Our species likes stories to be relatively straightforward and with a minimum of characters. Just think of how many movies you’ve seen with half a dozen or so speaking parts. Off the top of my head I came up with Rear Window, Castaway, Gravity, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, The Shining, My Dinner With André, The Sixth Sense and No Country for Old Men. Those are all great stories, but they are just stories.
History is different. The real world is crawling with hordes of people all with their own agendas, generally central only to one story—their own. It’s why so many films that we describe as epics—think Ben Hur, the Godfather films—are histories.
Such is Wheelmen by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell. Simply put, it is a history of doping in U.S. professional cycling, which is to say it is much more than just an account of Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace. I’ve heard a fair number of friends of mine say they plan to pass on the book, that they know everything contained within it. I can say with some confidence that this book will contain plenty of surprises for nearly any reader.
There are questions this book doesn’t answer, such as the mechanism that caused the Justice Department to shut down its investigation into Armstrong and Tailwinds, and while it’s a question I’m desperate to have answered, the book cannot be faulted for what it didn’t do. Too often, books are criticized for not anticipating a reader’s every desire instead of attacking only what they did poorly.
Sharp-eyed readers will notice some factual inaccuracies. In defense of the authors, I’ll note that the errors I caught were minor points and not ones that ultimately skew the narrative. They’re on the order of writing that Trek is based in Minnesota, not Wisconsin.
This is a sweeping narrative, one that in film form would benefit from Cecil B. DeMille or Francis Ford Coppola. It’s that most American of stories—rags to riches—and then because we can’t abide anyone staying on a pedestal for too long, a tipping of that pedestal—with prejudice. We’ve been reading this story in bits and pieces, one small episode at a time, but now, with “Wheelmen” we get a chance to read it as one flowing epic, and because the writers know an active verb from a passive one, the book is a compelling read, difficult to put down until either nature or dinner calls.
To their credit, Albergotti and O’Connell stick with the rule not to editorialize. Believe me, this is a book with culprits by the bushel, but you’re left to decide how to apportion the blame. While there’s been plenty of ire for Trek because how how Greg LeMond was treated, I think the authors show what a no-win situation John Burke was in, or at least what a no-win situation he believed he was in. They also do much to bolster Julien Devries’ credibility as a witness to the internal workings of Tailwinds with respect to both doping and illicit payments. As a result, Nike comes off looking much worse than Trek in that they are alleged to have been actively involved in the coverup of one of Armstrong’s alleged positives. It is Oakley that comes off worst for having taken a very active role in discrediting the Andreus. To the degree that any company who protected Armstrong might be in for some backlash, Oakley is the most deserving of the bunch. (Guess they won’t be advertising with us….)
There seems to be a fair amount of lingering ire for the riders who confessed to doping while on U.S. Postal/Discovery. Now that we have a single narrative that paints a much more complete history of the top echelon of pro cycling here in the U.S., it is my hope that Thom Weisel, Steve Johnson and Jim Ochowicz receive the scrutiny they deserve. When I think of the harm done to cycling by the doping of the last 20 years, guys like George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer seem like small potatoes compared to the disservice done the sport by Weisel, Johnson and Ochowicz, and yet there’s no discussion of banning them from the sport. Justice is rarely just, huh?
The single most surprising detail contained within the book concerned not Lance Armstrong, but Jan Ullrich. To say any more would make for an epic plot spoiler, one on the order of an obscenity spewing anger that I’d richly deserve if I broke the drama by revealing it here. That one page of the book deserves a post of its own.
Because we know this story in broad strokes, it would be easy to skip this book. Don’t make that mistake. This will stand as the definitive account for American cycling during the EPO era, a documentary of how cycling’s power brokers lacked the moral compass to do that right thing, ever.
The Who album “Who’s Next” was meant to be a concept album, called “Lifehouse,” the follow-up to “Tommy.” It was meant to resonate with Eastern mysticism and spirituality and was so ambitious it was meant to make Tommy seem like a kid’s musical. But Pete Townshend had a nervous breakdown once he realized he couldn’t explain the whole of the narrative in a song sequence. Rather than release a muddled and confused concept album, he ended up pulling the best songs into a single album. The result, “Who’s Next,” is considered by many rock critics to be one of the great rock albums of all time.
That seems a fair backdrop by which to introduce the Alex Gibney documentary, “The Armstrong Lie.” I’m not going to claim that this is one of the greatest documentaries ever committed to celluloid, but there can be no doubt that the result from his failed attempt to document Armstrong’s comeback makes a far more interesting film than what he had intended.
We live in an age where many documentarians editorialize; they manipulate the watcher to adopt the filmmaker’s viewpoint rather than allowing the viewer to draw his own conclusions. Michael Moore’s work is a great example of this. As much as I might agree with many of his positions, I’d rather not be subjected to an agenda. Present the info and if the dots are there, I’ll connect them for myself.
