Cyclist's testimony raises questions about his own doping case

Updated: May 19, 2007, 7:21 PM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

MALIBU, Calif. -- A virtually unknown cyclist took center stage in the high-profile Floyd Landis case Friday as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency continued to put the sport as well as the Tour de France winner on trial.

Joe Papp's testimony about his own use of synthetic testosterone during stage races late in his career as a lower-level professional was enlightening in one sense, a zoom lens focused on hidden practices in cycling.

Landis' lawyers countered Papp's confessional by attacking his character and trying to establish that his performance-enhancing drug use had no bearing on the charges that Landis used synthetic testosterone during the Tour. Papp's own year-old doping case was just resolved this week. He is now under a two-year suspension.

Mostly, Papp's recital constituted a depressing confirmation of the pressure to cheat. He said he raced clean as a junior and young pro, took a five-year break from competition to finish his college degree and returned in 2001 only to find the peloton moving at a markedly faster pace.

He elected to try to keep up by dosing himself with a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs that included, over the years, the blood booster EPO, human growth hormone, insulin, amphetamines, corticosteroids and synthetic testosterone. He also described systematic doping practices on the Italian team he competed for last year.

"At the time, I didn't feel I had an option to compete in the sport I loved at the level I had previously," Papp said.

To try to connect Papp's experiences with Landis' case, USADA lawyer Matthew Barnett asked Papp to describe how and why he would use synthetic testosterone during a stage race. Landis' lawyers have argued that it would have been irrational and ineffective for Landis to use testosterone as a one-day recovery aid, a statement Papp said "makes me angry."

Papp reached into the breast pocket of his suit coat and produced an empty packet of a substance called Androgel. Barnett displayed it on an overhead projector, where the words "Used packets should be discarded safely" were clearly visible.

Papp went on to talk about "microdosing," or taking the hormone in small enough doses so it would not push his testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio above the allowable 4:1 threshold. Exceeding that level triggers a carbon-isotope ratio test that detects synthetic testosterone.

Papp said that immediately after a race day ended, "as soon as you were in a discreet area, you'd rip open the packet and rub [the gel] on your chest or abdomen." He testified that the gel would begin to counteract cumulative fatigue within a few hours.

"The difference I felt was a very notable and significant improvement in my recovery," he said. "It had a significant impact on my ability to perform at the same level day after day. That's important because stage races are not won by the rider who starts out the fastest. They're won by the guy who can recover the best and perform as close as possible to his best level."

The testers caught up with Papp last May during a race in Turkey. He said his teammates cut him off with clinical coldness.

"When they realized there was no way for me to get out of it, they disowned me," he said.

Papp decided not to contest the findings and accepted the two-year suspension but did not sign documents finalizing his case until Thursday. He testified that the delayed disclosure was requested by the U.S. Attorney's office in San Diego because he was cooperating with investigators there and added that he met once with federal lawyers earlier this year.

After Papp's testimony, he told reporters that USADA referred him to the U.S. Attorney's office. USADA general counsel Travis Tygart, who is not attending the Landis hearing, said Friday that the Papp case had been headed to arbitration until a breakthrough in recent discussions. Tygart said Papp's mandatory two-year suspension was not reduced and the agency did not have to disclose his positive test until the case was resolved.

Papp said he had no axe to grind against Landis.

"By testifying, outside of a clear conscience, I hope I'm helping the next generation of cyclists understand they have a choice," he said.

Papp's results in the Turkey race where he tested positive -- three stage wins -- remain on a list of 2006 season accomplishments posted on his Web site. He continued to compete through mid-July, and won a one-day race in Italy. Papp will be required to give back some prize money under his USADA sanction.

Papp was injured in a crash in his final race in Italy and had surgery to drain a hematoma on July 26, the same day that cycling's governing body, the UCI, announced that a then-unnamed rider from the Tour de France had tested positive.

A long-time diarist for cyclingnews.com, Papp wrote his final diary entry from the hospital, entitling it "Ignominious End."

"The costs that cycling extracts from the rider -- physical, emotional and material -- are enormous in some cases," he wrote, "and I'm just now realizing how skewed my balance sheet is."

Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.