At the age of 30 Waikato's Stephen Swart walked away from cycling great Lance Armstrong and what was to become the biggest doping conspiracy in sports history.
He chose to quit professional cycling and its inherent doping programmes and later spoke out against that culture and Armstrong's role in the scandal.
Now that the United States Anti-Doping Agency has issued a damning report showing Armstrong and his professional teams were at the heart of the doping conspiracy when he won the Tour de France seven years in a row, Mr Swart to some extent feels vindicated after previously being attacked by those who denied wrongdoing.
The former Morrinsville man now lives in Auckland but yesterday he was in Hamilton working with his brother, Jack - also a former national cycling representative.
Mr Swart is also one of 11 former team-mates of Armstrong's who gave evidence to the USADA leading up to the report.
He said he had spoken out originally to expose the drug-taking culture of professional cycling rather than to single out Armstrong.
"It was something weighing on me for a while," said Mr Swart, who wanted to help promote change in the sport for the future.
The report had been a long time coming but the evidence was so strong it could not be argued against.
"Maybe the truth is finally appearing, even though there's one individual there who is willing to deny everything and will go to any length to keep that quiet - and has done in the past.
"There is enough information there for everyone to make their own decision. People have been sentenced for murder on less evidence."
While unsure what vindication really was, Mr Swart said that wasn't what he was out for.
"I guess I believe that if you tell the truth and stay strong with it they can't argue with it.
"The defence will always try and attack your credibility but I've never changed my story. I've never pointed the finger at anyone, I've just told them of my experience.
"I feel sorry for [Armstrong] in a lot of ways that he's made this mess for himself. He could have done it differently and all this would never have happened.
"Unfortunately you make your bed and you've got to lie in it."
Mr Swart said he walked away from a culture of doping, which at the time in the 1990s was centred on the use of the blood-boosting drug EPO and had the Italian riders at the forefront of its use.
"I got to the point where it was like ‘I just don't want to do this'," Mr Swart said.
"I knew what I would have had to do to get to the next level and that was being 110 per cent engaged in it, fulltime.
"I just didn't feel comfortable with that. I regret I was put in that position and feel cheated in some ways, knowing that I had the ability to give more at a natural level but obviously that was subdued by what was going on.
"Maybe things can change and make it better for the generations in the future," Mr Swart said.
The 200-page USADA report released yesterday gives the most detailed portrayal yet of Armstrong as a man who spared no expense - financially, emotionally or physically - to win the seven Tour de France titles that the anti-doping agency has ordered to be taken away.
It presents as matter-of-fact reality that winning and doping went hand-in-hand in cycling and that Armstrong was the focal point of a big operation, running teams that were the best at getting it done without getting caught.
Armstrong won the Tour as leader of the US Postal Service team from 1999-2004 and again in 2005 with the Discovery Channel as the primary sponsor.
USADA said the path Armstrong chose to pursue his goals "ran far outside the rules".
It accuses him of depending on performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his victories and "more ruthlessly, to expect and to require that his team-mates" do the same.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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