New Zealand cyclist Julian Dean has professed his innocence and says he knew nothing about the systematic doping programme that went on at US Postal Service.
Dean, now a veteran of 20 grand tours, rode as a team-mate of Lance Armstrong on the team between 1999 and 2001.
In the most damning report released yet by the US Anti Doping Agency, it said on Thursday the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team "ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".
The report also said Armstrong put pressure on colleagues to be part of an EPO-boosting drug programme if they wanted to remain on the team.
But in an exclusive interview from his home in Spain, Dean says he was never told to dope or witnessed any of the alleged activities.
“It was not something that I ever came across,” said Dean, who now rides for professional Australian team Orica GreenEDGE.
“I was a young rider on the team and I was new to the European cycling scene.”
After finishing fourth in the Tour of Spain in 1998, Armstrong became obsessed with winning the Tour de France and it was the only race that mattered to him. He wanted to build a powerful team to support him in the race.
Dean said as a sprinter he was of little use to Armstrong.
“I didn't really fit into that, they had a very directed team for the Tour de France and put a lot of energy into those guys,” he said.
“Because I was a sprinter I would do things like the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) or some of the other bigger stage races over the years, without being considered for the Tour because there wasn't much I could contribute.”
Dean's explanation and his absence from a list of pro cyclists USADA accused of drug use (see panel) stack up and there is no evidence to imply he has ever used performance-enhancing substances.
But he accepts he has been tarred with the brush of the US Postal disgrace, which has seen the team so vehemently attacked by USADA all its riders are under suspicion. And Dean knows there will be some who won't believe him.
“It is tough, but I don't go around worrying what other people think of me,” he said.
“I know what I've done and I know where I've been. In any situation in life that's how you have to live. You can't live on other people's judgments and, as long as I'm content within myself, that's the main thing and that's what's really important here... not what other people think of me.”
So cut-throat is professional cycling that only a handful of riders at the very top earn fortunes.
The pressure to succeed is what persuaded Britain's Tom Simpson to consume a cocktail of drugs that resulted in his death riding up Mont Ventoux on the Tour de France in 1967. The same abuse continues three decades on.
Only this week 26-year-old French cyclist Steve Houanard tested positive for EPO.
British rider David Millar wrote a riveting book on what drove him to dope in 2001 and 2003. Dean holds back from criticising those riders, many of them team-mates and friends.
“It is difficult to know someone's situation and what they were going through at the time. What I value is that I know these guys personally and I know they're good people. To me that's more important.
“There are some decisions that have been made that are questionable, but they're not bad people and to me that's what is important. Every time I hear that there is a big anti-doping story I hope it's going to be the last one,” he added.
“Everyone wants the sport to be able to move on and get its fan base and sponsor base back. For me it's key to look forward and help the sport that we all love so much and has given me so much."
- Sunday Star Times