I want to thank Gus Grissom of HalfWheelHell.com for sharing this interview with us. The interview is conducted by John Cutler, founder of a movement to crowd fund testing for the Mid Atlantic region. Cutler has penned an Op Ed for HalfWheelHell here. His interview with the founder of the Florida Clean Ride Fund is below:
Recently John Cutler, coordinator of the recent movement to crowd-fund anti-doping efforts across the Mid-Atlantic region, discussed this project with Jared Zimlin, director of the Florida Clean Ride Fund. They discussed logistics of the project and its impact on the local cycling community. The following is a transcription of the interview…
John Cutler: First, can you tell me if there was some event, some main motivation for getting going?
Jared Zimlin: I’ve been a licensed racer since 1988 and I think I’ve always heard the rumors about whoever seems to be strong that year and “you know why they’re strong.” Well, then I took 10 years off racing — family, all that stuff. When I got back into it, the same arguments were still going on.
It started, ironically, about a year ago last March. There was a random Facebook post about someone getting busted again. We had two riders in the prior six months who had been sanctioned. So my teammate posted “this is more prevalent, we train our asses off, you know this one is cheating and that one is cheating.” I challenged him. There has always been talk of testing, so why don’t we just do it? We threw a thing up on Facebook and the local rider blogs. Of course everyone responded “well, this one cheats and that one cheats.” I was almost the opposite. My motivation was different from a lot of people. Let’s call b******t. I don’t think as many people cheat as you think cheat. I think you just got your a$$ kicked. But regardless people had been busted in the state so there was clearly an issue. So what we did was contact some people who had tried it in the past and found out why they couldn’t get it through.
What it came down to was financing. That was the biggest hurdle. USADA was more than willing to come down and help. But it was expensive. We floated the idea of establishing a fund in which the money goes towards bringing testing down here. We figured that a bigger part of that too was the education. Just finding out what is a banned substance is difficult. It is easy if you know where the links are. There is one little sentence on USA Cycling’s website, and one sentence on the back of your license that says you are subject to testing. That is about it. What does that mean? Where do I go? What is legal what is illegal? We started getting in conversations with clubs with masters riders who were freaking out because they have prescriptions. So we started explaining the process to address that. So the education was a big part of it.
JC: So you didn’t set up your own non-profit?
JZ: We were able to work with our state organization. We were initially going to do our own thing. We were going to set up our own not-for-profit. But as we started talking we realized that if you don’t have your local association on board, and don’t have your local clubs, you’d be working outside the system. We wanted to work inside the system, and fortunately they were all very happy with the program. They agreed to set up a separate account. The account is transparent so any member of the Florida Cycling Association can log in and see the finances. They can see where the money is going. That is something you start getting: “where is the money going, is it going to testing?” It takes care of that whole headache (taxes, etc.) If you can work with the organization it is probably a lot easier than setting up your own. Though we looked into that and it was probably $1000 total in legal fees to set it all up. It is not impossible, but it is a $1000 extra you have to raise.
JC: My goal is simple: one round of doping controls, at one random event in 2013. Did you go into this with the idea that you would conduct as many tests as the money would allow? Or did you go into it thinking you’d raise X amount of money to make Y number of tests happen?
JZ: It started out with the initial cost of a test. And then we contacted USADA. And since they had never been involved with something like this in any sport, they didn’t have a template either. So we worked together. They gave us a bulk price for seven weekends. But we wrote into the agreement the caveat that this a non-profit, and the donations are voluntary. But whatever number we put out there I can’t guarantee we’ll get to that number. So if seven weekends become three weekends then that is still better than none.
We didn’t hit our financial goal that they put out there. And we didn’t hit the number of test weekends we put out there. We had three weekends on the fund that were tested. On top of that they came down on their own two times. And they did a random individual test. Once the spotlight was on – they were already down here — they did some other stuff.
We raised about $9000 to have our testing weekends. Typically for one weekend it is about $2500 to $3000 depending on how many tests you want. When we set up the testing with USADA and Florida Cycling Association we gave them our schedule and said “okay, you all pick the races, the events and everything”. We wanted zero opportunity for some riders, some categories, or different section of the state — we have different sections of the state with their own cliques — to claim favoritism. No, USADA picks it. We are just paying for the testing. We didn’t want to know. We didn’t want the opportunity for a member of the board to just happen to be in a conversation with someone and let is slip about testing at a particular event. That person tells that person and before you know it it is on Facebook and the cheaters don’t show up. So what’s the point?
