Defending the Throne

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When Lance Armstrong announced he was coming out of retirement in September of 2008, many presumed he would take up his career where he left off—winning the Tour de France.

Popular speculation was that Johan Bruyneel’s protege, Alberto Contador, by dint of his young age could conceivably rack up a longer streak of wins at the Tour de France than Armstrong. And if there’s anyone who hates to be beaten, it’s Mellow Johnny.

Some took a more cynical view. At the point of Armstrong’s retirement, Team Tailwinds, the company behind the US Postal and Discovery Channel Team was facing a fair amount of investigation related to doping. Dissolving the formation took the heat off all involved. And with the investigations into the various scandals sufficiently exhausted, Armstrong returned to the sport with a seemingly fresh start.

But 2009 wasn’t 2005. Armstrong was accustomed to being boss, getting his way—and was willing to use whatever tricks it took such as intimidation or outright firing to get his way. The peloton has more than a few riders who got crossed up with Armstrong and saw their careers suffer for it. Anyone remember Chad Gerlach?

But Alberto Contador didn’t step aside. With three Grand Tour victories under his belt, it’s not surprising. By any reasonable standard, Contador had come of age and was within his right to believe that Armstrong had had his time and should stay retired.

History is full of examples of wars in which one side fought by conventional means while the other battled back by guerilla tactics. It’s what the American colonists did during the Revolutionary War, what the Vietnamese did during the Vietnam War and what the insurgents are doing in Irag and Afghanistan. Guerilla tactics are the object lesson of the story of David and Goliath.

Armstrong always liked to portray himself as David in his matchups against Jan Ullrich, but with Alberto Contador, he was the proverbial Goliath: slow to adapt and inadequately defended. While Armstrong appreciated Contador’s physical strength, he underestimated the Spaniard’s force of will. Contador is certainly not the first rider to go rogue within a team in a bid to win the Tour, but he is arguably the rider who had to fight the hardest to do so and succeed.

Of course, Armstrong fans reacted to his third place with a “not bad” and waited for the 2010 Tour like a bunch of fanboys waiting for the next Spiderman film. The Lance would be back and he would whoop some ‘Murkin-style ass.

What he didn’t count on was that his return to the pro peloton would coincide with Floyd Landis’ snub by same. The crazy math going on inside of Landis’ brain believes light speed travel is totally doable and that the U.S. government was behind the fall of Troy. Most of us learned long ago not to mess with crazy. What Armstrong didn’t know was that Landis was at the breaking point. How could he? And while he didn’t go looking to lock horns with Landis, his return to the ProTour seems to have been read by Landis as insult to injury. It’s fair to wonder if Landis’ e-mail screed would have taken place if Big Tex was still banging one of the Olsen twins and surfing with Matthew McConaughey; after all, what else could have squarely placed a bullseye on Armstrong than his resumption of the very thing Landis wanted most and was being denied.

And while Landis may seem to be crazier than Amy Winehouse, bat-shit crazy doesn’t preclude what he says from being true.

Running high is media speculation that Armstrong’s crash-filled spring and summer is as a result of distracted riding. Conventional wisdom is that he’s so preoccupied with Landis’ allegations and defending himself that his mind just isn’t in the game. No matter what the cause, at this Tour de France, we seem to have seen an old Armstrong, not the old Armstrong.

The latest twist in this unfolding saga is Armstrong’s retention of Brian D. Daly as his defense attorney. Daly, a former federal prosecutor is an ideal choice for a vigorous defense. He is intimately familiar with the techniques and strategies used by prosecutors, and while that is certainly useful, the long list of ex-teammates who have been subpoenaed and are alleged to have agreed to cooperate with the investigation could be … well, let’s just say that throwing one very good attorney at this problem could be like trying to hold back flood waters with a stop sign.

Complicating matters is Greg LeMond, who seems eager to step from the wings. What LeMond can contribute to these proceedings beyond a he said/he said mudslinging with Armstrong is unknown at best and even somewhat doubtful at worst. But it is LeMond’s participation that has brought about what is one of the ugliest statements Armstrong has made.

He told France 2, “We will have the opportunity to tell the truth to the authorities, and Greg LeMond will tell the truth about 1989 I hope.”

So far as I can find, this is the closest Lance Armstrong has ever come to calling another rider out as a doper. For a guy who has been notoriously mum on the activities of other riders, even those convicted of doping, it seems oddly incongruous that he would suggest that LeMond has a hidden doping past.

The moment we choose to believe a rider is clean we make a leap of faith. However, unlike the irrational leap necessary to believe in God, the demise of Greg LeMond’s career coincides neatly with the rise of EPO.

LeMond’s attitude toward doping has always seemed so Boy Scout, in part because his career has been marked by betrayals perpetrated due to his naivete, that considering whether or not he doped smacks of thinking Pete Townshend took up guitar just to get chicks.

LeMond’s victory in the 1989 Tour de France was very likely the next-to-last Tour de France won by a clean athlete.

It’s ironic that the one cyclist Armstrong would seem to suggest doped is one who could easily be accepted as clean.

Stranger still is the fact that Armstrong’s comeback may ultimately do more to damage his legacy than strengthen it.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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    1. Author

      KG: No, doping wasn’t invented in the ’90s, but EPO was the drug that changed the game in the Grand Tours. It truly was a game changer and none of the drugs that went before had the power to change the outcome of a Grand Tour the way amphetamines could change the outcome of a one-day race. Also, don’t confuse my statement that ’89 was the next-to-last Tour won by a clean rider as meaning that all Tours prior to that were won by clean riders. One does not follow the other.

