Ryder Hesjedal's rise to the top of the Canadian cycling world took over a decade, but his admission Wednesday that he doped "more than 10 years ago" could bring him crashing down swiftly. The admission came in a statement Hesjedal released through his team, Garmin-Sharp, in response to accusations from suspended and retired Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen that he had taught Hesjedal and two other Canadians how to use EPO (a hormone that can boost red blood cell production) back in the 2003 season. Here's what Hesjedal had to say, via VeloNews:
“I have loved and lived this sport but more than a decade ago, I chose the wrong path,” Hesjedal said in a statement released by his current team, Garmin-Sharp. “And even though those mistakes happened more than 10 years ago, and they were short-lived, it does not change the fact that I made them and I have lived with that and been sorry for it ever since.
“To everyone in my life, inside and outside the sport — to those that have supported me and my dreams — including my friends, my family, the media, fans, my peers, sponsors — to riders who didn’t make the same choices as me all those years ago, I sincerely apologize for my part in the dark past of the sport. I will always be sorry.”
That admission could carry significant problems for Hesjedal. It's unlikely he'd be hit with a lifetime ban the way Lance Armstrong was last year, and he might not even face much punishment from international cycling bodies (for one thing, the only accusations against Hesjedal thus far and all he's admitted to are about violations more than eight years ago, which is the typical statute of limitations under anti-doping rules; however, the Armstrong case showed that those rules aren't always followed to the letter), but admitting to even limited doping may hurt him in the eyes of his sponsors, his team, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the public in general. There's a massive spotlight on Hesjedal now, and it's not a friendly one.
It will be interesting to see what happens next. If Hesjedal can make a compelling case that the events 10 years ago were the only time he broke the rules and that he should be given a second chance, this may alter some people's perceptions of him, but not much more. If he keeps quiet other than this prepared statement, though, he's going to face a lot of criticism; he could also definitely lose sponsors or be dropped by either his pro team or the Canadian national team. Things could get even worse for him if further doping violations come to light, as those might be within the statue of limitations where he could still face penalties from cycling's governing body. Regardless of what's to follow, though, this is certainly an admission that will hurt the popular perception of Hesjedal. He has a case as perhaps Canada's top cyclist ever, and he's certainly the only Canadian to win a Grand Tour, but his remarkable accomplishments may now be overshadowed by this information about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.