Broaching the subject of doping in cycling used to cause riders to pedal for the hills. Now, some are lining up to speak out.
In recent weeks, and amid the backdrop of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's dogged pursuit of Lance Armstrong, the wall of silence that once formed an impenetrable ring about cycling has been crumbling.
Tyler Hamilton and Jonathan Vaughters, former Armstrong teammates, as well as reputed riders Joerg Jaksche and Johan Museeuw have spoken with candor about doping, confessing to their own infringements and commenting on the doping past of others in the peloton.
Jaksche was one of several riders kicked off the Tour de France on the eve of the 2006 race in connection with the Operation Puerto case into blood doping. Now retired, he admits freely to his doping past.
"I spoke out too much. That was the main problem," he told Cyclingnews on Tuesday. "By showing them the mirror, riders weren't happy with me."
On Cyclingnews' forum late Wednesday, Vaughters, the manager of the Garmin-Sharp team, joined a discussion on doping. He told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday that he had made his comments under the pseudonym JV1973.
Vaughters said there is a discernible shift in the sport — one toward more responsible openness, rather than entrenchment in denials, as used to be commonplace in cycling's dark days.
"These skeletons have to be moved out of the closet and you need to have a clean start," Vaughters said. "I feel like there should be a once-and-for-all truth and reconciliation and, at that point in time, everything can move forward."
"(Cycling) is so much cleaner than it has been in the past. It's super encouraging to see clean riders winning the biggest races," he added.
Vaughters, who last month confessed to doping during his time as a professional cyclist, made his comments on the forum in the same week as Hamilton's book release and comments made by Jaksche and Museeuw.
Hamilton, Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service teammate from 1998 to 2001, detailed the years he spent lying about his doping and his relationship with Armstrong in his book, "The Secret Race, Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-Ups and Winning at All Costs."
Two weeks ago, Armstrong dropped any further challenges to USADA's allegations that he took performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour from 1999-2005. A day later, USADA stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour titles and banned him for life.
Hamilton said coming clean gave him a sense of peace.
Others now feel like talking.
Museeuw, one of Belgian cycling's biggest stars, said in an interview with newspaper Gazet Van Antwerpen on Thursday that doping during his era — the late 1980s until the early 2000s — was rife.
"Doping was part of it for almost everyone," Museeuw said. "If we don't (come clean) the raking in the past will only continue."
Museeuw won the Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders three times each. He was convicted of doping by a Belgian court four years ago and given a suspended prison sentence.
That riders are finally talking is a welcome sign, says Frankie Andreu, a former cyclist who confessed to doping during his career while on the Postal team.
"Johan Museeuw just came out saying the same thing: fess up and put the past behind us so we can look forward," Andreu told the AP by email on Thursday. "I think by speaking up and admitting the past it allows everyone to become more outspoken to the positive tests that happen now. You don't have to hide behind your own past history."
Andreu, who in 2006 confessed to using EPO when preparing for the '99 Tour, hopes the silence can be shattered.
"It would help cycling if the omerta is broken. Everyone knows what went on back then and many have already spoken about it," Andreu said. "It does become easier to speak up as more confess to their doping past. You're no longer singled out as a lone wolf, a traitor, or disgruntled racer."