Early on, as Gibney was working on this film, it was often criticized as a puff piece. I heard those exact words used in conjunction with it; even Betsy Andreu uses those words in the film when being interviewed by Gibney. Reduced to its most contrasting elements, the film began as a celebration of Armstrong, then rounded on him in the wake of the USADA Reasoned Decision. Imagine a rock doc that captures a band at the height of their popularity, then checks back in with them four years later as they are breaking up. You see the elation that comes with adulation, and then you see the recrimination that comes with the broken spell. Oof.
When I walked out of the theater, I had a headache. I’d ridden such bumpy course of emotions I was exhausted. That’s the particular genius of this film. When I sat down, I vowed that I’d simply allow the film to tell its story and try not to impose my will on what I thought the story should be. “Let’s just see what story he tells,” I told myself. What happened was that I was taken back to each of those seven Tours, reminded of the adventure of watching those races play out. I was transported back in time to roads in the Alps and Pyrenees, to a bar in St. Jean de Maurienne where when Armstrong shot into the grass after Joseba Beloki crashed, a woman I knew screamed at the TV, “He’s cheating! He’s cheating!” and how I thought to myself, “You have no idea. You’re as right as you are wrong.”
There was the ache of injustice I felt for the Andreus every time they appeared on camera, the loathing I tasted for Stephanie McIlvain when her voicemail to Betsy Andreu was played, the schadenfreude that made me smile when Floyd Landis said, “At some point you gotta tell people Santa Claus isn’t real.”
In the interviews, I could still see Armstrong’s old charm, but I could also see the bully, the bluster. And yes, there were the lies. Enough of them to base a movie on. Gibney sought out archival footage in forgotten corners, stuff I’d never seen. Further, in addition to the Andreus, he interviewed Bicycling editor-at-large Bill Strickland, as well as former editor Steve Madden. He also interviewed Armstrong’s bete noir, David Walsh, as well as “The Secret Race” coauthor Daniel Coyle. He even got time with Michele Ferrari.
The film never tells you what to feel, what to decide, but it did lead me to a conclusion I’d not considered previously. While it’s easy to point to Floyd Landis as the catalyst for Armstrong’s downfall, I now think we’d elevated him to such heights, polished his story to such a chromed reflection that our American sensibilities simply wouldn’t permit us to leave him on a pedestal. Once the comeback was set in motion, so was his downfall. Had there been no Landis, there would still have been Jeff Novitzky and Tyler Hamilton. If there’d been no Hamilton, there’d still have been Levi Leipheimer. We were going to tear the Armstrong myth down, with prejudice. It’s just what this culture does. In that, Armstrong is that most American of myths. The key, I believe, isn’t that we can’t abide a hero, it’s that at some point we come to understand that any story so lofty, so heroic, must be built on some sort of lie. As much as we profess, as a culture, to want saints, deep down we know they don’t exist and we seem to delight in knocking them down to expose the lies. Armstrong himself observes, it’s not that he “lived a bunch of lies;” it’s that he “lived one big lie.”
Armstrong’s story will endure, not just in cycling, but in sport; he is the modern Icarus, and Gibney’s film is a clear-eyed account of both the rise and the fall. It makes me wonder, who’s next?
With the release of the book “Wheelmen” by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell of the Wall Street Journal, Lance Armstrong, the US Postal Service, EPO and Greg LeMond are all back in the news. While I’m enjoying the book so far—Albergotti and O’Connell are fine writers and I’m hoping to pick up a few new details in their narrative—what cycling needs going into the off season isn’t more play on Armstrong. Rather, we would do well to focus on the way forward and what the new president of the UCI, Brian Cookson, is working on.
The trouble is, neither LeMond nor Armstrong are willing call it a day and just move forward. Armstrong is still holding out hope that he can sit down with WADA and weave a tale of doping that will rehabilitate his standing with them such that he’ll be able to compete before President Obama leaves office. Supposing for a second that he’s actually able to get his ban reduced to time served, that misses the larger point. The spell has been broken. No one wants to see Armstrong compete. No one.
I respect that Lance’s plan is get the ban cut, then go to Nike, et al, and secure new sponsorship. Maybe not at the rate he used to get, but get a positive cash flow going. What he doesn’t seem to fathom is that right now he is a guaranteed PR black eye. For anyone, but especially Nike.
It’s fair to wonder why Armstrong won’t just curl up in a corner to lick his wounds. Maybe that speaks to why he won the Tour seven times. And for those who are talking to the screen right now, screaming that he didn’t win the Tour, he did. Maybe not fair—or square—but the top of those fields was dirty. One doper beat all the other dopers. That was the game for those years.
The release of “Wheelmen” has served as the perfect opportunity to quote Greg LeMond on all things Lance. In a recent interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN LeMond opined that Armstrong would barely have cracked the top 30 as a clean rider. I’m not sure that anyone is in a position to make such a sweeping statement about him or the riders from that era. Armstrong dropped a lot of weight ahead of his fourth place at the ’98 Vuelta—and we have every reason to believe he was on EPO before the cancer. He only got better after the ’98 Vuelta, so what changed? Dutch estimates hold that 80 percent of the peloton was on EPO. Honestly, no one can say that had the entire peloton been clean that Armstrong wouldn’t have finished in the top ten.
