January 22, 2013

Saul Raisin: Armstrong revelations ‘depressing’

By Devin Golden

— One of the reasons Saul Raisin got into competitive cycling was because of Lance Armstrong. Now the Dalton native believes the famous cyclist’s image may be beyond repair.

Raisin, a former professional cyclist, said watching Armstrong’s televised interview last week with Oprah Winfrey was “depressing” for him as a competitor and the sport as a whole. In the two-part interview, Armstrong admitted using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in each of his seven Tour de France victories.

As the first part of Armstrong’s interview aired Thursday, Raisin went to Twitter. He first tweeted to Oprah’s profile, “I never used performance enhancing drugs during my professional cycling career!!” Around 30 minutes later, he tweeted, “I am turning it off and going to bed. Good night everyone, it’s (too) depressing ... :-(”

His views had not changed by the next day, when he spoke to The Daily Citizen in a phone interview.

“I raced my whole career clean. I never used drugs or anything. I was a natural cyclist,” Raisin said. “It’s depressing because I tried as hard as I could.”

Raisin’s career took a few winding turns, similar to Armstrong’s battle with and recovery from testicular cancer. Raisin overcame life-threatening injuries, including a serious brain injury, suffered during a crash in the first stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe race in France in April 2006. He endured a coma and, after returning home, a long recovery that ended without a return to pro cycling.

Raisin began putting his efforts toward helping victims of brain injuries and their families. In 2007, he started hosting the annual Raisin Hope Foundation Ride to raise money toward combating brain injuries. During the past five years, the Raisin Hope Foundation has raised more than $250,000 toward helping others with injuries similar to those suffered by Raisin, according to the foundation’s website (http://raisinhope.ning.com).

Armstrong was an icon to many cyclists, including Raisin, who was 23 at the time of his life-threatening crash.

“When I was a kid, he inspired me. He’s probably one reason why I got into the sport,” Raisin said. “I think about when I was a kid watching him in his first Tour. I was 18 and thought ‘Wow.’ I was star struck.”

But as Armstrong’s career progressed and PEDs became seemingly a part of many sports following the turn of the century, Raisin began to wonder.

“I was like the majority of Americans, and the majority of cycling enthusiasts,” he said. “I kind of had my doubts. You wonder. Everyone wonders.”

Raisin competed against Armstrong in the 2004 Tour de Georgia and a handful of European races. He “only talked to him a few times,” but agrees with many people’s description of Armstrong’s personality as “cold.”

Raisin was a member of the French pro team Crédit Agricole. He says he was never directly exposed to PEDs but became suspicious of other racers.

“You would race against guys who were far superior than everyone else,” he said. “Everyone was at an equal level, but occasionally you raced against someone who was at another level.

“That’s the only exposure. The reason I raced with (Crédit Agricole) was because they were clean. I never wanted to be pressured to do drugs. ... I would’ve never been on a team that had those superhuman talents.”

And that is something Raisin prides himself on — associating with the right people so he could stay true to his competitive morals.

“That’s like it is with everything,” he said. “If you surround yourself with drug dealers, you might not be one, but you become one. It’s all about who you surround yourself with.”

It’s tough now for Raisin to think highly of Armstrong’s accomplishments. In October, all seven of Armstrong’s Tour de France titles were stripped and the International Cycling Union banned him for life. This came days after the U.S.-Anti Doping Agency banned him. He also stepped down as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the cancer charity called “Livestrong” that he created in 1997.

“There’s no way. Seven, eight, nine years of cycling history,” Raisin said. “I mean, how could you repair that? I really don’t know how you could begin to repair that.”

Eventually, something else will happen and many people will quit sulking over the news, Raisin said, but some people may never forgive.

 “I think, just like everything else, it will blow over and people will forget about it,” he said. “To some degree. Some people, no. I know some people who have raised thousands of dollars for his organization, because they had testicular cancer and were inspired to ride bicycles. Those people may never get over it.”