So we just gave them the schedule and said go. We looked at finances and kept them up to speed. And fortunately we haven’t had any positives. We’ve had people get emotional about testing, but some of the people got tested and not had positives have gone on to win races. Now these people have a sheet of paper. If you think these people are doping they’ve got a piece of paper that says they’re clean.
JC: I don’t know if it is a DC thing where everyone seems to be a politician, lobbyist, or lawyer, but people are getting agitated. What you’ve said so far echoes the experience we’ve had here. I’m getting a lot of feedback from people getting very indignant that somehow there is a voluntary fund that people can donate to, yet the testing might apply to everyone. They’re coming up with all kinds of reasons why it is a bad idea. What was the most pressing push-back that you got?
JZ: We got push-back. Some of it we were able to refute very quickly by asking them if they signed up and got a USA Cycling license. Did you get a license? There you go. You already agreed to this. We aren’t creating rules or making something up that didn’t exist. All we’re doing is making sure that there is an enforcement of those rules. Because we had 50 year-old riders riding away from Pro 1/2 fields. The amazing thing we noticed this year — and a lot of people commented on it, and gave me feedback on it — is the level of fairness this year.
It is funny, we get a lot of people who come from up north and come down to Florida for the weather. I did a crit in this one city. We had [names omitted], guys that win on a national level at this crit. It was a fair race. They were strong, and they were driving it. It was fast but manageable. The year before we had no riders like that and it was a 35+ masters race. And it was horrendously fast. It has been like that all year. Pro 1/2 riders have been coming up to me and saying “this year it seems much more balanced”. There is no one group of riders, or one rider, who is literally on some different playing field. You just don’t see that. It has scared some people away. Or there was enough announcement and talk about it beforehand — and I figured this would happen — you’d suddenly see people who were winning tons of races in 2011 — suddenly they had a lot of work going on. They were really busy. They hadn’t been able to train as much. Whatever it takes.
It has changed the level of racing. What kind of drove the educational portion of it was that lots of the masters racers were scared. You had some that were on testosterone legitimately. A lot that were not. You have people who were on asthma medications. And so it is providing the links to where people could find therapeutic use exemptions. When someone comes at you with an objection — you’re going to bust be because I have to use an inhaler — you say go through the process, put in your piece of paper, and you’re fine. When you’ve shown that it isn’t as big and scary as you think it is it kind of takes that stuff away.
JC: You mentioned that prior to this you didn’t believe doping was going on. Has that changed? Now that you’ve done this can you look back and see the past differently?
JZ: Well, if you look at our 2011 results and 2012 results and see who is winning the results are very different in certain categories.
JC: If I talked like you were talking, people would say I had no justification to say stuff like that. And frankly I wouldn’t.
JZ: That is why we did the program. Before the program I didn’t feel like people had the justification to say that. So I said let’s bring in a way to either prove people are clean … The team I run has 94 members from tri to road to MTB. 50 or so that race. I went the opposite route. I have 50 people who spend $1000s of dollars a year and 100s of hours on the road, in the gym, on the road. To have that taken away by someone who is cheating is not right. To say we shouldn’t enforce the rules because we might hurt one person when the reality is that person is robbing 100’s of people who are the financial engine of racing. I know people that don’t race anymore because of doping. Why race?
JC: When I’ve read the USADA guidelines I wondered who is really taking on the burden of doing the test. Is the promoter having to make sure that the space is there, the cooler is there …
JZ: It depends on how you set it up. We set it up initially that USADA would do the first two ones 100% on their own. They would do it. But it is cheaper if you bring in volunteers. We did for one of the races. We volunteered so me and a bunch of people volunteered to see the process. What does it look like? So if someone asks us we can tell them exactly what happens. It is pretty basic. You find a location. You provide the chairs. You fill a cooler with ice and water so the riders have something to drink. And they get read their rights. They go to their test and that is it.
JC: When I’m reading this stuff I’m thinking that if you drop the ball on one of these things, then the whole thing falls apart. Is it more simple than it appears?