  1. Trev

    Maybe , in the same way that Floyd feels hopeless, and at the very end of any semblance of options that may bring about some catharsis for him….maybe Lance is feeling a little bit of that hopelessness, and has started to point the stinky finger himself. But at Greg? Why not Eddy then?

  2. pdx velo

    Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, so perhaps thats why LA has refrained from the doping discussion other than the normal BS “never failed a drug test” drivel that spews out of his mouth. The bigger they are the harder they fall.

  3. Chris

    Yep, doping/cheating has been happening for a very long time. I sincerely doubt Greg is any more innocent than Hinault, Merckx, Indurain, Rominger, Armstrong, Chiapucci, Hincapie, the entire Festina team, Ulrich, Riis, Landis, Hamilton, and the list goes on and on… Unfortunately I don’t much believe any of them never took performance enhancing drugs or did blood transfusions. I guess knowing that most were probably partaking in illegal actions doesn’t change that the best athlete still won most of the time since the others were likely juiced as well.

  4. SinglespeedJarv

    As for how his last Tour panned out, may be it was seven years of bad luck finally found out where he lived. It was about time something went wrong. Although his utter capitulation would suggest that either distraction or old age also had a say in the matter.

    Even the one time he had a chance at a stage win, for one so shrewd, his positioning and sprint were those of an amateur and I may be doing the amateur a disservice by that.

    Hopefully his comeback will destroy his legacy, then The Great Myth can be shattered and those who stood up to him: Bassons, Simeoni, Walsh, Ballester & Kimmage, the Andreus amongst others, can be vindicated.

  5. Sophrosune

    Interesting piece, Padraig, perhaps more so because I didn’t expect you to take this line of thinking. Well done. At the risk of sounding a little hippy-dippy, I think ultimately you get out of this world what you put in it and for Armstrong initially he put in a lot of hard work and sacrifice (perhaps even his soul) and he got a World Championship and 7 TdF victories. But he also put in a lot of vindictiveness, cruelty, selfishness and you end up with a federal investigation and nearly 40 minutes down on the GC for your final tour.

    I am sure he will continue to spin it that his real aim was to spread the word of his cause fighting cancer, but we all know he came back to win the only race he ever really cared about…and he lost it.

  6. randomactsofcycling

    I find it a shame that such a legend is being tarnished.

    I am no big fan of Lance but I cannot think of another sportsman, other than Pele, that has crossed so many boundaries. Even my Mother knows who Lance Armstrong is.

    Ultimately I am with (I think) most of you: he’s brought this latest round of luck and publicity upon himself through nothing other than greed. Greed is not always good. I am surprised that his ego is still so big that he would try the stunt with the jerseys on the last day of the Tour. For one who has spoken so often of respect, to show such disrespect to the race that has given you EVERYTHING reeks of vanity. Certainy I think he misjudged the mood of the peloton upon his return. I don’t think there would be many that would tolerate a Simeoni style smack-down these days.
    I was fortunate to ride with an ex-pro and current D.S. a couple of weeks ago who is ‘bracing himself’ for more revelations. What he did say that I had to agree with was this: what good will it all do? If LA is brought to his knees, so to speak, what happens to all the good that has been done? It’s an honest question, I have no interest in defending anyone’s ego.
    But seriously…”Hope returns”??? Did he come up with that himself?

  7. Lachlan

    I’m not a huge Armstrong fan. But did always love watching him race.

    Rather than being a failure however, I found most cycling fans (as opposed to general media comment etc) were surprised by how good his return was last year. It was a truly great performance for someone at his age after a big break from competition to return to such a high level.

    Regarding what comes next for him….
    I agree with the above comment that “you get out what you put in”.
    And alongside all the good Lance got out from his efforts, the negative sides of his character have long deserved some of the blow-back one could say he’s now facing.

    On the doping – I think its fair to say there are grounds for suspicion, and so its gotta be right they are investigated. However my line on Lance is the same as for anyone else – you get the right to be presumed innocent until there is proof of guilt. There may be evidence that suggests an issue, and my personal guess is that they are real issues, BUT we’re far far (today) from really having the ability to call guilt on it. Its not OK to have testing, and legal procedures in place that someone passes time after time then still say “yeah but they must be guilty”! If the systems flawed improve it and catch people. Its the only answer.

    It’ll be sad for cycling overall if proof of guilt does come out of the woodwork now, but it would also be a good day for clean racing.

    More over its good to finally have an investigation to put it to bed one way or the other.

    Which brings me to the Lemond comment… people can talk all they like, but there is from what I can see really no evidence of even a problem, never mind anything that could cause even the slightest call of “guilt”. As Padraig says, if anything there is evidence that EPO influenced the very hard stop to Lemond’s career. So its really a very crass move by anyone, especially someone like Lance, to imply it.

    If there is really some evidence against Lemond on this then by all means bring it up. But if you have nothing, and no prospect of leads to uncovering anything then don’t just sling mud about to divert attention.

    In short: Chase evidence if there is some, and nail it one way or the other. If its just speculation, there is really no point. On Armstrong there’s still evidence to be chased – so lets do it and see what the answer is and ignore the chaff that gets thrown up around the issue.

  8. MattyVT

    ‘Murkin-style. Well played, sir.

