back then. For me to single anyone out and say ‘You took my job’… I think that would be sour grapes, I don’t think that is the case.
LR: OK, now this is going to seem like an extreme leap to you maybe but when you talk about things being institutionalized, when you look at racism [specifically meaning slavery in the US], that was also institutionalized. Yet we do put blame on individuals from that time. We do say that people should have had the gumption to speak out and we do lay blame at their feet for what happened because they did not speak out.
Because you are part of a system in which you gain, because of what you do [within that system], then that does in a sense make you responsible for that system being perpetuated.
This is a problem a lot of people have with Lance that you don’t seem to have, which I think is confusing for people.
SM: [Pause] Yeah, that’s not something that I had considered… but at the same time he just came into a system… yeah, I don’t know. There’s no easy answer, you’re right. It was an ugly time in the sport, just like with... I think it’s a bit of a leap, I see where you are going…
LR: OK but if we continue the thread of the original point, then –
SM: Certainly in 1999 Lance had the power to stop it.
LR: There is also the question of whether he was doping before he said he started doping, when he was much younger.
SM: Yeah I don’t know. [Laughs]. I wonder but I don’t know.
Part 2 to follow tomorrow.
has been praised by Travis Tygart for being one of the good guys, one of the few