LeMond went on to volunteer that he thought Armstrong ought to be in jail. There’s no doubt that Big Tex wronged a great many people. What he did to Emma O’Reilly and the Andreus has not ceased to trouble me. Losing a job for sticking with the truth under oath (as Frankie Andreu did) must qualify you as a martyr. But of Armstrong’s many sins none currently seem to hold the potential for sending him on an all-expense-paid trip to the big house. So why offer the opinion that he ought to be in jail? Certainly that’s not analysis, not the way his assertion that Armstrong wasn’t capable of winning the Tour clean was.
From the earliest days of the LeMond/Armstrong conflict there has been an unseemly, jealous and petty sense to LeMond’s dislike of Arrmstrong. What has always bugged me about LeMond’s ire for Armstrong was the same thing that disturbed me about David Walsh’s pursuit of him, that it seemed personal, blind to the other dopers. Walsh’s book “Seven Deadly Sins” traces his path and demonstrates the circumstances why Walsh was so focused on Armstrong. Without putting words in his mouth, I think it’s fair to summarize Walsh’s Armstrong quest as synecdoche, wherein one small part serves to stand for the whole—referring to your car as your wheels. For Walsh, Armstrong seems to have been (rightly) the tip of the iceberg.
It’s harder for LeMond to claim that he had an overarching concern for doping unless he’s more naive than anyone else who ever raced the Tour. We know that Miguel Indurain, Gianni Bugno, Claudio Chiappucci would never have taken the podium at the ’91 Tour without the aid of EPO. Why has he never called them out?
It’s interesting that when LeMond retired three years later that he didn’t reveal that he understand what had hit him. The reason he gave for his retirement was a pathology, mitochondrial myopathy, which he related to his brother-in-law mistaking him for a turkey. At the time, blaming his inability to kick Miguel Indurain’s ass on lead in his chest seemed the most graceful explanation. It was, however, wrong. The real explanation was simpler. LeMond was getting beat because there were dozens of guys on EPO. He was being forced to race well into the red zone for far longer than he had in previous tours. So why didn’t he say anything then?
Armstrong’s problem with LeMond was that he needed to believe LeMond doped in order to think that he was no worse. Armstrong may never let go of his belief that LeMond doped. There’s still a certain amount of derisive snorting about LeMond’s B12 miracle shot, administered near the end of the ’89 Giro. The stupid thing here is that the obvious doping alternative would be anabolic steroids, which were very easy to catch in the 1980s.
The value to the book Albergotti and O’Connell have written is that it is likely to serve as the functional narrative for the EPO era. Because there are people who dismiss everything Tyler Hamilton says, because he previously lied, and because the USADA Reasoned Decision isn’t packaged as a single story, “Wheelmen” may prove to be the definitive version of this story.
The upshot to this is that any further attempt by Armstrong to confess as a means to rehabilitate his image, which will really only be a pretext to getting back to competition, will have to meet a very high bar of revelation. Not only will he need to reveal the juiciest of details behind everything everyone else has documented, but the days of him denying eyewitness accounts are over. Sure, he can deny all he wants, but the problem he faces is that the days of giving him the benefit of the doubt are over. In a he said/she said, we used to award him the point. What he doesn’t seem to follow is that we no longer give his word any weight. This is a point that can’t be exaggerated. If Charles Manson said he watched Armstrong eat babies, no matter what Armstrong said, any reasonable person would send his toothbrush to the lab.
The problem isn’t that Armstrong doesn’t know what the truth is, it’s that he doesn’t understand that he doesn’t have the ability to shape the story anymore. Until he understands that, there’s no reason for him to speak. Until he really understands what “the full truth” means, he’s useless to cycling.
But what of LeMond? He has all of American cycling at his feet. Oakley and Giro have apologized to him. Who knows how many others have quietly made amends. He’s won three Tours, beaten Bernard Hinault into submission, had a bike line developed, distributed and sold by Trek. He is now working with Time to produce his bikes, while he has taken on the distributorship of Time here in the U.S.
By any measure, it’s a charmed existence. Yet, the feature most common to all his dealings is conflict, most often exemplified by lawsuits.
Game, set, match. They are all his. When will he find peace, happiness?
[Ed. note: We reached out to LeMond with a request for an interview but got no response.]
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Now that Pat McQuaid has been voted out of the UCI presidency and the troubled institution is being led by Brian Cookson, there is some reasonable hope that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be formed and testimony will take place. Given how cycling has been governed since the UCI was formed, this is a turn of events so surprising and unlikely it is befitting an Aaron Sorkin screenplay.
Let’s imagine it for a second: Someone will be willing to pay attention as Jesus Manzano speaks.
Consider that Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton will have an opportunity to sit down in the same room as members of the UCI, tell everything they saw and took part in while members of U.S. Postal and Phonak, and when finished Pat McQuaid won’t be there to call them “scumbags.”
