Scott Mercier: The 'anti-Lance Armstrong' is still cycling's outsider

Freelance journalist Simon Austin has written for a number of British national newspapers and the New York Times, and also works as a TV producer for the BBC and ITV. The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

(CNN)As cycling struggles to forge a bright, drug-free future, you might expect to find Scott Mercier at its vanguard.

After all, the 47-year-old was one of the few riders who refused to dope during the EPO-fueled days of the nineties and noughties.
Instead, he turned down the offer of a new contract with the U.S. Postal team and left the sport he loved altogether, turning to a life of quiet anonymity.
That gives Mercier genuine integrity and credibility when talking about doping, its consequences and how cyclists can choose the right path.
    But Mercier says he has been met with a wall of silence since offering his service to the governing body of the sport in his home country.
    He says he spoke to Bob Stapleton, the chairman of the board of USA Cycling, about a potential role last year.
    And since then? Nothing.
    "We met at the USAPro Challenge last year in Aspen, Colorado, just after Bob had been named chairman," explains Mercier.
    "We talked about the future of the sport and discussed whether there could be a role for me in the governance of USA Cycling.
    "I expressed an interest and Bob said he thought I would be a good board member -- although a potentially controversial one.
    "I didn't ask why and to be honest I still don't know.
    "Bob told me he had a board meeting the following week in Colorado Springs and that he would get back in touch after that.
    "I haven't heard from him since. I have emailed him four times but no reply. It's all a little bit bizarre."
    A stencil graffiti depicting cyclist Lance Armstrong in a yellow jersey, the traditional garb of the seven-time Tour De France winner, attached to an IV drip is pictured on the side of a building on January 23, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Armstrong recently admitted to using performance enhancing drugs after being found guilty by the United States Anti-Doping Agency and stripped of his titles.
    CNN has contacted Stapleton several times for a response over the last few weeks -- via email, text and phone, leaving several voicemails -- but without success.
    Having already become an outsider once because of his refusal to dope, Mercier feels the same thing is happening all over again.
    "Look, I don't believe I'm automatically entitled to a role, of course I don't," he says.
    "But it's good business practice is to at least let someone know why are not wanted, why they are going in a different direction.
    "Especially when we met and talked about it. It's not like this is coming out of left field.
    "There has been so much omerta in the sport and this just seems like a continuation of that, with the head of USA Cycling.
    "Maybe I make them uncomfortable, I don't know. If you were a doper and now say, 'There were no other options, everyone was doing it,' it blows the whole thing up if there's a guy who was there and took a different path."
    Mercier certainly feels he could offer a valuable perspective.
    "You hear Jonathan Vaughters (former U.S. Postal rider who admitted doping and is now manager of the Cannondale-Garmin team) saying he needs to be involved because he knows the dangers of doping.
    "And perhaps he's right. But the guy who has done things differently can also teach people there is a different way, even if he's not as well known."
    Lance Armstrong was recently asked by BBC Sport why he could not have followed the same path as Mercier and replied: "There was no field waiting for Scott Mercier, no factory: Wall Street was waiting."
    While that might have been a convenient answer, the reality was rather different for Mercier, who went to work as an assistant manager in his father's restaurant in Hawaii.
    "When I left cycling I didn't have any options," he remembers.
    "We spent two years in Hawaii and it was just miserable for us, even though it's a beautiful place.
    "We were broke, we had a baby, we both had health problems and we were fighting."
    And to make things even worse, he had to watch his former teammates being heralded for their incredible success -- which he knew was being achieved using performance-enhancing drugs.
    After all, he says he himself had been given a training program and a bag of steroids by U.S. Postal team doctor Pedro Celaya, prompting his eventual decision to quit.
    "Everyone was glorifying them, saying how great they were, and I knew they were lying through their teeth," Mercier says.
    "I thought, 'You sons of bitches.' It made me sick. I would just get so depressed and angry.
    "It wasn't so much the doping as the lying.
    "And I knew that their bonuses alone were two to three times what I was earning in an entire year."
    It was not a stretch to believe he could have been one of them if he had been willing to dope as well.
    Mercier won the Tour of South Africa in 1996, a year before he retired, and had been level pegging with most of the riders on the now all-conquering team.
    "Of course Lance was the star and one of a kind," says Mercier.
    "Would I have won the Tour? Of course you can't say that. But I would have been competitive.
    "Tyler (Hamilton) won Olympic gold, George (Hincapie) won a mountain stage of the Tour de France, Bobby (Julich) won Paris-Nice and got third in the Tour.
    "It was difficult for me to watch them have all this success and not to think, 'That could have been me.' "
    As time went by, Mercier gradually rebuilt his life and the anger subsided.
    With his young family, he moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, where he remains today.
    He became a financial adviser and the world of professional cycling ebbed away into a distant memory.
    That was until 2012, when he received a text message out of the blue from the crusading head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
    Using sworn rider testimonies, Travis Tygart had laid bare the systematic doping in the U.S. Postal team during the Armstrong years.
    One name he had never heard before kept cropping up during these rider interviews -- that of Mercier, the one who had not doped.
    "When I got that text from Travis, I thought it was a joke, someone pulling my leg," he remembers.
    Mercier was suddenly thrown back into the world of pro cycling and was interviewed by Cycling's Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) last year.
    He welcomed the inclusion of two recommendations he had argued for in particular -- an independent whistleblower line, and collective responsibility in the teams -- when the report was published at the start of March.
    Mercier has also become a close personal friend of Armstrong's, jokingly describing them as "Lance and the anti-Lance".
    They go on long rides together near their homes in Colorado, discussing memories of the sport and where it should head in future.
    Mercier says he managed to get Tygart and Armstrong together face-to-face for a secret meeting in Denver earlier this month, although he refuses to provide more details.
    He does say, however, that meeting could potentially lead to Armstrong giving crucial new information to USADA and having his lifetime ban from elite sport reduced.
    Mercier reflects on his rollercoaster relationship with the sport of cycling.
    "I'm far better off having been involved in cycling than not," he says."I absolutely love this sport and still think it's been good to me.
    "And I would love to be involved in helping take it forward, in whatever way I can. "If they don't want me, fine. But I at least think I deserve a response."