I swore I wouldn’t waste any more of my already limited brain cells on this drug cheat, and specifically ignored the butt-licking, fawning interview that Bicycling Magazine did with Bobby Lea after he tested positive for Percocet.
But people kept asking me if I’d seen it and eventually I caved. It made me so angry, not because Bobby changed his story in less than 24 hours (that’s what lying liars who lie do), but that so many toe-licking, jock-sniffing, earwax-collecting “fans” swallow the whole wad of smelly pus and cat hair without so much as a hiccough.
It’s okay to be willfully stupid; that is why we have Donald Trump. It’s okay to believe in fairy tales; that’s why we have Islam, Christianity, and homeopathic medicine.
But it’s not okay to ruin the party for everyone else by crapping in the punch bowl after you’ve drunk your fill.
So here are just a few of the salient absurdities from Bobby Lea’s non-tearful non-confession, and my comments after.
Interviewer: You said in your letter that you took Percocet the night before track nationals when you ran out of your normal sleep aid, and that you have a prescription. What was that prescription for originally, and had you used Percocet previously?
Cheater Lea: I got the prescription for Percocet for two reasons. It was primarily for pain management in the event of a crash. I got it right before a trip to Japan and Taiwan in 2014. I knew that if I crashed over there, I could take it and make it home to the hospital and to doctors that I trust. And the second reason was as a sleep aid. Sometimes that’s the most comfortable thing in coach and I’ve used it on occasion to sleep on those transatlantic flights.
CitSB Comment: Note that in his original “apology” letter, Lea says that the Percocet was prescribed ” … to help me manage pain and sleep while traveling for competition, especially in the event of a crash.” Now, a day later, it is primarily for pain management in the event of a crash. This is significant because, as I pointed out earlier, drowsiness is an adverse reaction to Percocet that is on the label. No physician prescribes a drug so that the patient can “benefit” from the drug’s adverse reaction. In Bobby’s case, the story is absurd because if you have difficulty sleeping, we have a class of drugs that help you sleep. They are cleverly called “sleeping pills.”
This leads to a problem with Lea’s new explanation, and the problem is this: Now that he’s admitted to using the drug, he has to answer the question of what he got the drug for, which in turn raises the question of how doctors prescribe Percocet in the first place.
Percocet is a classified by the DEA as a Schedule II Controlled Substance. This means that it may not be prescribed without a “legitimate medical purpose.” Doctors who do so are subject to criminal penalties, and the DEA has, in recent years, aggressively pursued and shut down pill mills that gin out fake prescriptions for Percocet addicts.
Getting a legal prescription for Percocet isn’t easy, in part because doctors have become wary of patients who fake complaints in order to get their drug habit filled. Simply telling the doctor that your back hurts or that you have a burning sensation when you pee, or showing up at the ER at 3:00 AM with a bit of road rash won’t crack the safe.
So what was Lea’s legitimate medical purpose for taking Percocet? He started off in his apology letter explaining the existence of the prescription to help him sleep, but that’s not a legitimate medical purpose for Percocet and the burden is on Lea to now prove that that is in fact why it was prescribed. He could produce his medical records and reveal the name of the treating M.D., but he hasn’t. Why not? Well, first off it might show that the M.D. was committing a felony by prescribing Percocet for something that wasn’t a legitimate medical purpose.
Another possible reason he doesn’t trot out the prescription is that he has no prescription; perhaps he bought the drugs illegally. Another possible reason is that his medical records might reveal that he obtained the prescription by lying to his physician about the “legitimate medical purpose” for which he got the prescription. It’s hard to imagine an ethical doctor prescribing Percocet for future injuries. Doctors don’t typically write prescriptions for things that might happen to you, and even if they did they wouldn’t prescribe Percocet.
Doctors can write multiple prescriptions for Percocet that you can fill sequentially, but they typically only do this if you have an existing injury or chronic painful condition. The notion that Lea’s M.D. is dispensing Percocet so Bobby can cope with the horrors of “transatlantic flights in coach” is silly. It also raises the question of whether he’s ever looked at a map. What transatlantic flight from Pennsylvania gets you to Japan and Taiwan?
Lea’s explanation is even shoddier the more closely you examine it. He claims that he got the prescription in case he got hurt in Japan or Taiwan, conjuring up images of witch doctors hacking off limbs with tree saws while the patient grimaces in pain–as if those two countries don’t have access to Percocet and every other synthetic narcotic in the advanced world’s pharmacopeia. Japan and Taiwan have world class medical care and world class pharma. Bobby wants us to believe they don’t know how to treat road rash and a broken collarbone?
So now Lea is in a bind. The prescription of Percocet as a sleeping pill potentially violates federal law because it’s not a legitimate medical purpose. Nor does the prophylactic prescription fly because doctors don’t give you drugs for “potential” injuries, and because the places he claimed he wouldn’t have access to treatment provide world class, first world healthcare.
These things all point to a person who doped, which means that in the Bicycling interview he does what habitual liars do: He changes his story. The Percocet was now primarily in case he crashed, but also for those transatlantic flights. But this doesn’t help the aforementioned problems–Percocet still isn’t indicated for sleeping–and it creates another: If he only uses it “on occasion to sleep on those transatlantic flights,” why is he popping it the night before a race in Carson, California?
