This opinion piece was started before USADA released its Reasoned Decision regarding Lance Armstrong. Much of it still holds true, and the Reasoned Decision did nothing to change my opinion of Lance or lesson my disgust at his actions. If anything, the Reasoned Decision enforced my opinion and provided greater insight into exactly the type of person he is. Now, on to my musings.
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I didn’t want to have to write this. It kills me. I write this as a fan of the sport. Not as a participant (I am not). I write this as a guy who has a bike, but one who doesn’t ride it. I write this as a person who has watched cycling from 1999 on only. I write this as a father of three kids, three kids that I’ve tried to teach for their entire life that there is a moral way to do everything. I write this as a husband who’s wife thinks he’s crazy for loving a sport he’s never participated in, but she understands that every July I will be busy for roughly a month and she still stays married to me. Last but not least I write this as myself, not the glib, smart-assed, silly bone-idle wanking cunts of personality I’ve created on Twitter. Frandy plays into this, but Frandy isn’t writing this. I am, and it pains me greatly.
In 1999 something about the Lance Armstrong story caught my attention. I’ve never suffered from cancer myself and I’ve been fortunate that it has, for the most part, faintly brushed passed my family and friends. I’d never watched cycling prior to 1999. Never had an interest in the lycra-clad pansies I passed on the road as they took up space in my lane. Never gave them a thought other than to wonder why anyone would do that for fun or to consider honking and telling them “Get off my road.” Yet still, something about the return of Lance Armstrong grabbed my attention. I don’t know what it was exactly, I don’t remember a specific thing that sucked me in. Remember cycling in that time in the US was relegated to minimal TV time and generally rarely mentioned on Sports Center.
I watched the 1999 Tour in parts and pieces. It didn’t immediately become the all-encompassing obsession that it has now. It was the only cycling I watched for a year until it was back on in 2000 and so was Lance. I cheered for you Lance, and I bought your books. Every thing you did was fucking amazing. You had cancer? You sure as hell couldn’t tell from the way you mashed the pedals in 1999, high cadence and all. You were missing a nut? Sure, tell that to Jan Ulrich after you gave him “The Look” in 2001. You spent months in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy and were so weak it was hard to stand?
In 2003 you bunny-hopped into a god-damn field, cross-countried it, unclipped, scrambled down a bank, got back on your bike and rode off like nothing happened. You almost died? Sure didn’t look like it when a musette bag caught your handlebar and threw you on the ground, and then your chain slipped again. What did you do after catching the leading group that day? You pounded every rider into submission and stomped on your pedals like the angriest motherfucker in the world. Lance you were a bad, bad man. I loved every fucking second of it. I wanted you to destroy, crush them, leave them a whimpering puddle of lycra clad men begging for mercy. Then you retired. You went out on top. You went out as The Patron. You went out as GOD ON A FUCKING BIKE!
I thought 2006 was going to suck for American cycling fans. Who to cheer for? George…? He was the nicest man in the peloton and the best domestique to ever serve you, but he couldn’t win the Tour. Levi…? He wasn’t as good as you and his team wasn’t ready. Horner…? Who? Julich…? Too old. Fast Freddy…? He’s a sprinter. Zabriskie…? Are you sure he’s American? Vande Velde…? Does he have the drive? Floyd Landis…? Kinda quiet, does he talk?
Thank god for Floyd, he was going to try and keep the Maillot Jaune on an American’s back. He was riding so well through fifteen stages. Then disaster. I was dumbstruck watching him go backwards on Stage 16. Not just fading backwards, he was taking an express train to loserville. This had never happened in my lexicon of cycling, not to the leader. Oh My God, he’s lost the Tour! What the hell happened? He can’t win now… wait. What? Floyd is doing what on Stage 17? His team is driving the peloton, hard! They are dropping riders like they are standing still. He is burying his team to try and win. Is he going to… HOLY SHIT! He is going to solo this thing to the very end. He didn’t outright win the Tour on this stage, but Phil and Paul assured me that he was a better time-trialist than the other guys, and they were right. He clobbered them all on the ITT and won the 2006 TdF. Except in the back of my head something wasn’t right. I’d watched eight Tours de France now and I was an expert. I loved it that Floyd won, but it seemed super human – and it was.