Now that we have the faith that the UCI has a president who will actually do what he says, and that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will convene, we have a question to consider: How far back should the TRC look? Technically, the choice of how far to look back belongs to Cookson or whoever he charges with running the TRC, but that Cookson is president now owes much to public outcry. We do have a voice and the success of a TRC will rest on public satisfaction.
So who should testify? The TRC should do more than just listen to riders and team personnel. We should hear from as many doctors, pharmacists and lab techs as possible. Let’s include the odd motorcycle driver or two. This testimony will be key in corroborating what the riders say. Anyone watching social media has noticed that there’s some suspicion about whether George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer confessed all of their doping to USADA or not. Testimony from medical professionals and coaches will have the ability to confirm their previous testimony or demonstrate that they withheld some activity. It will also show just how fearful riders were of Travis Tygart, or not.
However, if the TRC only looks back as far as 1999, it won’t be far enough. We will have little reason to be satisfied. The TRC needs the freedom, resources and time necessary to take testimony from anyone with a heartbeat. That means we should listen to Belgian soigneurs from the 1950s. We should listen to guys like Lucien Aimar, who was a domestique for Jacques Anquetil. And yes, we should listen to Eddy Merckx.
Why go so far back? Because it will educate the sport’s governing body, riders, team staff, the public and sponsors—in short every stakeholder the sport has—on how entrenched doping and attitudes toward doping have been. Because it was ingrained at an institutional level, it will show that cycling takes doping not just more seriously than any other sport, but as seriously as one may take it. That is what will be necessary to win back sponsor and audience confidence.
The reality is that we won’t hear from everyone we would like to. We must also accept that the UCI is unlikely to allow the TRC to run for five years. They need to focus their effort, concentrate on the biggest part of the problem. To that end, I suggest that we do what we can to encourage testimony from as far back as 1990.
Based on everything I’ve learned about the rise of oxygen-vector doping, I think we can put a date on when doping fundamentally change in pro cycling. That date? May 18,1990. With it comes a specific location: Bari, Italy. That was the day and the location of the prologue for the 1990 Giro d’Italia, which was won by Gianni Bugno. Bugno went on to wear the pink jersey for the 19 days, all the way to the finish in Milan. It was the first time a rider had led the Giro from start to finish since Eddy Merckx did it in 1973. Because we know Bugno worked with Francesco Conconi and testing revealed a high hematocrit—for which he was sanctioned—I think it’s fair to mark this as the date when racing grand tours changed. Fair enough, that is, until we get testimony through a TRC.
Simply put, the 1990 Giro was the first grand tour won with the aid of EPO.
While EPO use changed the whole of racing, it had the greatest effect on the grand tours, where being able to stay out of the red zone thanks to extra red blood cells paid dividends as the race wore on. It was during the 1990 season that Bugno and Claudio Chiappucci stormed to prominence. A year later Miguel Indurain won his first Tour de France, and like Chiappucci and Bugno, Big Mig counted Conconi among his advisors.
The 1990 season was a turning point in that not only did it see the first grand tour won with the aid of EPO (the Giro), it also saw the last clean win in the Tour de France prior to two generations of wins tainted by oxygen-vector doping. Has there been a clean winner of the Tour since Greg LeMond’s 1990 win? Very probably, but certainly not between 1991 and 2006. The possibility of a clean winner seems to have grown more convincing with each year since 2007.
A TRC has the ability to settle this question.
Now, regarding LeMond, it’s easy enough to find comments on Facebook or Twitter from people willing to accuse him of having doped. Even without a TRC, the evidence suggests that in 1989 each of the grand tours was won without oxygen-vector doping. The Vuelta was won by Pedro Delgado, the Giro by Laurent Fignon and the Tour by LeMond. Each of those guys had won a grand tour prior to the availability of EPO. While we know that both Delgado and Fignon doped, we have reason to believe they weren’t using EPO in ’89. What’s interesting about ’89 is that this is the year Chiappucci, Bugno and Indurain began to threaten the GC. In ’89 Chiappucci finished 46th and 81st in the Giro and Tour, respectively. A year later? A remarkable 12th and 2nd. In ’88, Bugno withdrew from the Giro and finished the Tour in 62nd. In ’89 he went 23rd and 11th. In ’90, of course, he won the Giro and finished the Tour in 7th. Indurain’s rise was more gradual, less outwardly suspicious; he finished 97th in the ’87 Tour, but gradually climbed the ranks up to 47th, 17th and 10th before winning.
What makes all three of these riders of a piece is the fact that they started anonymously before rising to prominence. LeMond, Fignon, Merckx and Bernard Hinault all share in common the fact that their brilliance and potential shown early on. LeMond differs only in that he didn’t win his first Tour—he was third.