    I’d never considered the David vs Goliath angle, but it’s quite true- the very rigid organization that made Armstrong so successful was ultimately his undoing. As much as his win machine was ahead of its time during his 7 year reign it looked strangely like the the Pevenage Regime during the comeback. There were some sound ideas, but always ended up a step behind.

  9. Jim

    I’m all for bashing Lance but isn’t it just a bit much to pin Chad Gerlach’s career implosion on him? Y’know, unless “ride selfish, go crazy, take lots of narcotics, and behave in a really irregular manner” was part of race strategy.

    This highlights the problem with prosecuting Lance. The fraud theory on which the government opened its investigation is shaky at best, “honest services fraud” having (rightfully) been eviscerated in June by the Supreme Court (9-0) as a ridiculously vague charge subject to prosecutorial abuse. This leaves the prosecution to prove the underlying doping charges. The problem with that is those making the most lurid accusations about doping act pretty crazy. As a former prosecutor and defense attorney I wouldn’t want to put Floyd or LeMond or most of the various ex-wives or fired soigneurs on the stand. They could be easily undercut, destroyed in cross-examination, thereby wrecking the case. On the other hand, those who would make the most reliable witnesses – current racers, and former temamates who have ascended pretty quickly in the bike industry – still have skin in the game. Barry or Zabriskie would make great witnesses; but are they willing to turn Sammy Bull in order to get the guy who paid their bills? There’s a good chance that all the ex-dopers who run racing and various chunks of the bike industry would blackball them.

    I’m taking a wait & see approach and will be skeptical of anything said by the investigators, Lance, and the public accusers. There are too many flawed, self-serving agendas at work and just plain nutty people on two of the three sides here for me to believe any particular set of claims at this point.

  10. Jim

    And let me be really clear. The tactical goal of the investigators and prosecutors isn’t to take the case to trial. It’s to make Lance so uncomfortable and to undercut his personal financial and maybe political interests so badly, that he is convinced it’s easier to take a plea.

  11. Bob Cesca

    I’m perpetually ambivalent about Lance.

    -I love to watch him race.
    -I hate to hear him talk.
    -I love what he’s done for cancer awareness and victims.
    -I hate that he might be using Livestrong as a human shield.
    -I love that the most famous cyclist in the world is American.
    -I hate that the most famous cyclist in the world is American — and potentially a fraud.
    -I love the fact that he was able to beat cancer and win. A lot.
    -I hate that it might have been done with PEDs.
    -I love that he brought so much positive attention to our sport.
    -I hate that he might be the one who takes it all down (however temporarily).

    Part of me wants him to get his comeuppance, and part of me wants him to be vindicated. The former after he acts like an assbag (the hockey-check after Stage 16, for example) and the latter after I watch my DVDs of the 2003 Tour or after I talk with a cancer survivor.

  12. Rusty Tool Shed

    There’s no “I” in team – unless of course you’re Lance. After it was apparent he was no longer in contention I didn’t see him step up to support Levi, Kloden or Horner.

  13. redcliffs

    at the risk of sounding naive, an honest question: am i the only one who feels that somehow blood doping and old-fashioned amphetamine popping are qualitatively different acts of performance enhancement than modern doping, including EPO, CERA, microdosing, etc.?

    on the amphetamine front, it just seems so high school that i can’t find it that troubling — after all, they used to have bowls of them sitting out in baseball clubhouses. it wasn’t devious, it was just naive.

    and as for blood doping, it is just as devious and just as illegal as modern drugs, but while i don’t by any means condone it, the fact that you are holding out and then replacing your own blood (or even someone else’s) feels different at some level than current doping regiments.

    now, we have more and more complex schedules of dosing and microdosing, taking high tech drugs and using others to mask them, consultations with doctors, etc., etc. the fact that lance might have taken a cancer drug as part of a doping regimen seems particularly ironic.

    of course, he is also accused of getting blood transfusions, and while lemond’s demise may have coincided with the rise of EPO, blood doping was rampant during the ’80s. there is no grand thesis to this comment: lemond is x, armstrong y, hamilton/landis/basso/whoever z. i’m just wondering what others think.

    1. Author

      Everyone: Thanks so much for your comments. How I love these conversations.

      Trev: Armstrong’s ill-will toward LeMond seems to be based on the idea that LeMond MUST have doped. What we know of LeMond’s end of the conversations is that Armstrong is said to have accused LeMond of doping. The rationale is simple: If LeMond doped, then anyone else who doped is no more a fraud than he. But to go after other riders he knows doped is to break the omerta.

      Chris: In talking with multiple Americans who raced in Europe in the ’90s, the level of knowledge about available pharmacology or even what was typically used was in short supply. EPO was rampant in the peloton thanks to Italian and Dutch teams by the time most Americans knew what it was. To suggest LeMond was doing all the same stuff everyone else was is to misunderstand how off the back most Americans were with regard to PED knowledge.

      SingleSpeedJarv: I need to be really honest and say I wish Armstrong no ill. At the same time, I don’t harbor really warm feelings for Walsh, Ballester and Kimmage because they made him their poster boy for evil. I don’t think there’s room in this sport for an agenda.

      Sophrosune: Thanks much. You’re one of my most eagle-eyed readers.

      RandomActsofCycling: Yes, vanity is what makes Armstrong’s comeback smell like old food. Damn, and I was ready for fresh bakery.

