Photo: Courtesy Joe Papp
Joe Papp is a former professional cyclist who was caught doping in 2006 and suspended from the sport. He pleaded guilty to helping other athletes buy performance enhancing drugs from China. After accepting a sanction for doping, Papp testified in other high-profile cycling cases on behalf of the U.S. Antidoping Agency, which is now prosecuting Lance Armstrong. Papp says that even if USADA determines Armstrong was doping, he likely won’t face big consequences from his devoted fans or big-time corporate sponsors. Armstrong is notorious for intimidating anyone who speaks out against him. Three-time Tour De France winner Greg LeMond accused Armstrong of offering someone he knew $300,000 to say publicly that Lemond had doped. Papp talked to us about the prevalence of doping in the sport and why Armstrong is “too big to fail.” Business Insider: Why do cyclists get into doping?
Papp: When I was a cyclist I found I had unexplained trouble keeping up with people I used to be competitive with. I asked a teammate what had changed, and he told me to see a particular doctor a couple of hours away. I did, and within a few minutes, she’d written me a prescription for the EPO. It was barely questioned 10 years ago–doping was an integral, unquestioned part of the sport. Today professional cycling is much cleaner. Business Insider: So what’s at stake for Lance?
Papp: If he’s found guilty, USADA may strip him of all his titles for as far back as 1996. But I think he has fans who will stand by him no matter what. It’s almost like he’s too big to fail. He’s a global brand and I don’t see Nike or Oakley or Anheuser Busch walking away from him that easily because they’ve invested so much in his image. Business Insider: Have you met Lance? What’s he like?
Papp: Yeah, I’ve met him. The overriding impression is just one of intensity. He is incredibly intense, confident and competitive. Floyd Landis, his former teammate who was also convicted of doping, once said something like, “Lance doesn’t always race to win – sometimes he’ll race just to make sure someone else loses.
Business Insider: That’s intimidating.
Papp: It would be difficult and unpleasant to clash with someone like Lance, who has that much wealth and power. But USADA is very careful and would have to have plenty of evidence before going forward with charges. Business Insider: How has Lance become such an icon?
Papp: His is the inspiring story people like to hear, the cancer survivor who went on to win all these Tours. People believe in him and something about him resonates and it’s something they aspire to. I think he’ll likely still have that, regardless of the outcome of these charges.
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