Lance Armstrong is accused of being at the center of the greatest doping program in history, the greatest sporting fraud ever perpetrated. It’s a charge we can’t really resolve. If there was a greater sporting fraud, it hasn’t been exposed. Ultimately, this isn’t a terribly important question. What the Armstrong fall has done, however, is to open the public’s eyes to the breadth of doping that has taken place. It has introduced suspicion into the cycling fan’s vocabulary. The problem before us is how to put this behind us. We may never put the genie back in the bottle, but a TRC has the ability to educate us on more than just who doped; it has the ability to clear those who did not dope.
Aside from simply dispensing the truth, a TRC will freshly frame the achievement of riders like LeMond, riders who would have accomplished more were it not for the rise of EPO. A TRC that reaches back to 1990 will give us a new way to define courage.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
It might be that turning one’s attention to the Tour de France in July is inevitable for the dedicated cyclist. If it’s July, we’re watching the Tour. So being among other cyclists for me means conversations that are as likely to include talk of the Tour as they are talk of the weather.
The conversations are different this year, as compared to other years. This is the first Tour in the wake of USADA’s Reasoned Decision, the first Tour since Tyler Hamilton’s “The Secret Race,” the first Tour since the fall of Lance Armstrong. As a result the viewing public no longer seem to be willing to watch with the general belief that the peloton is clean, that we can watch first and worry about positive tests if or when they turn up. We seem to be asking questions first and watching second.
And of course, the question on everyone’s lips is whether the yellow jersey is clean. It may be that Chris Froome is clean. It may be. However, we, the cycling fans that watch the Tour, are unsure what to believe. The old practice of accepting a rider as clean until a positive test has burned us badly. So while UCI head Pat McQuaid loves to tout just how much better the testing is now than it was when he assumed the office of the president. That may be, but if you’re injured in a car accident, the surgeon asks himself not whether the bleeding is less, but whether the bleeding has stopped. Imagine a doctor coming to you and saying, “Good news, you’re bleeding much less today.”
McQuaid just doesn’t understand that’s not acceptable. We don’t want a pretty clean sport, we want a clean sport. Reasonable people will understand that some riders will always cheat, always seek a shortcut to glory. The assurance we need is that the sport’s governing body is doing all they can to pursue a clean sport. It’s apparent that for many years the UCI has simply wanted the appearance of a clean sport, and this distinction helps to explain why in 2010 the UCI waited until October to reveal that Alberto Contador had tested positive at the Tour de France.
Following the stage 11 time trial, Froome has a lead of 3:25 over Alejandro Valverde. But within a minute of Valverde are Bauke Mollema, Alberto Contador, Roman Kreuziger and Laurens Ten Dam. Froome’s gap begs questions in this era. In watching the coverage we’ve seen how he amassed his gap, but we’re asking not how he got his gap, but what allowed him to get his gap.
The tragedy here is that Froome is being painted with a doper’s brush even though he’s never tested positive. Sure, we can talk about his third-fastest ascent of Ax 3 Domaines, but he’s not new to climbing with stunning talent in a Grand Tour. If Froome goes on to win the 2013 Tour, the ineffectiveness of the UCI will have cheated the rider of his deserved glory and us of the enjoyment of watching a true champion crowned.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
VeloPress has released a new book celebrating the 100th Tour de France called, obviously enough, Tour de France 100. The text is written by Richard Moore, the author of such volumes as In Search of Robert Millar and Slaying the Badger. And while Moore gets top billing, the book’s subtitle is “A photographic history of the world’s greatest race.” The true stars of this book are the many photographers whose names appear in 6 pt. type at the back of the book. Moore’s role as author is to give context and overview rather than try to replay each of the 100 editions of the race. It’s a study of the sport’s stars, the ultimate box set of the race’s iconic events.
The book is built largely from the Getty archives, with many previous photo agencies co-presented with the Getty name, such as Gamma-Keystone and Popperfoto. The photo world sometimes grouses about the dominance of Getty, but in buying up so many archives they made a book like this not just possible, but richer for it. Sometimes the permissions process is too onerous to include the images that would best fit the account; it’s a shame. Worth noting is the work of photographer Roger Viollet, who is the star of the show for the first half of the book. While you’ll recognize an image here or there, the bulk of the images prior to the 1990s are likely to be new to you.
Were this a slide show, Moore’s text would make for the perfect narration, reminding us of the storylines that dominated each year’s race. He not only covers the racing action, he brings in the present, reminding us that Raymond Poulidor is still a fixture of the Tour, and in that is not only a part of the rich history of the race, but he’s a part of the race’s public face even now.
Moore doesn’t shy from the topic of doping, either. Had he dodged the subject, this book would have suffered for it. He addresses the scandals throughout the years head-on, and while Lance Armstrong may have been expunged from the record books, this volume points out perfectly a point I’ve made previously about making peace with our past: Mellow Johnny is still in the photos.
Moore’s love for the race comes through in that he neither shies from the race’s more sordid events, nor does he condemn them. It’s a deft balance he strikes and in doing so he has created an account of the race befitting its title.
