Blazin' Saddles: Return of the Papp

Fri, 05 Nov 16:17:00 2010

In this second instalment of "SaddlePapp", Blazin' Saddles talks doping, death threats, prison and Spanish cuisine with former pro-rider Joe Papp as he awaits sentencing in US federal court for various doping offences that date back to more than four years ago.

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To get up to speed, BS suggests you read August's first Q&A with a man whose blood was once as thick as jam.

BS: Did you get a kick from taking drugs, did you do it to win, or was it simply a rite of passage?

Doping was like a tool that one reached for when performance had been maximized through all other available means. While there was an element of being accepted into a closed-society by choosing to dope (joining a band of brothers, or a pseudo-mafia, if you will), there was definitely no focus on trying to magnify risk in pursuit of a thrill. Doping is unimaginably stressful: you worry about everything from keeping your blood from thickening, to passing the controls, to not getting picked-up by the anti-doping police while trying to dispose of boxes of drug ampoules.

If you could go back and face the same tough decisions today, would you do things differently?

Of course. Whatever I achieved as an athlete, whatever races I rode, UCI points accumulated - none of it was worth the consequences I've been dealing with for four years, and those I still face.

Do you think it's fair that you've been called a "villain" over your doping charges?

Sure. No one has all of the facts concerning why I did what I did, and, while it's still not an excuse, in the absence of that complex, comprehensive explanation there will appear people who will ascribe to me a villainous motive. But it bears mentioning that all of the messages of support and encouragement that I've received from the public have been written by people not afraid to include their name and contact details, whereas the truly vile and negative feedback (including several more-recent death threats) is always sent anonymously.

Death threats? Spooky. Anything really gruesome?

The threats, generally speaking, weren't so detailed as to specify modes of death - except one. A cyclist from Pennsylvania derived great pleasure in sharing his hopes that I would be sexually-brutalized in prison and raped-to-death. It was perhaps the most offensive, upsetting, disturbing harassment to which I've been subjected since the doping scandal broke.

On a lighter note, have you received any suggestive fan mail?

Funny you should ask. Once, when I was single and very eligible, a female fan wrote to suggest we meet - which we did. That night. She must have known I was sentimental and offered to leave her panties as a souvenir.

You rogue. So, your blog is called Pappillon, which recalls the 1973 cult film Papillon in which an innocent murderer plots his escape from an island prison. There's talk that you might be sent down for your own discretions. Would it be a fair punishment?

Clearly I hope that the judge presiding over my case will conceive of an appropriate punishment that has a positive impact on sport, and the anti-doping movement and society in general - without necessitating my incarceration. The idea of being sent to federal prison is horrifying and it's been the source of three years of inescapable torment. I loathe the swine that congregate on Internet message boards and laugh and jeer at the prospect of Lance Armstrong being sent to prison. There's nothing funny about that. What did Lance do to any of them to allow them to think that they're entitled to that kind of retribution in the first place? The guy is innocent until proven guilty, and he's not even been indicted yet and may not be. What kind of sick mind do you have to have in order to get-off on fantasizing about Lance being locked-away and brutalized in prison? Idiots.

Sure thing. Would you be more worried about dropping soap in the showers or getting beaten up in the yard?

Were this a movie, and not real life, I'd expect my character might say he'd be more worried about picking a suitable victim for the mandatory violent attack that he'd have to launch on his first day in prison in order to intimidate the other inmates and plant enough doubt in their heads so that they wouldn't risk harrassing him.

Would you do an Andy Dufresne and try escape or would you see out your time like Red?

I'd follow Red's lead and try to survive my sentence - but completely under the radar. I'd probably try to read a lot.

What kind of books?

Well, at the moment I'm reading six books, including 'A Significant Other' by Matt Rendell. The others range from philosophy to Cuban sugar plantations, via a bit of Albert Speer, the White House and the fall of Hitler. Mixing up the genres like this would keep me entertained behind bars.

Of course, prison is a better predicament than death, which is what would happen to convicted dopers if (soon-to-be-former Garmin rider) Steven Cozza got his way...

Well, I accept the fact that he may have been joking - albeit joking in poor taste. But if you say something as incendiary as you think that all dopers should be executed, then when someone asks you if you've gone mad, you should at least have the balls to stand behind your words - unless of course you were talking sh*t from the start, which then begs the question: what do you think is so funny about the death penalty and doping that it's the basis for your new comedy bit?

So you face Cozza's firing squad, what would be your last request? Your last meal? Would the angel Gabriel let you into Heaven?

I would obviously request not to be executed, or to have Steven Cozza take my place. My last meal would be a cheese pizza with a can of Coke, proper Italian espresso and Starbucks ice cream for dessert. No food snobs here. With my luck, Gabriel would send me over to the Hindu section, and I'd probably be reincarnated as a doping control officer for the UCI.

Pizza? Nice. What about Spanish steak?

I wouldn't think twice about eating Spanish beef, unless I was dining with Alberto Contador. Then I would suggest we go find Vino and order Chinese.

Where do you stand on AC's predicament?

I think it's a terrible situation in which there are no real winners and I truly hope that, whatever the ultimate outcome, there is legitimate scientific evidence to support the decision.

You recently tweeted: "Any delays in the Contador case stem from the fact that ASO can't award the win to Schleck for fear of the same." Can you explain this?

I was interested in what people thought about the possible scenario whereby one winner is DQ'ed for doping, and accused of having transfused blood based on the results of an unapproved test, and the runner-up is awarded the victory but without his own stored samples being scrutinised. While the rules don't require testing for plasticizers, and it was actually Clenbuterol that caused a ruckus in the first place, does someone demand the testing of the runner-up's samples using the same unapproved protocol? Has that testing already been done in secret? What happens if they suspect plasticizers are present there? If I were Schleck, and Contador was officially DQ'd from the Tour, without redress - I would decline to be elevated to 1st place and suggest the 2010 Tour title be vacated.

Your pal Bernie Kohl says you can't win the Tour without doping; Roy Sentjens says you can't make the top ten without doping; some old Italian judge says they're all at it. Who tows the most feasibly line?

The person who has nothing to gain by being honest, which, in the case of talking about doping in cycling, is usually the person who could potentially return to the top-level but makes admissions - or accusations - that are so inflammatory that no sponsor would ever allow a team to employ that rider again.

To tie things up: You're Bjarne Riis, Contador is banned, three-quarters of your team have gone to Luxembourg and the new Spaniards want out - what would your plan B entail for next season?

Hire Floyd Landis. Why not? Yes, Hire Floyd, make him a road captain, and use his experience to further support the development of a rider like Richie Porte (despite the fact that he'll be gone in 2012), and an entirely new generation of Saxo Bank riders. No one can replace Contador, and if Riis tries to go forward with the same goals and objectives in 2011 that he'd identified with the Spaniard, failure is inevitable. Of course there are arguments against the Landis option, but I think only a radical shift in the team's focus and priorities will see it through 2011 and allow the program to regroup for 2012.

You don't think Landis is past it?

If Lance can make a comeback aged 37 after several years off then why can't Floyd, at 35, do the same? They're both incredible athletes who are naturally-gifted with exceptional abilities that don't just go away, even as they age and performance tapers-off. Lance's drug-free comeback even provides Floyd with a template for how to do it.

Next week, in the third part of Saddles' chinwag with Monsieur Papp, the pocket-rocket from Pittsburgh talks blood thinners, chat-up lines and the sexual habits of the peloton, while also making some insightful predictions for the 2011 season. Oh, and he explains why he's called Mr 58%.

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