Blazin' Saddles

Q&A with Joseph Papp

Blazin' Saddles

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This week
Blazin' Saddles poses some questions to a friend he made on Twitter, the former
pro cyclist Joseph Papp.

So, Joe, tell everyone who you are.
 JP: I yam what I yam and that's all that I am! Born
in Ohio, bred in Pittsburgh,
matured in South America, Europe and a few
less exotic locales. Book-smart, no-common-sense romantic, imbued with a
passion for cycling that's inexplicably intense. I started cycling and racing
in 1989, the day after my father died, the day before my birthday. Tragedy
turned to triumph, and between stints at university and graduate school, I
travelled the world to race and represent my country. Bike racing even brought
me love, in the form of the beautiful, lithe and blond then-national champion
of Cuba.
Now, I'm several years removed from the "farewell" race, pondering
what comes next and where can I go from here. Geopolitics interfered with my
marriage, and doping interfered with my cycling and may yet interfere with my

many years were you doping for?
 Five. 2001-2006.

you feel any guilt? If not, why not?
 At the time, no, because doping was all around me
and it truly seemed like everyone was doing it - and I know that many, many
were. Obviously not everyone was doping, and at times I felt squeamish, disappointed,
revolted, disillusioned and angry about it - but clearly not intensely enough
to stop.

or needles - which were better?
 Neither? Ha! Seriously though, needles suck and the
chance of causing serious harm via infection or the creation of an abscess or
any number of hazards make gel infinitely preferable to needles. But
unfortunately, for many products a needle was the only means by which to
administer them.

quite outspoken about doping and you even testified in the Floyd Landis affair.
Has it ever landed you in hot water?
 I have an interesting relationship with Lance
Armstrong via Twitter in that he's blocked, unblocked, followed, and unfollowed
me several times this year - and when Lance is marking you on Twitter when he
only follows a couple hundred people, well, if nothing else it's flattering.
Unfortunately, when my name appeared on the witness list for the Landis
arbitration in 2007, I had the disconcerting experience of receiving a death
threat from a particular individual whom I knew very well.

is Armstrong like as a person?
 Aloof. Ferocious. Other-worldly.

you ever considered making some T-shirts with Landis' phrase "Joe Papp?
Who the f--k is that guy?" on the front?
 [Laughs] What a great quote. Who'd have
thought that Floyd and I would end up as friends...

they make the whole US
Postal story into a film, which actors should play Lance/Floyd/yourself?
 Matt Damon is a fine choice
to play Lance, though I wonder if he has the capacity to realistically portray
a sociopath. I think a young Woody Harrelson would have made for a solid Floyd,
and I'd hope Robert Downey Jr would consider the role of Joe Papp.

being an ex doper make it hard to make headway outside the peloton?
 Undeniably. And it's ranged
from outright acknowledgement of doping as being the factor that led to my
rejection, to sly attempts to disassociate the cause from the effect. Publicly
being associated with doping is a scarlet letter, for sure.

Do you
have any hidden talents?
 Juggling, writing, working on 2.0l 16v Volkswagen engines. I'm
also good with my tongue. Plus I've got an Albert Speer-like talent for
organisation and logistics.

moments of your career? 
Best moment was in 1993 when I won the junior race at the
Tour of Somerville [a famous criterium in the US], beating Michael Barry. That
trophy is the only one of my collection that isn't hidden in a box. Another
amazing moment was in 1996, when I came eighth in the Pan Am road race,
with Christian Vandevelde's help. He was a great teammate and it was an honour
to have his help even back then. Worst moment was undoubtedly the hours after
the final stage of the 2006 Tour of Turkey, which I won - that was when my team
wanted me to catheterize myself with synthetic urine.