This was the moment I started doubting. At first I only doubted Floyd. I bought his book, I donated money to the FFF, even while I doubted him. I wanted to believe him. He was so earnest in his denials, despite the crazy “Jack Daniels defense” he came up with. After reading his book, I started going to the online forums. That was the end of the innocence for me.
In eight short years I’d gone from wide-eyed cycling neophyte – not knowing how an echelon worked (thank you Phil Liggett for the unending explanation of this term) or understanding how a team time trial worked – to someone studying blood values, reviewing technical data with regard to the reduction of drugs in the human body over time, and reviewing court transcripts. I dropped myself into the middle of an ongoing war between the true believers vs. the cynics and skeptics. The Lance Fanboys vs. The Cancer Lovers. The knowledgeable and the morons of both sides. Most of what I did in the forums was read. Then I’d Google search based on what I read. I re-read Floyd’s book. I re-read Lance’s books. I started off in the hopes of looking for vindication for Floyd. It didn’t come. Instead I found guilt. Then the trial. Then the admission years later. Then I read some more. Except now it was about Lance.
I read about Matt Decanio. I read about Joe Papp. I read about Frankie Andreu (whom I’d once sent a nasty email to Versus about). I read about Mike Anderson, Stephanie McIlvaine, Greg LeMond, Emma O’Reilly, Betsy Andreu, Jonathan Vaughters, Filippo Simeoni, Christophe Bassons, Paul Kimmage, David Walsh, Richard Pound, Tyler Hamilton and more. I read about Trek, Oakley, LiveStrong, LAF, Phil Liggett, Chris Carmichael, Johan Bruyneel, Hein Verbruggen, Pat McQuaid, CSE, Thom Weisel, USA Cycling, UCI, WADA, Jim Ochowicz, Bill Stapleton, Michael Ball, Tailwind, Bart Knaggs, Steve Johnson, Amgen, Demand Media and on and on.
By now I’d given up on the forums as a waste of time. There was nothing but sniping it seemed, despite the fact that some of the people I named above actually participated in the “discussions” in the forums. Overall the forums had degenerated into a small group of people constantly bashing each other, tempting fate with forum admins, making personal attacks. The forums were useless for anything other than search terms.
All of this researching and reading was leading me in one inexorable direction. Not that Lance was a drug cheat. No, the conclusion was that Lance Armstrong is an asshole. I say this despite never having met the man. At one time it would have made my year to meet him and introduce my family to him. Not any longer. I didn’t want my kids or my wife any where around Lance. Ever.
Let me explain how I got here.
Yes, Lance has done great things for people suffering from cancer and those with loved ones suffering from cancer. Do I think he does this because it is the right thing to do or because he is living up to some inner moral compass? No. Since 1994 when Lance was getting his ass handed to him in his second Tour, he has done little that wasn’t clearly thought out to provide the outcome that was best for #1, best for Lance. This was intensified after his doctors saved his life and he got back on his bike in 1998. After winning his first Tour in 1999 things went crazy. Lance was no longer a cyclist, Lance was a brand.
I understand that many champions are not the nicest people in the world. Many are so intense, most people cannot stand to be around them. There have been stories about many champions of sport decrying their character flaws. Ty Cobb was a racist and tried to injure other players, Michael Jordan was known to belittle his teammates as well as opponents, Tiger Woods seems to have had a problem keeping his pants zipped despite being married to a lovely woman, and has quite the temper to boot. Yet all three of those athletes were among the very best in their respective sport, and did many philanthropic things to help people. Does this make any of them better people? No. They are still jerks, and no amount of do-gooding will remove that fact. Is it a big deal that Lance started LAF that became LiveStrong? Yes. Does it absolve him of being an asshole? No.
There are so many documented instances of Lance’s treatment of others that I could write a book. I’ll look at three specific things that struck me for various reasons.