      Lachlan: Isn’t it curious that if anyone truly had dirt on LeMond, it would have been someone who raced with him, someone as close to him as, say, Floyd Landis was to Armstrong, and Armstrong and LeMond have never been close.

      Alex Torres: You’re very right in pointing out that the Radio Shack sponsorship is by no means a failure. Heck, those ads with Armstrong were brilliantly funny. That their identity could be plucked from the 1950s and pulled into modern America is something of a feat. And yes, Sky gets the Titanic and Lusitania awards.

      Speaking of the French, can someone tell me why the only thing French riders show interest in aside from suicide breaks is the polka dot jersey? Mondory is the world’s only French sprinter and the closest thing the country has to a GC rider is Hinault.

      Jim: I wasn’t trying to pin the whole of Gerlach’s meltdown on Armstrong, but his ouster from the U.S. National Team at Armstrong’s demand is very well documented. That he became a very inconsistent rider almost immediately thereafter is also well-documented. I’m not sure I agree with you regarding all of the witnesses, but that’s not important. What I’m still not clear on is the motivation behind the goal. What’s the real endpoint for the investigation? I’m not against the investigation, but I’m not clear on what the public good will be; it doesn’t strike me that this is very similar to the BALCO investigation. Armstrong isn’t a producer.

      Bob Cesca: You sum it up nicely.

      Redcliffs: Yes, amphetamine use is very different from EPO, CERA, etc. Blood doping, the practice of removing and transfusing your own blood later uses a different start point than EPO but arrives at the same party. Amphetamines aren’t something you can use day after day, whereas EPO usage makes you a fundamentally different rider for months at a time. Put another way, amphetamines are shoplifting and EPO is carjacking.

  14. Jan

    A great read, and this just might be your best post yet.

    My two cents on Lance…

    I have been through the full range of emotions with regards to Lance up through the years; to say I suspect him of doping is an understatement. HOWEVER… I honestly do not think ANY of the riders who won the tour five times did so without doping. And with the chips down, well, Lance won it SEVEN times.

    I think he would have won four or five times for sure without any special “medicine” to help him out at all. So, with his career now behind him, I say let bygones be bygones, the man is still great. WHAT a career that man has had, he really is a legend.

    Sure, while he was racing I was all for trying to uncover any doping that might have taken place. Now, however, I just throw in my towel and place him right up there in 2nd place out of the all-time greatest riders, right behind Merckx.

  15. np_lab

    We always want to see one of our boys on top, but he may have stopped too late. But I want to add an additional topic.

    I always thought that he could have used his star power and cross cultrual capital to really promote cycling in the US after his final win. Instead of trying to reclaim glory (youth) on the roads of France, he should have ended high and started a campaign that could have really cemented his name in history. Eisenhower had a vision for the highway system. Imagine the Armstrong cycle route network. Or how about promoting driver education in the Highschools so that at least the next generation understands that we belong? Wasted potential.

  16. Robot

    I think, when talking about which doping was worse, we have to be careful that we’re not discussing a distinction without a difference. It’s like arguing about which murder was more heinous. The victim? Still dead.

    Having said that, I believe the difference between the amphetamine era and the EPO era is a difference of nonproportional benefit. Once the hematocrit ceiling was established at 50%, guys with a natural level of, say, 43% were never going to get the same advantage as a guy with a natural level of 35%. EPO makes the first guy a little better (if managed carefully not to excede the cut off) and makes the second guy a super hero, relative to his “natural” performance.

    In Matt Rendell’s excellent “The Death of Marco Pantani,” there is a good, detailed explanation of how all the blood boosting worked, and some further elucidation of why Pantani was so good on dope, and so crap off it.

    Amphetamines were a rising tide that floated ALL boats. EPO has been a more nebulous force, making some guys better than they were and other guys great.

  17. Punkture

    Great post, however I really dislike the way you describe Landis as ‘bat-shit crazy’. He is evidently not crazy from his interviews and explanations of exactly why he is doing this now but seems like he has evidently gone through an extremely tough time and is now successfully trying to expiate his past by coming clean. This process seems to have made him if anything, see from a much more un-hubristic viewpoint than before.

    Armstrong has used this idea of Landis as ‘bat-shit crazy’ to defame him and protect himself against the allegations which, although a simple defence seems to have worked well for him in the past. While you have to your credit acknowledged that Landis’ recent disclosures are probably true, I don’t think it is healthy to paint him as mad or deranged.

  18. Adam

    Punkture, Landis is Bat shit crazy, go back and read the torment he tried to inflict on Lemond with taunting him about his sexual abuse past while pretending to be someone else. It takes a sick mind to sink to that level.

  19. redcliffs

    Adam, The expression didn’t bother me as much as it clearly troubled punkture, but let’s be clear — Landis is not bat-shit or any other type of crazy. Depressed? Immature? Anxious? Desperate? Misguided? All those things and perhaps many more, but crazy? No.

    Is bat-shit crazy just an expression? Perhaps, at least for some, but if you’re going to tell a guy his expression of concern is wrong, at least be right.

  20. todd k

    I concur with much of what Bob C wrote above…. the gut reaction tendency is often to reduce Armstrong in terms of “black/white”… he does increasingly have that polarizing affect on people. The overall impression of the man on balance, though, is always going to yield complex discussions for many of the reasons Bob calls out.

    Given the amount that has been written on the subject, I don’t have much of anything that is unique to add regarding what this “means”. I will say I find Armstrong’s public comments regarding Lemond a tactic in the PR strategy from the Armstrong camp.