Coffee table books on cycling are so plentiful that coming up with a new excuse for one is hard, but if ever there was a reason for a photographic retrospective of the Tour, the passage of its 100th edition is it. This 11″ x 12 1/2″ edition is the largest format book on cycling in my collection, and at 250 pages, it’s not a slim volume either. With a suggested retail of just $34.95, this book is a no-brainer for any cyclist’s collection.
What now passes for the “they” and “them” that comprises the broad opinion of the world—that indeterminate body of the Interwebs and blogosphere—has belched up a new opinion about pro cycling: A Truth and Reconciliation Commission will never happen, that it’s not possible.
Let’s unbox that one a bit: The truth is not possible.
This opinion has been presented by cynical friends, by an occasional contributor to RKP, even by none other than Lance Armstrong. The popular reason has usually been that Pat McQuaid stood in the way, like nuclear waste.
Nah, dude, I don’t need it that bad.
Oh, but that may no longer be the problem it once was. Thanks to a not “vocal minority” that showed up to Cycling Ireland’s recent Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), Pat McQuaid has failed to secure a third nomination to the office of president of the UCI. It’s little wonder that McQuaid thought he had the nomination sewn up initially. While the vote (91 against vs. 74 for) seems on the surface to be fairly close, what emerged in the aftermath of the meeting is that Cycling Ireland’s board members (almost uniformly cronies of McQuaid) had the ability to exercise two votes each. That’s as shitty an old-b0y network as I’ve encountered.
There’s no telling if this outcome will domino his potential nomination by the Swiss federation, but in a truly democratic process he wouldn’t have such an opportunity. Hopefully, the Swiss will heed the cry of the outraged mob and will distance themselves from the real blight behind our doping problem.
The irony here is that just as it seems like we may have the chance to throw off the McShackles, the new scenario proffered by the naysayers is the threat of prosecution for any rider who confesses. Neverminding the fact that Spanish cyclists have hitherto been lionized for winning, no matter the method, pointing out the reasons why a TRC can’t work is a bit like peeing on your own feet before walking in a New York subway restroom, which as a category are some of the foulest places I’ve ever been, but that’s no reason to decide that urine-soaked feet are so inevitable that you take matters in your own hands.
As cyclists who profess to love this sport I think we—each of us—have an obligation to spread good ideas when we hear them. I believe that Pat McQuaid would have cruised to a third nomination were it not for the worldwide outcry against his leadership. The Irish (God bless their souls) heard us and joined the chorus. One CI board member noted that the vote was largely split along generational lines, with younger cyclists voicing their opposition against McQuaid. It should be little wonder then that Stephen Roche came out in favor of the current UCI pressdent. Lest we forget, Roche was one of Paul Kimmage’s most vocal critics when Rough Ride was first published. Kimmage was frequently called a traitor to the sport. History has finally proven that it was Roche, not Kimmage, who betrayed the ideals that the public had been led to believe were how their favorite pros lived and trained. Let’s not forget two things about Roche’s past: He threatened to sue Kimmage (though he never did) and he was proven by Italian courts to have taken EPO while working with Francesco Conconi.
So while we may manage to remove McQuaid from his office in Aigle, we are unlikely to be completely rid of him; he’s likely to return to race promotion. If we get lucky, potential sponsors may shy from him they way they shy from some teams currently. It would be a fitting outcome.
Brian Cookson may provide a fresh direction for the UCI, should he be elected as the next president. However, it would be somewhat ironic to have him run unopposed if the Swiss federation pass on nominating McQuaid. It would be helpful to have an actual election in which at least two candidates face off for the simple reason that the competition would force each candidate to sharpen their thoughts. I’ve heard plenty of snarky responses in response to the interview we ran with Cookson. I’ll defend the interview in as much as I think we needed to start to get to know Cookson, and find out about his background. I wasn’t terribly surprised that most of his answers were somewhat canned; I suspect we’ll hear greater depth once he has finished composing his manifesto. I think he would do well to note the snarks out there; the cycling world is too angry about how things have gone to simply rubber stamp him into the next presidency.
No matter what happens with the election, we will need to make our voices heard about what we expect for the depth and pace of reform.
While the prosecutorial and jurisdictional concerns make it seem like a TRC is unworkable, the fact is that WADA could conceivably cut agreements with agencies in the largest cycling countries. Honestly, there aren’t that many governments at stake. Agreements with just a dozen countries—France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Canada—would cover more than 95% of the current road pros. Immunity from prosecution isn’t the biggest hurdle we face. The bigger problem is backlash from sponsors and fans. Even if team management negotiated contract clauses that excepted riders from confessions made as part of a TRC, that’s not to say the sponsor couldn’t just not renew the contract once it expires. And the fans. The fans.