1. The Jonathan Vaughters incident – Stage 14 of the 2001 Tour de France. Jonathan Vaughters gets stung by a wasp, to which he had a severe allergic reaction. Vaughters’ cycling team, Credit Agricole, had a strict no-drug policy. Normal treatment for a wasp sting was a cortisone shot, but cortisone is a banned substance in cycling and a shot would have made him test positive. The next morning, Vaughters with his head swollen to the point he could hardly get his helmet on, moved past Lance at the start of stage 15. Lance’s comment in front of his peers as Vaughters went by? “Poor Jonathan and his stupid little French team,” he spat. “What the fuck are you like? If you had stayed with me, this would have been taken care of, but now you are not going to finish the Tour de France because of a wasp sting.” Why the hostility? Jonathan had left Lance’s 1999 US Postal team. Speculation, which has been bolstered by Vaughters himself lately, was that JV left the team because of the doping and wanting a saner place to work.
2. The Alberto Contador debacle – Alberto Contador was riding the 2009 TdF on Team Astana with Lance Armstrong. On a hilly stage while ascending Ventoux, Ian Gutierrez, a Spanish rider on another team, offered fellow Spaniard and friend Contador a water bottle. “I offered him my water bottle because I saw that he didn’t have any and I am his friend,” said Gutierrez when asked about the incident. Lance saw Ian offering the bottle to Contador and rode between them and took the bottle. After drinking most of the water in the bottle, he offered the now empty bottle to Contador who wouldn’t take it. Contador was leading the race at this point. This was not the only time Lance acted like an asshole to his own teammate at this TdF. He arranged for Alberto to not have a ride down the mountain after climbing it, he’d used all the team cars to transport family and friends despite Alberto being the race leader. Lance also used all the team cars to transport family and friends to the start of a time trial, leaving Alberto to find his own way to the start line from the hotel. The final snub (but not the only other one) by Lance was his refusal to attend the celebratory team dinner after Contador locked up the overall win on this same stage.
3. Lance Armstrong collision with spectator stage 16 Tour de France – This is actually the title of the YouTube video. The title isn’t accurate. The title should read, “Lance assaults unsuspecting man after losing stage 16.” In this video you see Lance riding his bike in the scrum at the end of a stage. There are people everywhere. Some guy is basically chasing after Lance attempting to get a photo of him. Lance has a handler that is trying to steer him to the team bus. He weaves between some people and gets redirected towards the bus by his handler. As he approaches the BMC team bus he has to pass between some road markers and a temporary fence. You see a man in a white shirt heading in the same direction that Lance is traveling. The space does get tight here and Lance is close to running into one of the plastic movable road markers right as he gets next to the man in the white shirt. It’s how he acts next that is the most shocking. He clearly lowers his shoulder as he rides up even with the older guy walking and rams into him. The gentleman he hit couldn’t have had a clue that Lance was coming through that area, and Lance could have easily avoided him. It was a deliberate move. He knocked the guy into the fence. As it happens you can hear people exclaim as it happens. Lance stops, unclips and looks back at the guy, and clearly says something to him. To top off this little bit of asshattery, Lance yells at a photographer for following too closely as he approached the team bus.
So what does this mean? It shows that Lance is as I’ve described. He is an asshole. Those were three separate instances of this behavior. None of the people involved in these stories had made any claims about Lance and his use of performance enhancing drugs. They are spread out over a long period of time. These examples are indicative of what type of person he really is. There are many more examples of his vindictive personality out there, read through the Reasoned Decision to find them. Read Tyler Hamilton’s fine book, “The Secret Race,” to see how he was treated. Read through various journalists’ experiences as they attempted to write pieces that wouldn’t have been flattering to the Patron of the Peloton. These are examples of the type of person I don’t want my kids emulating or hero-worshipping. These are examples of a person I don’t want my kids subjected to dealing with. This is not a kind-hearted man selflessly giving of himself for cancer research or awareness.
Ok, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about everything but doping. Specifically I haven’t talked about whether I think Lance used PED’s to win. Do I think he did? Yes. I think Lance used PED’s to win every TdF. All seven of them and any other wins he had from 1995 on. There are lots of reasons I believe this, most of them are covered in USADA’s exhaustive Reasoned Decision released 10/10/12. The proof there is overwhelming and damning.