    Whatever behavioral faults one associates with Lemond, he is nonetheless symbolically touted as the litmus for dope free cycling. Being the origin of publically smearing Lemond’s name seems a poor strategy for the Armstrong camp to employ as it does nothing to perpetuate a PR story they have sought to build regarding Armstrong innocence.

    Ironically, damning Lemond via doping allegations likely only further implicates Armstrong as guilty “by association of being a professional cyclist…. whom we know are all dopers”. Does Armstrong really want to bank on selling the position that he and only he is a clean winner? For Armstrong it may seem like a fine retribution in a moment of haste or desperation, but ultimately dragging down Lemond would be small consolation given the Armstrong legacy stakes that are in play.

    Another bit of irony…. Armstrong starts behaving increasingly like Landis behaved during his doping trial by making vague accusatory statements that seek to be sensational in nature in an effort to divert attention… whether or not this implies that Armstrong is beginning to go bat shit crazy time will tell….

    (Please don’t read this as me being supportive of manipulative, conniving campaigns to distort and control “the truth” via PR campaigns…people should seek to be self motivated to be both internally and externally honest… but I do find his public statement in this regard a bit different from the Armstrong/Livestrong PR perspective… just observing….)

  21. Hank

    In a perverse way this may make cycling more popular then it’s ever been in the USA. Celebrity lovers, doping, topless dancers, money laundering, international intrigue… where do I sign up!

  22. jza

    -According to the leaked emails Landis wanted a job from Lance. His emails essentially said “give me one more chance, we both know I can do it, let me get back in the Euro peloton, maybe ride the vuelta, second chance….” Lance apparently said no, so Floyd dropped the news during ToC.

    -Lemond was clean, Hinault too. The ’91 Tour was the first to be dramatically effected by EPO. By clean I mean no blood doping/EPO. Amphetamines won’t do jack in a Tour, maybe in a one-day. Cortisone was/is widely used probably still is and probably every Tour rider has been on it at one time or another.

    -The media game doesn’t really mean jack, though it’s getting entertaining as hell. It’s gonna come down to the money trail, and that’s all on Lance, Johann, Och.

    -Lemond should close his mouth and get a PR guy. same with Floyd. They’re good guys but not well spoken, to say the least.

  23. Touriste-Routier

    Padraig, you stated, “To suggest LeMond was doing all the same stuff everyone else was is to misunderstand how off the back most Americans were with regard to PED knowledge.”

    While I am not accusing LeMond of anything, to categorize him like an “American” is a mischaracterization of circumstance. He was a European based Pro, living there most of the year (for many years), immersed in the same general climate as the other European pros. While he may not have been intimate with PEDs, it is reasonable to assume he had knowledge of, and if he so desired, ready access to them.

    I personally know other US pros who were based in Europe during the same period; they knew about them, some of them intimately. As a pack fodder US Amateur, who spent the entire summer of 91 OTB in Belgium & Germany, I was aware of them, aware of their benefits, and aware of quite a few riders who used them, and smart enough to steer clear. One of the Belgians I was friends with claimed to have known several riders who had died from overuse of EPO. To think that LeMond had less knowledge that I is highly improbable. If I misconstrued what you meant, I apologize. This was another great post!

  24. BBB

    Jim, I agree about not wanting to put Landis on the stand as his credibility is shot. As for the right witness, surely the prosecution are going to knock on a certain J Vaughters’ door? As for the ex-wife, this is obviously a sore point. Why did Armstrong’s lawyers stop her talking to LeMond during the Trek-LeMond dust up? I do agree that the fraud angle will be hard – I guess it all depends on what information gets brought to light.

    Going back to Landis – so if Armstrong had agreed and gave Landis the spot he was after, where would this leave his conscience? We are told that the revelations helped him clear his conscience, yet the obvious inference to be made is that he would have kept mum had he been given another chance. As I say above, his credibility is shot.

    1. Author

      NP_Lab: Great idea, but not “sexy” enough for it to capture Armstrong’s attention. However, Greg LeMond seems to be casting about for something to do….

      Robot: I think your point is spot-on (per usual). It seems to be difficult to convey how amphetamines make you good for a day (and as a result, the noticeable improvement is a ‘tell’). EPO makes you a completely different rider for months on end. It’s not just a turbo unit, it’s a bigger engine.

      Punkture, et al: “Bat-shit crazy” is meant to reflect the common opinion about Landis. His motivations and actions are irrational. While he may be telling the truth top to bottom, his motivations for doing so don’t make any sense (at least, not as he has represented himself) and given the degree to which he utterly dismissed the advice of his friend and physician Dr. Brent Kay, Landis can’t seem to come up with a rational response to his own career. I can’t name one thing that he’s done this year that seems to make sense based on his quotes. Let’s try not to argue the difference between irrational and crazy, though.

      Todd K: Like you, I have a problem with portraying Armstrong in either a black or white cowboy hat. He is neither all good nor all evil. He’s a complicated guy and that’s precisely what I appreciate and respect about him.

      Hank: Just wait, once the grand jury convenes, it will get really interesting.