JZ: It is a lot more simple. USADA really runs it. When they come in they’re just making sure that they have a place to do the testing. And that they have a restroom that they can go to. There are chaperones. There is a private area where the rider can talk to USADA so they don’t feel like they are out in the open. If you are at a crit it could be at any office building nearby. We contacted the city and they said they had a Parks Department room on level 3, and there you go. It was right by the road race. At a road race it could be in an RV. It just has to be a place that is private. It was really easier than it looks.
JC: I’ve gotten warnings from people that either it won’t be that much of a deterrent or it is going to cause negative consequences. What is the downside of what you’ve done? Has it caused any bad things?
JZ: There are some negative people but they still come out and race. Everybody has an opinion on everything. And people would say this is a waste of time and money. What about our juniors? What about is this organization? My response is that this is a thing we took up and we did. If juniors are your thing, then do it. If having this state series is your thing then awesome, put it together. We support you. Everyone is willing to chip in from the sidelines, but there hasn’t really been any super negative feedback. Nothing destructive. We’ve had bad attendance this year, but that has more to do with how our season was set up. We’ve had some political conflict issues because Florida is split up. People think the testing is hurting attendance. But you know I think $4 a gallon gas and races every weekend from January to June is hurting attendance. People get tired.
JC: We’re noticing that up here as well. It partly has to do with the cyclocross season. The catalyst for me was hearing about this guy who got caught doping at a Gran Fondo.
JZ: That was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.
JC: There are definitely people who sit around and lose sleep and are super intense about all the races they think they’ve lost because of doping. They are very aggressive. I’m not really like that. In my mind this is something we signed up for when we got our license. We’ve never had a test.
JZ: All you are saying is “these are the rules, and we want to make sure you’re enforcing them”.
JC: That was my thing. You probably know the type. The type that are steaming in their saddle every time they go out persuaded them everyone around them is on some juice. I’m not like that. I think most of the people just follow the rules and that there are some bad apples. You’ve said you’ve had no positives to date.
JZ: No we haven’t. None to date. We started 2012 and we’ve had no positives. That is a good thing.
JC: People assumed that everyone would be getting caught for their cough medicine I guess.
JZ: That was exactly the case. And it didn’t happen. One guy was on an asthma medication and I sent him a therapeutic use form. You’re fine. Sure enough he was fine. USADA is not out to convict people that accidentally screwed up. They’re pretty clear about that. They aren’t out to find the person who has an inhaler or who takes Claritin B. If you get tested for that stuff you can actually not be positive because they’ll allow you to go to a doctor and get a prescription. So it is not what they are looking for. [NOTE: For non national riders -- amateurs -- there is a different policy for inhalers, and other asthma type medications. This is a process. You actually show a positive and then you are able to get proof for a medical use, and send that back in to USADA and they verify that. They walk you through the steps]. They are looking for the testosterone. The EPO. The growth hormones. The stuff that is blatantly cheating.
JC: Did you even know about USADA before? What are they like?
JZ: We think of USADA and think of cycling. The guy who came down to do the event in Tampa … he had only done a few bike races. USADA looks at every sport. They look at water skiing, table tennis, skeet shooting. We are in our little bubble. USADA gets a list of banned substances for cycling and says “OK.” So take the test.
JC: I took a very similar idea. I don’t expect all people to care. Some people have some good reasons not to care. I love the sport and I kinda care. Some people just don’t care if they are beaten on the podium by someone who is doping. My thought was that by crowd funding it among the people who do care then you can’t question that. I’m sure people suggested early on that you tack on a fee to events. But I’m not a fan of that.
JZ: People came out and proposed a dollar donation per entry fee. The reason we didn’t do that, and there are people who are waving that flag, and I basically told them to wave that flag at promoters meetings. If you guys can get that done we’ll be happy. Right now it is 100% voluntary. And we have the money. And now we can do tests that you agreed to anyway. So that’s it. Go be mad at the 500 people.
JC: How many individual donors did you have to raise the $9000?
JZ: It varied. We set up a Clean Team tab and put three tiers on there. $25, $100, and $250 plus. And then the team logos would go on there. We also had some bike shops donate. I went to the banned substance control group website and they have the products that have been tested and shown to be clean. We have a couple of them that have put money in to it, $100 here, $500 there.