Lance Armstrong not only used drugs (some of which may cause cancer) to win the TDF seven times, he directed others to do so. He fostered an environment in which not using drugs was grounds for dismissal from HIS team, and make no mistake, this was his team (he later became a part owner). If you didn’t follow Lance’s rules, you didn’t race with the best, and Lance’s rules included drug use. The direct quote from the Reasoned Decision is
The evidence is overwhelming that Lance Armstrong did not just use performance enhancing drugs, he supplied them to his teammates. He did not merely go alone to Dr. Michele Ferrari for doping advice, he expected that others would follow. It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced. He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and re-enforced it. Armstrong’s use of drugs was extensive, and the doping program on his team, designed in large part to benefit Armstrong, was massive and pervasive.”
Lance used drugs and required that drugs be used by his teammates in order to win at all costs. Drugs he knew could cause serious physiological damage to you. Drugs he knew could cause cancer. Drugs he knew could kill you. That’s right. Got that? Lets review it again. LANCE FOSTERED AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE HE EXPECTED AND DEMANDED TEAM MATES USE DRUGS THAT COULD NOT ONLY CAUSE PHYSIOLOGICAL DAMAGE, OR CAUSE CANCER, BUT DRUGS THAT COULD FUCKING KILL THEM, AND HE WAS THE PUSHER.
Don’t get me wrong, those teammates didn’t have to cross that line. They could have walked away from their dreams, the thing they had worked their entire lives for. They could have walked away and faded into obscurity like others. Walked away and watched while others used drugs to achieve greatness in the sport they loved with their entire heart and soul. Yeah, they could have walked away – just like I could walk away from my wife and kids. I could do it but I’d hate every fucking minute of it. Instead, they chose to cross the line. The line that was so blurred at this point that even the governing body of the sport knew the extent of the problem and choose not only to turn a blind eye, but encouraged the culture by playing favorites with Lance, and smashing anyone who crossed him.
I haven’t read the entire USADA report yet. Not sure I even want to. I know what it says. It says Lance defrauded us all – all the people he raced against and beat, all the fans, all the officials, all those who have dedicated their life to a silly, beautiful sport many people never understand. He cheated the believers and non-believers alike. He defrauded the U.S. Postal service and their investors, the federal government (this shoe has yet to drop on Lance, but it’s coming. Floyd has a nice Qui Tam suit lined up and USADA just gave him a huge fucking birthday gift). How about sponsors? Nike, Michelob, Trex, Oakley, Discovery Channel and more. How about companies he’s invested in? Honey Stinger, FRS, a gold mine in Africa, to name just a few. How about the young riders he’s still hurting today? He is part owner of LiveStrong Trek. What happens to those boys now that their owner has been shown to be a cheat and a liar and banned from the sport? Last but not least, how about those he lied to with LiveStrong? The millions of believers who bought his yellow wristbands for a dollar and listened to him tell them to believe like he does and fight like hell. What happens to them?
I won’t come down on the people who bought into the Lance myth. They were sold a lie.
I won’t come down on the people who work for LiveStrong, they were sold a lie and most of them are there for the right reason.
I won’t come down on those who refuse to acknowledge the truth that is evident and overwhelming, what good will it do? They need a hero and they’ve chosen Lance. Arguing with and baiting them will not change their minds if the evidence against him doesn’t.
I won’t come down on the cyclists who raced with or against Lance and are now stepping forward to acknowledge their complicit behavior in the culture they helped to thrive. Do I believe all of them came forward out of the goodness of their hearts to help change cycling? Not at all, but some of them have and I can’t tell who’s who at this point.
That about ends the list of people I won’t come down on. It’s a long list, to be sure, with millions of people on it. Did you notice the people not in this list? That would be a much shorter list of people.
People who I believe need to be held accountable are the following;
The UCI – The overseer of this sport needs to be fixed from top to bottom. Pat McQuaid and the previous President, Hein Verbruggen need to removed from the sport, WADA, and the IOC, and not allowed to be involved with cycling at all. They tacitly encouraged the level of doping that happened in cycling. By refusing to acknowledge the pervasiveness of doping and by making exceptions such as the 50% hematocrit level, they allowed doping to continue after Festina instead breaking the back of Omertà when they had the chance. Pat McQuaid is as much at fault here as Hein Verbruggen, despite not being the UCI President at the time. Pat is a Hein devotee and was hand-selected by the former President to succeed him at the post. He has refused to take responsibility for the actions of the UCI, instead wasting time worrying about sock height, seats being level, or lining his family’s and Hein’s pockets with sweetheart deals involving World Tour Races.
