Friday, June 19, 2009


Drug use in cycling is a frequent, if unpleasant, topic here at BKW. It is a cancer that has the potential to destroy the top echelon of cycling and take with it hallowed events that we await each year with the anticipation of a child looking forward to Christmas.

In the fifth season of the A&E series “Intervention” the producers profiled a former cyclist addicted to crack. Some of you may have seen episode 64 on Chad Gerlach, the one-time U.S. Postal Service rider who was booted from the team after clashing with team management.

Gerlach was crushed by his turn in fortune. Though he signed with other teams, he turned to crack and eventually stopped racing fell into a life on the street.

The once promising pro’s problem wasn’t one of performance enhancing drugs, and so it may seem his story isn’t relevant to our typical coverage of drugs in cycling. However, his story is significant in that it shines a bright light on how so many people see all drug use through the same lens; it’s all illicit to a large swath of America.

Gerlach’s family persevered in their love for him and belief in his abilities, which led to the intervention and resulted in his rehabilitation at a facility in Florida.

To the casual viewer, the dream of returning to the pro peloton could easily have seemed unrealistic, a goal so unattainable as to be a setup for relapse. Yet that promise drove Gerlach. After his release he began training again and—incredibly—returned to the pro peloton this season, riding for Lifetime Fitness.

Gerlach just gold-plated his comeback by winning the opening stage of the Tour de Nez. Four laps into the criterium Gerlach broke away with Jonathan Baker and lapped the field. At the finish, Gerlach easily outsprinted Baker to take his first pro win in more than ten years.

The philosopher in me sees simple confirmation in the power of the love of friends and family and what we can achieve when we believe in ourselves. The pragmatist in me sees a story as removed from reality as a romance novel, the very exception that proves the rule.

I know many cyclists who view the entire peloton, to a man, as almost certain dopers. They eye testing programs such as Rasmus Damsgaard’s with the wary distance reserved for used-car salesmen. They are non-plussed by David Millar’s fervor for racing clean and reason if he was lying then, then he is probably lying now.

Gerlach deserves his consideration in our thoughts for how someone can truly turn his life around. An about-face doesn’t have to mean a retreat. We shouldn’t need a lesson so stark in its drama to teach us, but we’ve been trained into suspicion by a mountain of lies. It doesn’t mean we should never believe.

In defying the odds not once, but twice, first by getting clean and then by sprinting for the V., Gerlach ditched the naysayers. We can be suspicious all we want, but what he has in his heart today even the best of us can envy.

Episode 64 of Intervention is available on iTunes.

Image courtesy Lifetime Fitness.


kreger said...

thats great, 'lapped the field'

friend of mine would say he put some sauce on top of it

Da Robot said...

I think the type of person who makes the pro peloton is prone to extremes. That these people do dope (performance enhancing or otherwise) doesn't shock me one bit. Not does their ability to rise above their problems. It takes a steel trap of a brain and crazy penchant (and enjoyment) for suffering to be a pro.

Our mistake is, often, assuming we understand them.

mindtron said...

I work with Nature Valley Grand Prix in MN and was amazed at Chad's tenacity and drive to win.

He worked himself into a number of key breakaways, was very close to a win in Mankato, and took the king of the hills jersey easily.

it was great to see the positive feelings that he elicited from the crowd and the announcers the entire week

Padraig said...

Yeah, Matt; I loved that--lapped the field. Shouldn't they double the prize money for that?

Da Robot: Bingo.

Mindtron: You and everyone who work on Nature Valley deserve a big round of applause. It's a great event that ought to be a model for more out there.

You know, here's a challenge to some race promoter out there: Double the prize list for anyone who laps the field in the Pro/1/2 race. That would make things interesting. Just be sure to call the Lifetime Fitness team if you do it.

superfred said...

Great to hear about Chad Gerlach. Hope that Boonen is getting some good support from people who care about him, and not his fame or earning potential. Lots of sucker fish are involved in drug abuse, and they are more than happy to keep wounds festering for their benefit. All the best to those fighting to stay above their fray

Unknown said...

Chad almost did the same thing here in Virginia at the AirForce Clarendon Cup (used to be the CSC Invitational) - took off within the first few laps, and ALMOST lapped the field. Ended up with a high placing nonetheless I believe. An amazing display of guts and grit! Good for him.

Watts said...

I watched the Intervention episode and am still stunned he's even back to riding his bike competitively let alone on a pro team. Even past that, riding at the sharp end of the races.

Given the damage his body must have sustained, his gene pool is truly something special. Put me in the front row of the cheering section please!

WheelDancer said...

It's inspiring stories like Chad's that keep my faith in the human race. If you follow the etymology of 'the exception proves the rule' you find that when this phrase was first introduced into the lexicon, prove meant test. As such, Chad has challenged the assumption that one can't return from the depths to which he had fallen. While I have never fallen to such depths, I have had some pretty dark periods in my life and am grateful for the footholds folks like Chad have provided.

Thanks for the update on his story!

Unknown said...


It is amazing the crack smoke did not damage his lungs. Or, maybe his lungs were beyond normal mortals.

velo_dk said...

Chad was not booted from USPS because he clashed with Lance. He rode for USPS in 1996 for one season. Lance did not join the team until 1998. Chad was booted because he had (had?) an attitude problem and would sit in hotel bars before Euro races smoking. His talent was undeniable but he is not an easy person to get along with. The Lance-Chad clash happened way back in 90 or so, when they were on the junior national team. It probably arose from typical Chad taunting.

I've raced with Chad since we were juniors. When I saw that Intervention show, it was like Chad's charming, bad-boy personality hadn't changed one bit. He and Lance are similar in a lot of ways. Both are not what you'd call nice guys, they're not "gentleman of the peloton."

And as far as Chad, not doping for races, I think that's completely open to debate.

BTW, I'm not, nor have I ever been, jealous of Chad. I always knew he was a better racer than I ... I just didn't really appreciate his attitude (tho there were/are far worse out there) or the way he seemed to take his talent for granted. I'd heard a few years ago that he was homeless (already knew he was using in the early 2000's), which made me really sad. I hope he's able to keep it together this time and I also hoped that he's been humbled by his experience a little bit and has grown up some.

Padraig said...

Velo_dk: I realized this morning that I had merged bits of his story in my memory. I was, admittedly, shooting from the hip a bit when I wrote the post, and yes, his clash with Lance came during his U.S. National Team days. I'll correct that portion of the post.

velo_dk said...

Padraig - you know, when he was on USPS seems to be a commonly made mistake in a lot of the media. perhaps because it heightens the drama of his story. excellent post, in every other way. just wanted to add my $.02 about Chad.

I think the personality similarities between Chad and Lance are striking. Lance was "guided" extensively during his junior days; it's not hard to see that he might have ended up like Chad if he hadn't had that attention.

The rumor, FWIW, was that at a junior nat'l team camp, Chad called Lance fat/dough-boy and they brawled.

Last: great site. Always enjoy reading something that's like nothing on the web. I really enjoy your bike shop bios, too.

Unknown said...

I was at the pro race in Reno (with my kids 2,4, 9)as we were walking along the barricades near turn 1 right after the race ended I heard a loud "fuck yeah!" That was Chad, it gives me chills to think about what he accomplished there!

p.s. I don't think the kids heard you had to be focused ont hhe races

johnism said...

pretty amazing when you see how jacked he was ..

those are in order

johnism said...

I forgo the most important comment at all ...
Congrats Chad on staying clean and welcome back .