Christian Vande Velde developed an interest in cycling through his father, John, who competed at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics in track cycling.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/sports/cycling/for-armstrong-teammate-vande-velde-cycling-passion-gave-way-to-corruption.html?pagewanted=all How could a young Christian Vande Velde know what illicit, deceitful things were in store for him in the sport of cycling when he first fell in love with it?
For him, beginning at age 5, the sport had been an alluring pursuit. Growing up in a Chicago suburb, he awoke daily at 6 a.m. to the familiar hissing sound of a bicycle pump as his father, a two-time Olympian in track cycling, inflated the tires of their bikes so they could ride around their neighborhood.
But by the time Vande Velde hit his early 20s, the sport had taken a dark turn for him as a professional rider. He found himself shooting a banned steroid into his buttocks and submitting himself to injections of undisclosed drugs that made him feel sick. It was all he could do to keep up with the drug use that surrounded him.
His cycling career was not supposed to unfold that way, Vande Velde said in an affidavit that was part of more than 1,000 pages of evidence put forth by the United States Anti-Doping Agency on Wednesday in its doping case against Lance Armstrong.
For all the report suggested about Armstrong’s key role in what the agency called a team-orchestrated doping scheme, it also rendered rare and vivid portraits of individual athletes caught up in a devious plan to cheat and win.
One ended up crying, hysterical and alone in his apartment in Spain, after he felt forced to take his first shot of EPO, the banned endurance booster. Another found himself so anxious after having a banned blood transfusion that a doctor thought he was having a heart attack.
In his affidavit, which was among the antidoping agency’s evidence, Vande Velde, who married his high school sweetheart, described how he went from boy-next-door to athlete trained to drip testosterone-infused oil on his tongue to recover faster and help Armstrong win.
“I never dreamed it would come to that,” Vande Velde said Thursday from his home in Lemont, Ill., one day after his doping admissions became public.
Vande Velde cannot remember life without cycling. His father, John, competed at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics and is a Hall of Famer, and at one time traveled the country with a portable velodrome for track cycling events. John Vande Velde had also appeared in the classic cycling film “Breaking Away” as one of the Team Cinzano bad guys.
The young Christian Vande Velde was enthralled with his father’s fame and pushed hard to be like him. He needed training wheels on his first bike for only two hours. He started begging for his first racing bike at 14.
He was a natural. He won the points race at the 1994 national championships, riding the Schwinn Paramount his father used at the 1972 Games.
Vande Velde walked away from a college cycling scholarship to train at the United States Olympic training center and was so good that the Postal Service team signed him to a contract in 1997, when he was just 21.
The next year, Vande Velde met Armstrong for the first time, at a training camp in California.
“I asked Lance about doping in the sport and his response was to change the subject and say not to worry about it,” Vande Velde said in his affidavit. Later, Vande Velde noticed a Thermos in Armstrong’s bag and it struck him as odd: Armstrong had not been drinking any warm beverages — or anything — out of the Thermos. What could it be for?
That summer, a huge doping bust at the 1998 Tour de France involving the Festina team hinted at what was inside that Thermos and what was going on behind the scenes in cycling.
Vande Velde moved to Girona, Spain, to train with the Postal Service team. There, one of his teammates, Jonathan Vaughters, opened his refrigerator to show Vande Velde something he had never seen before: EPO.
Vande Velde had heard that the drug was used in cycling — but certainly did not hear that from his father. Though the two had cycling in common, they never discussed the sport’s doping problems. Besides, racing full time as a professional in Europe was a different situation than that experienced by his father, whose career never went in that direction, Vande Velde said.
So Christian Vande Velde had to figure things out himself.
That fall at the Vuelta a España, he received his first injection with the team — not of EPO, but of something the team doctor, Luis Garcia del Moral, called “recovery.” Del Moral said it consisted of vitamins.
“He had to calm me down as the injection scared me,” Vande Velde said. “And I didn’t know what was being injected.”
At training camp that year, he received another shot of the “recovery,” and noted that he had to be gaining status with the team. At the 1999 Tour, del Morale finally made it clear that he was administering doping products to riders. He asked Vande Velde: Do you want this testosterone?
Vande Velde grew anxious, “Would it be out of my system in time?” Del Moral did not answer. Vande Velde finally said yes to the steroid, effectively agreeing to join the doping program.
It would pay dividends. By the end of the Tour, Vande Velde was riding along Armstrong down the Champs-Élysées in Paris, in what would be the first of Armstrong’s seven Tour wins. One of the youngest riders in the peloton, Vande Velde helped Armstrong kick off a dominance that the Tour had never seen before. Ahead of him was a career in which he eventually would command a salary approaching $1 million a year.He agreed to let del Moral fashion “a program” for him, which meant the doctor would combine a training program with a drug regimen for maximum performance.
A cortisone shot here, a human growth hormone shot there. Day after day, race after race, the “program” became complicated. The injections were bothering Vande Velde because needles made him skittish, but they were for a cause. Armstrong would constantly yell at him in the mountains: “Go faster, go faster!”
So Vande Velde started working with the Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, a known proponent of doping and Armstrong’s personal trainer. Vande Velde had been introduced to Ferrari by Johan Bruyneel, the team’s manager, and he said he was excited to be one of Ferrari’s clients because he desperately wanted to go faster.
The doctor instructed Vande Velde to start using EPO and follow his rules: Use EPO after dinner. Don’t walk around outside or be available to drug testers for 12 hours. Wear long sleeves in public to hide track marks.
Vande Velde kept calendars from Ferrari that laid out drug use. EPO some days, a testosterone-patch on other. At that point, it seemed a necessary evil for Vande Velde, who was already one of the team’s prized riders and someone who could help Armstrong in the mountains.
The team doctor and trainer delivered his drugs to his hotel room at races. During the 2001 Milan-San Remo race, del Moral even flew to the race to inject him with what Vande Velde called “an undisclosed substance” that made him nauseated.
By that time, Vande Velde also had his own Thermos — just like Armstrong’s. It was filled with ice and vials of EPO.
By 2002, Vande Velde stepped up his doping after Armstrong chastised him for not following Ferrari’s program closely enough. Fearing failure, he did what he was told.
Vande Velde left the Postal Service team at the end of 2003 and decreased his use of doping products until he was riding clean by 2008, he said, when he joined the Garmin-Sharp team — dubbed “the clean team” because of its antidoping stance. Vaughters had started the team, and other former Postal Service riders had found refuge there, too.
Looking back, Vande Velde said he was sorry that his hard work and accomplishments — he finished fifth at the 2008 Tour — would be overshadowed by his bad choices. He said his decision to dope ruined the sport’s simplicity, which he embraced as a boy as he pedaled next to his father all those morning rides.
But more painful than coming clean to the public will be coming clean to his father, he said. He promised his father that he would sit down with him in the next few weeks to tell him everything.
His mother, Joan, learned of his doping through newspaper reports several weeks ago.
“The worst part was that I didn’t get to tell her myself,” said Vande Velde, who lives with his wife and two daughters on eight acres in Lemont, less than two miles from where he grew up.
On Thursday, he answered a reporter’s phone call while doing chores, sounding equal parts exhausted and relieved.
“I’m taking the garbage can in, and my wife still has me doing the dishes,” he said. “I guess life really does go on.”