Sponsors – Nike, Oakley, Trek, Anheuser-Busch, Radio-Shack, Discovery, USPS, Giro, SRAM and more. You should all be ashamed to have your brand associated with this man. In fact, you should be demanding payments for the damage he is doing to your brands right now. He lied and cheated to win. His entire cycling career has turned out to be a fallacy and yet you still back him. He required others to cheat to be on his team. Yet your names are still listed as sponsors at LiveStrong – where he remains on the board of directors – as of today. Some of you knew he was a cheat (Oakley & Trek), and many of you suspected it (USPS & Discovery), yet you hitched your wagons to his money train and continue to try and profit from his lies.
It’s also coming to light now what many of us have already known. Sponsors put pressure on those people who spoke out or would have spoken out against Lance and threatened them. Examples of this are Trek letting Greg Lemond’s bike line die after Lance told Greg he would ruin him, Stephanie McIlvain lying under oath about knowing Lance took drugs and trying to coerce Tyler Hamilton into meeting with her, and now we have magazine editors admitting getting pressured from Nike to not publish unflattering stories about Lance or they would remove their advertising from the magazine. This is an extension of Lance the asshole combined with greed on the sponsor’s part. How would these sponsors have found out about these stories or of people talking about Lance? From Lance most likely.
Your brands should pay for this. In money. Donating to the American Cancer Society the amount you gained in profits from getting into bed with Lance would be a good start.
USA Cycling – Steve Johnson, Thomas Weisel, Chris Carmichael, Jim Ochowicz, Bill Stapleton, Steve Plant, Lisa Voight, Phil Milburn, John Tarbert, Dan Macleod, Gerard Bisceglia, Rene Wenzel and the “Champions Club” members. You should all be removed from ever having to do anything with cycling and many of you should be investigated for fraud and possible use of performance enhancing drugs yourselves (or for giving them to people without their consent, right Rene and Chris?). This group (for the most part) led by Thomas Weisel, has bought United States Cycling. Your buyout of United States Cycling Federation led to what took place in American Cycling. Virtually every famous American cyclist save Davis Phinney, Greg LeMond and Eric Heiden has now been implicated in a doping scandal. The only other ones so far to escape being named outright as dopers are guys who are known not to be part of the system, like Chris Horner, and he is still guilty by association with Lance via Discovery. Other than that, you have to be an American under that age of 25 to not be implicated in doping.
The Lance Insiders – This group is so huge I don’t think I could name everyone. John Burke (President of Trek), Chris Carmichael (Lance’s Trainer and Coach), Bryan Daly (former Federal Prosecutor hired as a defense attorney by Lance), Bart Knaggs (LiveStrong board member, Tailwind Corp. President), Kevin Livingston (former teammate, runs a training studio in the basement of Lance’s bicycle shop), John “College” Korioth (long-time friend and first employee of what would become LiveStrong, Jim “Och” Ochowicz (Lance’s first pro director, owner of BMC Racing Team (George Hincapie’s team), advisor to Phonak (Floyd Landis’ team), President of USA Cycling board of directors, employee of Thom Weisel Partners), Bill Stapleton (Lance’s agent, CMO of LiveStrong, Vice President of US Olympic Committee, helped write guidelines for USADA), Thom Weisel (co-founder of Montgomery Securities – invested in Amgen, founding sponsor of Tailwind Sports), etc.
Every single one of you named, and many more, should be removed from any connection with cycling in any form (coaching, sponsoring, administering, racing, etc). You all enabled Lance to cheat and to run his team the way he did. Many, if not most of you, knew he was cheating. Your place in cycling should be on the outside, never to be let back in.
There are more people to add to these lists. It could go on for pages and pages. In the end it doesn’t change the truth. Lance Armstrong is a cheat.
In the end I am left with only one overriding opinion about the man I thought was a hero at one point. He’s an asshole and liar and I wouldn’t associate with him or allow anyone in my family to do so either. Frandy should have stayed away from him also, but alas, they are tainted too.
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