Recent history has shown that cycling fans (cue the Jack Nicholson clip) “can’t handle the truth.” Prior to the nosing around of Jeff Novitzky and Travis Tygart, George Hincapie was one of the most beloved American riders there was. Even as Lance Armstrong’s star began to fall, the cycling public continued to dote on Hincapie. Most of us were still able to main an uneasy fandom even as the allegations surfaced. What’s been most interesting to my eye is the backlash that ensued against Hincapie and his co-confessors, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie and Tom Danielson. Two years ago these riders were beloved, even if Hincapie’s Pla d’Adet development in suburban Greenville hadn’t panned out. If you doubt that, all you need to do is check out a Youtube clip of Hincapie from relatively recent history, such as this one (just fast foward to about 7:45 for the desired effect). Given the backlash against his revelation, one wonders how his B&B will fare.
The message we’re sending is pretty clear: Don’t confess so we can still pretend you’re clean so we can still like you. The term for this is dysfunction. Such pretending is going to be much harder in the wake of a report just issued by the Dutch Anti-Doping Commission. The commission interviewed a number of riders active during the period the Armstrong dominated the Tour de France. Their conclusion was that a conservative estimate suggests 80 percent of all Dutch cyclists were using EPO, though it’s possible that percentage was as high as 95 percent.
What this points to is an overall cognitive dissonance I think we, as a subculture, have yet to reconcile. The report suggests that the odds are every cyclist who won a stage race from 1996 to 2005 was on EPO and/or blood transfusions. It’s a safe bet it’s true for most of the one-day races as well. If only 20 percent of the peloton was on EPO, the laws of probability hold that some clean cyclists win. But the advantage of oxygen vector doping is so great that if 80 percent of the peloton (and that seems a reasonable, as in not overboard, number) was using, the chances that a clean rider might win a race fall between mince et non.
These revelations have come at a price for at least some of us. On Sunday’s ride, a friend said that he was less excited by the prospect of the looming Tour de France than any in memory. I told him I was relieved to hear that because I have to admit, I just don’t care the way I normally do. I credit Pat McQuaid, not the doped cyclists, with my disillusion.
Writing off all the dopers and ex-dopers is more difficult than it seems; it ignores the complicated past of cycling. It’s hard to rail against a guy like Hincapie while we still wear T-shirts glorifying Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi. The only difference between those two giants of the road is that Coppi admitted to doping. Can we maintain a double standard for pros as if we collectively agreed to some sort of grandfather clause regarding all wins prior to 1996, rather than to simply make our peace with what happened and move on? Coppi may not be a fair example; he hails from a time so long ago it’s hard to get upset about anything he did because it took place before a great many of us were born. But what of Miguel Indurain? Are we really going to draw and quarter Armstrong and yet give a pass to a guy who was 6′ 2″, weighed 176 pounds and could chase Marco Pantani up the Col du Galibier?
Yeah, that’s naturally occurring.
My point here is that in giving a bye to certain riders, we demonstrate our uneasy relationship with the truth. We are probably more comfortable not having the full truth, but that doesn’t eliminate the good that could be gained were the UCI and WADA to have the benefit of in-depth interviews with riders who have doped. The bottom line is that you, I and the rest of cycling fandom want the sport cleaned up. To get there requires finding the button for Pat McQuaid’s ejector seat, as well as learning how to prevent doping in the future. Detailed, sealed testimony is the best path to that. It may be that some cyclists will choose to make their testimony public. If so, God help them—I mean, great. Either way, we need to give our vocal support to the idea that the UCI and WADA need as full an accounting of the past as they may achieve. A truth and reconciliation commission remains an indispensable tool in moving forward.
So last week the Wall Street Journal published a piece on the death of Lycra cycling clothing. As if the use of man-made fibers, clipless pedals and shaved legs was one elaborate fad. Or fraud. The Journal doesn’t mind wooing controversy, and this was one of those occasions. The piece, “Cycling’s Spandez Coup d’Etat,” is a piece of work I honestly would have thought was beneath the publication. Why? Well, it confuses correlation with causation in that there has been an increase of riders not wearing Lycra and Lance Armstrong has fallen from grace. However, Armstrong’s fall did not cause people to huck their Lycra in the trash can anymore than he caused the rise of the hipsters. Then there’s the fact that while the writer cites Rapha as one of the brands selling clothing that subscribes to this new ethos. Nevermind the fact that most of what Rapha sells is, uh, Lycra. Pesky details. Similarly, Giro’s New Road line is an intriguing take on what cycling clothing can be. But it hasn’t exactly achieved the sort of penetration that merits the suggestion that Lycra is on its way out. Ditto for Levi’s.
While Giro’s new line has taken some flack, it’s truly an innovative take on what cycling clothing can be. Will it replace my RKP kit? Um, no. Do I think I could find a place for it in my wardrobe? Absolutely. It’s the sort of stuff I could see me wearing for a coffee ride or for running a bunch of errands by bike, or when heading out for a ride with my son.
The reader relatively unfamiliar with cycling will probably miss the fact that the only magazine editor quoted—Mia Kohut of Momentum—works for a lovely but tiny publication well out of the mainstream of cycling. Why not talk to Bill Strickland or Peter Flax of Bicycling? Similarly, my friend Josh Horowitz of Broken Bones Bicycle Co. was quoted, rather than anyone from Trek, Specialized or Giant. Josh is a good guy and has a fun take on the bike biz, but if you want to talk to someone who is actually influencing the industry, you’d be well-served to talk to John Burke.