Some of the local clubs have done their summertime training series and have done a donation each month. We had a junior who happens to be the national junior road champion donating $25 of his own money. That’s cool. He put up or shut up! We had a guy who doesn’t race who stays here in the winter and wrote a $1000 check. I asked if there was an extra “0” and he said “I really support fair sport and like what you are doing.” You get an initial rush of the early adopters. And then there is a lull. And then when the first test happens, people know it is real. That was the thing. I knew we’d get a second rush of donations when people actually saw that it was happen. We had a rush there. We are starting to look to 2013.
JC: We are at the stage where the passionate people and nay-sayers are coming through the woodwork. I was mostly concerned whether overall you thought it was a worthwhile effort and brought the community together. And if you reached your goals.
JZ: I think the people who were against it were against it for reasons. Those who were adamantly against it. And they are going to be against it no matter what. You’ll get that group of people. But a lot of people I never expected actually came out to support it.
One of the ironic things is that one of our officials went up to Georgia and asked — because the juniors would come down here — how come you aren’t coming down. And they said “even the juniors dope in Florida. Everyone knows that!” This rumor mill — I remember when I was racing in the 90s we were packed with riders from Georgia and Alabama while the weather was nice — and then in the summertime it was the opposite and we would leave Florida. In the spring when we should be having riders from up north coming down. we weren’t seeing that as much. Part of the reason was that if we have this reputation we have to clean that up. It isn’t going to help our sport.
JC: It sounds like Florida had a problem. You were getting a number of positives. The general idea was that it was something that was pervasive.
JZ: We’ve had positives here but not under our testing. But we’ve also had people that were winning who everyone was accusing of doping, and they tested negative. So now you’ve got your a$$ handed to you legitimately. So you might want to go rethink your excuses.
JC: In 2011 someone floated this by the board of our local association. And they were actually of mixed opinion. And it quickly became a DC thing (everyone is a lawyer). Even among the board — they had extra money sitting around — and they couldn’t settle on doing this.
JZ: We went through the same thing. I should have painted that picture clearer. It was probably exactly what you were dealing with. We started with this last April and we didn’t get buy in until November. What it came down to was who was going to administer it. It was myself and a partner. And that was a burden. And then there was the lawyer thing. We looked up the liability. I contacted USAC lawyers and USADA lawyers, and a friend who is a lawyer. We looked at if there was any liability to the Florida Cycling Association for testing. And a big question was whether we were violating their rights. And the short answer was “No” They signed this license. And when they signed that license that is when they said I am willing to be subject to testing. So that is where they are off the hook.
That is why we let other people pick the events. We are paying for USADA and USA Cycling to enforce the rules that they have in place. That is it. That is where the board turned around. We were going to do it regardless. It seemed stupid that you have events, and these are the rules of the events, and you’re scared to enforce the rules that everyone has agreed to. It made no sense to me. We had lawyers look it. And the bottom line was that the rider has accepted that when they took a license.
JC: For a plan “B” were were thinking of was going directly to the promoters. Could you see that working?
JZ: Absolutely. At the end of the day USADA will contact the promoter to facilitate testing at the event. Any promoter can request and pay for testing. It can be done that way.
JC: If the promoter is contacted, doesn’t everyone know about the doping control?
JZ: The promoter can keep their trap shut. That is the biggest hurdle. One of the events we had in Florida — typical state politics — where the promoter let people know there was going to be tested. And suddenly it was central and north Florida picking on South Florida because we had poor attendance at this race because we had testing. And no, it was you had poor attendance because the weather report was shit. And people didn’t want to spend that kind of money and effort to go down there and get rained out. And the second day they had monsoon weather. That was why you had poor attendance.
JC: We were thinking that promoters enter their events in a pool and basically agree that their event might get selected. And it might just get selected and they might not get any advance notice. They knew it was a possibility.
JZ: Absolutely. That is what ended up happening. The reality was that if you signed up FRCA you understand that USADA could show up. And all the promoters knew that. And if it happens and not one promoter that had testing knew it was an issue. They barely knew it was there. They were there off to the side. There was no controversy. No bull horn announcements about USADA being here and everyone being up in arms. At one event no one knew they were there until afterwards.
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