Answer: It’s less likely that he popped it the night before a race in Carson so he could sleep, and likelier that he popped it a couple of hours before the race for its performance enhancing effects, as cyclists have been doing with narcotics for more than a hundred years.
Interviewer: You wrote that the night you took it you didn’t do what you’ve done so many times before: check to see if a medication is on the banned list. I’m sure you’ve run the scenario again a million times. Why didn’t you?
Lea: You’re right, I’ve thought about that so many times. There’s a couple of things [pause]. Although I can’t recall in my memory typing in the drug to check it, I really, really have trouble believing that I never would’ve done that. So I have to, although I can’t remember doing it, I have to believe that I had done that because I just don’t think that I would’ve been so careless taking a real-deal drug like that so recklessly. The second part is that the way I’d seen it used, from people that I trust, there were no red flags to me. There was nothing I’d seen that was showing me that using it in the manner that I did was problematic [from a doping standpoint]. It’s a commonly used painkiller in cycling, especially for crashes. I know people have used it as a sleep aid on flights. To me, the thought of using it to ride a bike faster is ludicrous, it helps to sleep, so that part never really crossed my mind.
CitSB: Now Bobby has had a few hours to reflect on the absurdity of his initial claim that an experienced pro would have never checked to see if the prescription narcotics that he had been taking on long flights since 2014 was on the WADA list of prohibited substances. Keep in mind this is a guy who’s taking Percocet in order to sleep en route to competing in bike races where he will be tested for banned drugs. And on none of those occasions it occurred to him to check the drug’s status?
It’s not remotely credible, especially when bookended by his admission that he’s checked other prescriptions hundreds of times, and especially when the prescription was from 2014, and especially since he admits that he uses it occasionally. So he does what liars do: He changes the story.
In the Bicycling interview he now claims that even though he doesn’t remember checking, he must have checked. He never would have not checked. But compare that with the certitude of his apology letter, which must have been proofed by his agent, his lawyer, and of course numerous times by Bobby himself: “Because it was late at night, and I was trying to sleep, I failed to check my prescribed medication against the prohibited list … ” There’s no gray area: He knows he didn’t check, and there’s nothing to indicate that he had checked before and learned it was banned.
Unfortunately, the new tale concocted for Bicycling’s gullible readers, that he must have checked he just doesn’t remember doing it, creates more problems. And here’s the biggie: If he did check in the past and forgot about having checked, why did he still take the Percocet? If the answer you’re expecting is, “I forgot Percocet was banned in competition,” you’ll be disappointed.
He never says this in the interview; rather, he leaves that to the reader to infer. Why?
Because once he admits that he checked, and then admits that he saw it was banned but took it anyway, he’s got an intentional cheating violation and a four-year ban. It’s sad to see the way he fumbles his way into the non-explanation. After claiming to have checked “I have to believe that I had done that,” he wanders off into a non-sequitur that wouldn’t even be believable in church: “There was nothing I’d seen that was showing me that using it in the manner that I did was problematic [from a doping standpoint]. It’s a commonly used painkiller in cycling, especially for crashes. I know people have used it as a sleep aid on flights.”
The issue of course isn’t whether he’s seen other people doping, or whether he thinks it’s problematic, or whether it’s commonly used for crashes (it’s not), or whether he knows a cousin who knows an aunt who has a friend who uses it to sleep on flights.
The issue is whether he checked–he now claims he did–and why, after checking and seeing that it’s banned, he intentionally ingested it before a big race. At some point you wonder why his agent, who was listening on the phone, didn’t jump in and tell him to shut up, because he then adds the worst thing of all: “To me, the thought of using it to ride a bike faster is ludicrous, it helps to sleep, so that part never really crossed my mind.”
Of all the lies, this is the one that can be fact checked with laser precision: Percocet does help you ride a bike faster and that is not ludicrous, it is a physiological, medical fact tied to the drug’s ability to deaden pain. What’s ludicrous is that a 2-time Olympian either didn’t know that his prescription narcotics were banned (Gambit #1), or that he knew they were banned but didn’t know they were performance enhancing (Gambit #2).
And then, to continue in this nitpicky vein, doesn’t this line jump out at you in all caps? “IT’S A COMMONLY USED PAINKILLER IN CYCLING … ” Well shit, Bobby, yes, it is, and that is exactly what you’re being busted for since even you don’t claim to have flown a transatlantic flight from your girlfriend’s place in Santa Monica to the Carson velodrome just down the 405.
So if you’re USADA, what do you believe? That Percocet, which is not a sleeping pill, is used for sleeping, or that Percocet, which reduces pain and enhances performance, is used by an elite athlete before a big race to reduce pain and enhance performance? (Oh, minor detail: He won the race. Lucky fellow.)
The rest of the interview is unremarkable as it continues in this vein of not-even-barely-credible excusifying, with one exception. In his apology letter he says he supports clean sport, then in the interview gives a long explanation about why he has chosen to fight his case all the way to CAS. It would have been interesting to hear the Bicycling fan-with-a-typewriter ask Bobby how it is that a U.S. track racer can fund the $500/hour legal fees for his appeal, but hey, journalism requires, you know, work.
It would have also been nice to see someone call this clown out simply because his appeal will cost USADA a ton of money, money that they now get to spend chasing a doper instead of funding additional tests at additional races to keep dopers like him on the back foot.
I guess with supporters of clean sport like Bobby Lea, who needs enemies?
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