      Touriste-Routier: While LeMond was based in Europe most of the year, he never rode for a small team like so many other Americans did. Riders like you who paid the lowliest of dues had a very different education than LeMond seems to have gotten. He had his own soigneur fairly early on and was a protected rider fairly early on as well and as a result, his experience was more typical of other Americans such as those who rode for 7-Eleven. As to LeMond’s specific knowledge of EPO, one need only look back on the press conference he held in ’93 to announce his retirement. “Mitochondrial Myopathy” was the diagnosis that lead to his decision. I did some digging and found that basically it was just a fancy way of saying his body couldn’t recover fast enough to race against the rest of the field. He wasn’t recovering fast enough. Hmm. There was no mention of racing against EPO; in ’93 even among Americans who thought they knew what was going on in doping, most of us hadn’t heard of the stuff. I believe the first I heard of it was in ’95.

      I do truly believe LeMond had less knowledge about PEDs than the average racer fighting his way through the Kermesse circuit.

      Thanks for the kind words everyone.

  25. Hank

    One thing I’ll never understand is why Armstrong didn’t take care of Landis. In an intelligently run criminal enterprise when someone goes down you make sure he and his family are taken care of so there is no incentive to turn you in. Either that or eliminate the guy. Since I assume eliminating Landis was not an option, the cost to take care of Landis for the rest of his working life was less then Armstrong’s lawyers will make in a day.

    I guess after all these years LA forgot how much risk this sort of thing continuously involves. Just because you have gotten away with it for decades does not mean tomorrow you might make the mis-step that gets you busted.

  26. Touriste-Routier

    Sorry Padraig, but I still don’t buy that LeMond was completely unaware. Citing a medical condition as the reason for retirement, and not spitting in the soup, are not indications, nor proof of, lack of knowledge. I know Greg was somewhat sheltered (and maybe naïve), but his head was never buried in the sand. Once couldn’t be in the scene and be totally unaware.

    In 1985 in depth articles about the 1984 US Olympic Cycling Team’s use of “Blood Boosting” (now called Blood Doping) under the direction of USCF Executive/Senior Staff appeared in Rolling Stone and later Sports Illustrated. Following Rolling Stone’s breaking story, it was immediately covered by the US cycling media. Among those who used this procedure (not illegal at the time), were (if I recall correctly) members of the 7-Eleven Team (sorry no time to look this up right now).

    Word of EPO reached the US well before 1995. I can’t easily cite this, as it predates the widespread adoption of the www, but I recall VeloNews reporting on Belgian and Dutch Cyclists dying in their sleep of cardiac arrest, and linking these to the suspected use of EPO, prior to June 1991. A notable case was Bert Oosterbosch, who died under such circumstances and widespread suspicion in 1989. Though he had returned to amateur status that year (at age 32), prior to that, he was a leader of Panasonic hardly a small team.

    Prior to our Euro summer pummeling in 1991, I and my team mates were well aware of the existence of EPO. Without the www our primary sources of cycling news/info were VeloNews and Winning.

  27. Prorider

    Great read. About the only think I’d disagree with is blaming Gerlach’s demise on Armstrong. When you’re setting houses on fire as an adolescent and getting in fist fights with teammates–DURING THE RACE, chances are pretty good future success is going to be difficult to attain.

    He had more physical gifts than Armstrong, or practically any other bike racer, but his downfall was his own head, not Armstrong. A&E seemed to think is was a good story line (and it was!) to blame poor Chad’s demise on the brazen Texan, but that’s all it was….a story.

  28. jza

    Lemond was not unaware, but probably egotistical, or at least very very VERY proud. Figured he could beat them without drugs. Top-10 in a tour surrounded by guys with jacked blood is really staggeringly impressive. He really was at the cutting edge of training/technlogy/physiology.

    Also, messing with blood back then could go wrong really quickly. He had probably the biggest natural engine of anyone ever to ride a bike, why risk it all by messing with your blood? At that point transfusions in hotel rooms were most definitely not routine, even for the 1984 guys.

    Thank you Todd and Padraig for voicing some reason on Lance. There’s a lot to love, a lot to hate and very little in between. That’s why he’s so fun to watch. I’m skeptical of those that defend him 100% or totally hate him because he is so much more complex than that. He’s full of contradictions and hypocrisies and plays them out on the largest stage possible.

  29. chris #2

    I guess we can call it a psy-ops/PR campaign

    I remember my freshman year in college reading (coveting?) VeloNews and reading about Dutch amateurs dying of heart attacks in their sleep. That was 1990-91. Just saying.

    Padraig, great post & comments here. I like this site because it’s like stepping out of the noise, circus, I’m not bashful about quoting a poet or posting a syllogism. Creative Writing major, you understand.

    The last Grand Jury I followed with any interest was the Scooter Libby trial. Again, just saying!

  30. Michael McCann

    … I will accept that EPO was not being used prior to Lemonds last win but it is commone knowledge that blood doping has been around long before that … Lasse Viren, double medialist in 5000 and 10,000 in 72 olympics was well known to have blood doped. Is it not possible that blood doping was happening within pro cycling also?

  31. Lachlan

    I guess my point on the Lemond thing is that considering how long ago it is, and unless there’s some new testimony or evidence from someone in a position where they would have seen something or been involved, then there really is no point! I mean could be a fun argument and all to speculate what he was/was not aware of. Bu right now, and very clearly by the evidence of this blog alone, the introduction of this topic to the debate is doing a very well at its intended job of providing a diversion the the real topic… the real investigation.

    As Padraig says… its not people who would have known if there was a Lemond issue suggesting it… its Armstrong, who is just about to have to defend against accusations (true or not) from people who were in positions to know. So we have to at least hear them out / check out if their stories stack up.

