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Candelario tried to convince DeCanio to move to nearby San Diego, where he was living. DeCanio refused. He began taking long rides at night, often recklessly soaring down Mulholland Drive without a helmet. He was broken-hearted and miserable. The prospect of hurting himself began to seem almost enticing, he says.
When Clinger told DeCanio that some U.S. Postal members doped, the less experienced rider resolved to try EPO. He wanted to ride with the world's best. "Until you go to Europe, you can't understand it," DeCanio says. "You see something like that, you want it so bad you would do anything. It's like a rock concert lights, people screaming it's like that. Million-dollar contracts, the most beautiful women in the world. You're more popular than Dwyane Wade."
Back in Los Angeles, Clinger obtained testosterone patches and vials of EPO from a local doctor, claims DeCanio. The pair decided to use the drugs in preparation for the May 2003 Housatonic Valley Classic, a race in Connecticut. The testosterone would be out of their system within nine days, DeCanio knew, but the muscle-building effects would remain.
The two riders gave each other EPO injections, though they had no idea how to do it properly, DeCanio says. ("And David was stingy with it," he adds.) DeCanio is pretty sure he didn't take enough to make a difference physically. Mentally, however, he felt awful. He had become everything he once reviled.
Clinger won the race. "I can't say enough about what my team did today," Clinger told Cyclingnews.com. "Matt DeCanio rode at the front for about 40 or 50 miles." DeCanio says he started drinking before the race even began. After fulfilling his duties as a teammate, he quit without finishing.
His depression only worsened. The 2003 racing season was a failure. That fall, he started Stolenunderground.com, initially as the Website for a cycling clothing line he wanted to launch.
It quickly became a place to let out his emotions. He vented his frustrations on the site, naming cyclists he says he had seen dope themselves, and posting rumors passed on to him by others. He published allegations about ten to fifteen cyclists he now will describe only as "name-brand." The men in question were furious with him and responded with angry threats.
Attempts to speak with three of them were unsuccessful. All preferred not to afford their accuser any further acknowledgment.
DeCanio is ambivalent about what he did. On one hand, he says those he once accused now decline comment because they fear further publicity on the Website. But he admits he made mistakes, and alleges he stopped tattling a couple of years ago. "It was really bad to just say that about people," he says. "That was probably the worst thing I did. I'm not proud of that."
Then he did the unthinkable. In June 2004, DeCanio contributed an article titled "How to Deal with the Problem of Doping" to Racelistings.com. In his trademark error-laden prose, he wrote about his experiences in Europe and admitted to drug use. According to Velonews.com, he was the first U.S. rider to make such an admission without being caught first.
DeCanio says he wrote the story on impulse. Only when he awoke the next morning did the consequences of his confession sink in. "It was like Jerry Maguire," he cringes. He knew he would not only lose his sponsorship, but also his career as he knew it would end. Within days he received hundreds of e-mails from all over the world. While many were supportive, others were quick to label him a hypocrite. The admission shocked team members, especially Candelario. "For me it was a big disappointment," he says. "It was tough to accept."
DeCanio returned to Charlottesville. Gilliam, the rider from DeCanio's first team, was working in town as a carpenter that summer. "It was clear that this very principled person that I had known when he was fourteen and fifteen was very upset about what was going on, about the larger state of something he loved," he remembers. Gilliam watched the French animated film The Triplets of Belleville around the same time. The story of gangsters giving a morose pro cyclist blood transfusions to use him for profit was only too timely. "Everything all sort of flowed together," Gilliam says. "I think Americans have a naive view of sports in general and what it takes to win. It's a situation where everybody knows it's going on, but if you get caught, you're the Devil."
Normally USA Cycling the governing body for the sport forces those caught using drugs or doping to sit out for two years, forfeit their winnings, and pay a large fine. Since DeCanio made no pretense of returning to the sport, the organization let his admission slide at first.
DeCanio joined his girlfriend Heather in Miami, but then in November he accepted an offer to return for the 2005 season and race on the Ofoto/Sierra Nevada pro team. His detractors lobbied USA Cycling for punishment, claiming that an admitted drug user could not return without some form of reprimand. In response, the regulatory body sanctioned him for a year and a half.