Do you
regret never having raced a Grand Tour?
 No, because I didn't have the ability to recover
that one needs even just to survive a GT. Two weeks was my limit.

some of your enemies.
my own worst enemy, though at times it feels as if my mother is a close second.
Our relationship is very dysfunctional. I also consider Fidel Castro and his
brother Raul to be enemies (after all, they declared me an "enemy of the
Cuban state" - it's a long story), and until he retracts it, the former
rider who issued a death threat against me has to be considered an enemy,
purely on principle.

some of your friends.
an exclusive bunch and I don't want to risk embarrassing them by outing them

are your experiences of German TV?
 The Hoff!

an Irish American... what are your views on Thierry Henry coming to play football
in the States?
didn't even know New York
had a soccer team until I just looked it up.

would win a fight between Fedrigo's nose and Evans's chin?
 I think Evans's chin would
win, but only by virtue of Fedrigo's nose being DQ'd by the UCI, which would
classify it as an illegal front fairing, providing an unfair aerodynamic

you're about to get married - would your best man be Bradley Wiggins or Robbie
If Wiggo went well at the previous wedding in best man role, I'd probably think
he'd be spectacular at mine - but if he wasn't... it'd be an epic fail, and
he'd probably lose the ring even. With Robbie, I just think there would be more
stability and consistency in the results - from planning the stag weekend to
delivering the ring.

If you
had to be stuck on a desert island with Ricco or Schumacher, who would it be?
 Ricco, no doubt. Anyone who
calls themselves the Cobra must have a sense of humour.

are your thoughts on ex dopers returning?
 Let them return and quit hassling them about
the supposed quality of their apologies, or lack thereof. They served their
bans and should be permitted to compete - and earn a living - in peace,
assuming they follow the rules this time around.

you think it would be great if all convicted dopers had to ride for the same
team as part of their rehabilitation?
 Didn't we almost see that with Rock Racing?

and Schleck - too friendly, or was the Spaniard playing his rival throughout
the Tour?
first I thought it was a creepy man-crush, but now I tend to believe that
Contador was just playing mind-games with Schleck.

thoughts on 'Chaingate'?
 Schleck should consider himself lucky, especially when he got
away scot-free on the roads to Spa.

us some out-there predictions for 2011.
 1) Boonen returns to the Spring Classics in utterly
stomping form and wins Roubaix after refusing to be dropped by Spartacus. 2)
Hincapie does not win Roubaix.
3). The UCI announces a doping case at the Tour. 4). National anti-doping
agencies start to rely less and less on adverse analytical findings (tiny drug
metabolites floating in your pee) and succeed in convicting riders for doping
violations with evidence drawn from hidden camera videos, secret recordings,
bank statements etc.

naming any names, do you have reasonable grounds to suspect any high-profile
current riders of doping?
 Unfortunately, yes. But there have and will always be riders who
think that they can manage the risk and not get caught.

And now some questions from a few
of Blazin' Saddles' followers on Twitter.

Public: Do Pozzatto and Contador get any s--- off other riders for those
terrible Sidi adverts?
 Joe Papp: Not when they realize how many zeroes are at the end
of the numbers on the cheques.

head-butt was unorthodox this year in the TdF, but what's the most
controversial move you've seen in recent times?
 The most agro I saw was in Chile, in 2003
or 4, when a snotty Chilean guy called an Argentine "hijo de puta".
The Argentine started screaming at the Chilean - things like "You talkin'
to me?! You calling my mum a puta?" (all this at 45-9kph) - and the
Argentine finally just grabs the Chilean, who was on his right, by his left arm
and yanked him off his bike onto the ground and crashed him. All because he
insulted his mother. The Latin American mother is sacred, I guess.

many of the pros get saddle sores?
 No. But when they do, they're usually doozies.

chamois cream of the peloton?
 Assos, though DZ Nuts is popular amongst those guys.

Why is
Cancellara is such a bad climber?
 Part of the Faustian Bargain he signed included
terms offering him either the ability to climb or to float over cobbles - but
not both.

Is it
true that Cervelo's Ted King can knit?
 Well, he certainly can spin a yarn with those race
reports and tweets!

If u
get a 2yr ban, r u still monitored by anti-doping or r u free to train hard,
eat embryos and drink CERA shakes?
 You're still monitored, so you have to lay-off the
CERA shakes.

Were any
riders not doped up to the eyeballs on the 96 Tour? 
If there were, I doubt they were
more than just a few. My former teammate finished that Tour over
three-and-a-quarter hours down on overall on GC, and he admitted to me on more
than one occasion that he had to dope himself "up to the eyeballs" as
you say - just to do domestique duties. JUST to be a domestique! And to lose
over three hours!

would like to thank Joe for his time and wish his all the best for the future.
You can follow Joe at as well as Saddles on

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