  32. cthulhu

    There is so much, I don’t know where I should begin…

    OK, Lance, since this post was about him.
    He left the sport through the big door, as a champion, so why did he come back? Surely not to promote cancer awareness. To win his eight Tour? Might have been a wish. Money reasons? Definitely not. Maybe like many retired professionals, not only cyclists, he just needed the competition again, has somebody thought of that? That would even be a fact for a little sympathy for him.
    Now for the asymmetrical warfare, while was a surprise in 1999 he never was a David afterwards, especially not with the victories cumulating. As far as I know the headlines were all something like “Can Ullrich finally stop LA” or “Did Ullrich ate too much cake this winter again? Is he capable of challenging LA?” He could always dictate the game from above as the Goliath and he was good in it. And I think he could have beaten AC last year if he wouldn’t have been out of competition for so long, not because he was the better or fitter rider but because his mind games did his work. Luckily for AC unluckily for LA Contador’s form was just too good and something he could gain confidence from. If the difference in form wouldn’t have been that big who knows he might have cracked.
    As for this year I really wonder if that investigation is occupying his mind so much that it’s reason for him being weaker in his mind or that the loss of fear in the peloton is giving him a hard time(speak not as easy as it used to be where they made space for him) which is pulling him the teeth.
    Now for the person Lance Armstrong.
    Of course LA as an individual is a complex thing. This whole black and white depiction of him is his own fault/will and the way he presents/markets himself. To say it cynical he was the second coming of Jesus Christ, revived from cancer. He was and still is cycling in the US. While maybe the 7-11 boys and LeMond and others may have put cycling on the map in the US, it was LA and Nike who made cycling mass compatible and know to the non-fans. That is why we Europeans always shudder when Americans rants how much good he did for cycling. I admit seeing him now fall over this investigation might have a huge impact on cycling in the US but I hope the structures in the US are that good by now that it would survive that case. But his fall wouldn’t affect European cycling a bit since it has more than LA and also more experience with fallen and doped riders. Though the European bike industry wouldn’t like to see it since the US is still a growing and unsaturated market. But back to Lance. There are a few things I like to add. Lance didn’t win the Tour 7 times because he doped but because he was really determined and worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices. But that goes also for many domestics and he definitely wouldn’t have won them without EPO. Rolf Järmann admitted EPO use after he retired and he wrote “But the difference with or without EPO was enourmous. With an average form it isn’t possible to do much even with EPO, but when you are in form, you can ride super fast. It is an incredible feeling: a climb, which you usually ascent with 20km/h, suddenly you can slam it with 25km/h” I also read similar stuff from other confessions. Also because he was a smart racer or he had a great DS directing him. I personally think he was harder than most of his opponents, he was harder to himself, trained harder, he was harder to his teammates and I guess he doped harder.

    Which leads to the next point, doping in general.
    As far as there is cycling there is doping, in the beginning in the 20s and earlier as it wasn’t forbidden often the managers were organising that. 0 risks for them but more profit for them. The riders wouldn’t revolt, anything was better than working in mines or manufactories back then. So as we all know cycling has quite some history. And soon widely used in the peloton. Rudi Altig once said “We are professionals and not athletes.” after they busted him, Merckx and the other guy on the podium for taking amphetamines. During the 80s anabolics were added. While all that did make one better either in the long or short term it was still possible to win clean, Bartali and Koblet and maybe LeMond being examples. But all this chanced with the introduction of EPO which already happened during it’s testing phase in 1987. 1989 there were already the first cyclists that died of EPO usage. Anyway, that changed everything, from the 90s on one nearly couldn’t win without EPO anything and for sure one couldn’t win a 3 week stage race. To quote Jährmann again. “From my point of view there is only one thing that helps, EPO. Alone with that one could win races. One could said it like this, my guess would be: EPO makes you 10% faster, everything else maybe half a percent.” So thinking Lance would have won the tour 7 times without EPO, where even more talented riders struggled, is more than naive, but the height of his fall is much higher thanks to the marketing he created around his person.
    Also it is proven that he doped with EPO in 1999, those testings, I still don’t understand why the cannot be used at court, as the method and the samples everything was correct and the result valid.

    Anyway, after a long rank in which I hopefully did not lose my point, I hope he falls. Not because I dislike him, which I do, but if he should fall the last big EPO(era)Giant falls and maybe creates another chance to change things, like in 1998, like in 2006, which all sadly went unused.

  33. MCH

    A quick thought re Lemond. I’m no longer a fan due to his streak of (thankfully smaller the Landis’) bat-shit craziness. The guy may have the good of the sport at heart, but, to quote a favorite movie, “his methods are unsound”. That said, I think he brings two important things to the LA doping discusion: visibility and money. As such, he’s one of the few guys, if not the only, that can stand toe-to-toe with LA in the public arena. Every other public citizen that’s tried to go after LA has be “out-publicized” or out-spent. Lemond can sustain the fight and seems to relish doing so. Between the Fed and Lemond, there’s going to be a lot of drama over the next months.

    1. Author

      It’s popular to bash Landis’ credibility, but history is full of people who came clean only after they lost everything, and what Armstrong has seemingly underestimated is the power of a guy who has nothing left to lose.

      As for LeMond, I rather view him the way I do The Who. There are the albums with Keith Moon. And then there are those other albums. The ones I don’t listen to. I’m still a fan, and I’d enjoy having lunch with him, but I wish he’d get a PR assistant.

  34. chris #2


    There was an episode of ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ that focused on the stampede from “The Who” concert. The AP photo was just a bunch of shoes, disembodied, their corpses smothered to death. Senseless. My dad, surely not a Who fan, explained to me why those 42 people died. I think I went back to the walnut nutcracker and spinning the globe at that point.

  35. Enrico Gimondi

    In classical literature, the hero’s downfall is invariably a result of hubris. Had Lance simply been content to continue indulging in one-half of his rather pronounced Oedipal complex–chasing women who look like his mother–he’d be sitting pretty. He’d won seven tours and devoted his final comments at the 2005 Tour to a petty “kiss my ass” speech addressed to the likes of L’Equipe and Walsh.

    But it wasn’t enough. He had to come back, insulting riders like Vandevelde and Sastre in the process, anxious to let us know that he was better than them, cloaking the whole vainglorious endeavor under the guise of “cancer awareness.”

    So what does he have to show for his hubris? One wrecked team (2009 Astana), a few broken bones, and that minor matter of a federal investigation that has the potential to destroy his reputation once and for all. It seems the gods are as sardonic as they ever were: they love to spice a tragic downfall with a liberal sprinkling of irony–in this case, the fact that Lance’s persecutors are no longer the hated French but the United States federal government.

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  37. mouse

    “LeMond’s victory in the 1989 Tour de France was very likely the next-to-last Tour de France won by a clean athlete.”

    I am from Belgium, and believe me, we all know that doping is as old as cycling…

    I dare to state that LeMond doped himself. It is a public secret in Belgium that someone came over the day before the last timetrial to inject him with “something”; After the time trial they had to put him (LeMond) on a home-trainer because he kept on pedaling…

  38. Guy

    Just to clarify what LA said. I take him to mean that Lemond’s fastest ever TT result in ’89 is the reason for Lance’s ‘raised eyebrow’. At the time the effort and the aerodynamic advantage were the reasons given for Lemond’s terrific performance. Now we’re to believe that it was enhanced. Maybe we’ve been naive. The aero equipment Lemond used is pretty ordinary looking in photos compared with today’s helmets and bikes designed with the tunnels. Maybe the fact that his time still holds up should be viewed as the desire of a champion and left at that? After all if Cancellera pulled off a time like that this year, we’d all have been praising him and calling him God’s gift to TT’ing, right?? On top of that it would make little sense for Lemond’s continued crusade if he was dirty. He has nothing gain except scrutiny.

  39. Lachlan

    All good fun mouse, but all very wooly story-telling, with no real suggestion of true inside knowledge or proof. Of course its all *possible* but the idea that Belgium as a nation knows well that Lemond was injected with “something” and had to be put “back on the home trainer because he kept pedalling”… that sounds *totally* true. It’s a well documented side effect of EPO use! And after all, it wasn’t as if there was a long period right after the TT when he was on Live TV surrounded by press, fan, team, officials etc… then all the post race checks, then the presentations, then the photos, then the interviews.

    Nope none of that. The story sounds robust ; + ) I bet the feds will be right on it.

  40. Grizzly Adam

    Great write up, great discussion. This entire melodrama is fascinating. I find myself gobbling up any news of it I can find, as soon as I can find it. If what Landis says is true, then Lance is the biggest fraud of all time. If Landis is lying, the Lance is the greatest athlete of all time. I’d like to know which…

    Although Lance 2.0 has been a disaster. And really, more so than any doping accusations, has soured his reputation. The above analogy of “old food” was well put.

  41. dacrizzow

    enrico-love it.
    c’mon, we all know that all these guys did something. to what level of it is cheating and what level was surviving who knows. if anything it leveled the playing feild. i was a huge lance fan. he got me into road biking. after last years little display of petty sportsmanship i just couldn’t support him. he seemed so petty. this year it was just sad. but it will pass. merckx isn’t remembered for the broken jaw and miserable performances afterward. he’s remembered as the greatest cyclist ever. the sooner this whole thing is done, wether guilty or not, the sooner it wiil be over and the sooner the memories of seven great tour victories will resurface. regardless, whatever he was using should now be made available for more cancer patients.

  42. Hank

    Doping did not level the playing field. Since within the constraints of avoiding a positive test doping benefits some riders much more then others. So it becomes not a contest of ability and training but who responds best to drugs and has the best doping program and who has the testers payed off. None of those “skills” should be what determines races.

    1. Author

      Hank: I get your outrage, but I think the point that was being made is that at the top of the sport, the guys were all playing the game the same way. The same set of rules. Like you, I want a clean sport, but when we get to the Grand Tour contenders of the last 10 years, we know they weren’t riding on pain et l’eau.

  43. Hank

    Actually I’m not outraged. To me the riders are more victims then criminals. Some more then others.

    It is however a fallacy to say that the results would have been the same had there been no drugs as all the riders where doping. Results may have been significantly different as even though they were all doping the benefits were far from equal. We don’t know who the best riders of the 90’s were. We know the riders who responded best to EPO doping were. Some of the top 5 may have been 2nd tier riders in a non EPO world.

  44. Larry T.

    “Enrico Gimondi” who I remember from the old Breaking Away film (even had a bike named after him years ago) hits it dead-on with his July 29 post. Couldn’t have said it better myself! Nice job.

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