Let me be ultra-clear about this: Using the shallow end of the bell curve as a bellwether for a new norm is just shoddy journalism.
Did Armstrong’s fall make it less fashionable to wear Lycra cycling clothing? Well that begs the question of whether or not it was ever fashionable, to which I have to answer only maybe. There’s no doubt, though, that the water has receded from whatever high-water mark wearing cycling clothing reached in relative hipitude. But what reporter Kevin Helliker misses is the simple fact that for 90 percent of us, Armstrong was never the reason we wore Lycra. We wear it because it works. What would have served both cycling and the reader better is if he’d chased the real story, not the sensationalist BS of projecting the demise of Lycra (which he prefers to refer to as Spandex).
There is a real story here in how cycling’s numbers are growing, thanks almost entirely to the hipster fixie movement. And it is a movement; we can no longer call it a fad. I’ll admit that you’ll never find me riding a fixed-gear bike in traffic. Why? I want to survive a while yet. You’ll never find me wearing skinny jeans. Why? I’m not skinny. You’ll also never find me growing facial hair for ironic reasons. Why? I’m not funny enough.
That said, I dig anything that gets more of us—and by “us” I don’t mean the us of cyclists, but the us of homo sapiens—out there. And that’s really the bottom line: More cyclists is better for anyone who rides a bike. An increased presence means more facilities, greater awareness on the part of drivers (at least, the ones who aren’t drunk), and more cyclists mean more livable communities. So while Giro has taken some heat for their New Road line, I honestly welcome it. People will ride more and longer if they are comfortable. For new cyclists, the idea that the price of admission means looking like a shrink-wrapped pro bass fisherman is too high for most people who self-select as normal. What Giro is doing has the ability to gradually integrate less-casual cyclists into die-hards of the sport.
And while we’re on the subject of Giro taking heat, last week also saw the arrival of a new ad campaign by the folks who brought back the lace-up shoe. In response to criticisms that the new Air Attack helmet looks like a skateboard helmet, they went to a skatepark with a road bike, a photographer and, well, let’s call him an acrobat. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think it does anything to further the stated mission of the helmet—improved aerodynamic performance while still protecting your head—but it shows that they have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves. Far too many people and companies in the bike industry lack this ability, and while there’s no requirement that you need to laugh at yourself, Giro’s perspective is refreshing. This ability to sit back and look at something critically, objectively is at the heart of the New Road line of clothing. Little wonder that they are responsible for both.
I’ve yet to wear the new helmet, but I’ve been wearing a few of the New Road pieces, a Merino top and the bib shorts and baggy-ish outer short. The fit is good and it’s comfortable. How much more than that is necessary is up for discussion. I’ve had a fair number of friends who understood adventure and a good time, but they’d never ride a bike because in their minds putting on Lycra meant surrendering their manhood at the garage door. I wish stuff like this had been available 20 years ago. It would have made my job at bike shops more interesting, more successful. Had there been a middle ground clothing-wise, I think we could have turned more bike buyers into committed cyclists.
Ultimately, my willingness to welcome Giro’s New Road line, or Club Ride or any of the other forays into this territory comes back to a point I made earlier. Even if they never wear Lycra, more cyclists on the road is good for those of us who choose to wear it. We’re less “other” once we’re both cyclists. More cyclists means better awareness that we’re out there and more acceptance that we have a right to be out there.
Let me begin by saying that I bear you no malice. I am not someone who’d like to see you dragged through the streets of Paris so that crowds can do to you what crowds are wont to do. I am not someone who has forgotten that you have done real good in the world and am well aware that in guys like Mike Ward and Jeff Castelaz, there continue to be genuine acolytes to the north star you provided those navigating the perils of cancer. I’m okay with that.
I am not someone who has forgotten the hope you represented to cycling here in the U.S. back in 1996, that you began to fill the void left by the retirement of Greg LeMond. I’ll never forget hearing Jim Ochowicz say at the final press conference for the Tour DuPont that it was time to start grooming you to win the Tour de France. I wrote this as you began your comeback, and when you did win the Tour in ’99 I thought myself prescient, rather than duped.
And while I doubt you even remember me, yours remain the most entertaining interview I ever conducted. It was a truly fun afternoon.
In previously writing about cycling and you, I struck a pragmatic tone, differing with the likes of David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. Walsh classified dopers as either draggers or the dragged; I reasoned that fundamentally, every cyclist of your generation was either dragged into doping, or quit. I’ve learned the truth is otherwise, that Walsh was right, that the lengths you went to exert influence over not just your team, but the whole of the peloton included wire taps and private investigators—tactics too coarse for sport. It’s easier to understand now why you accused Greg LeMond of using EPO—you simply thought that everyone did.
What you don’t seem to understand is that your interview with Oprah was never going to serve the purpose you desired. It was both too soon and too late. It was too late in that the horse hasn’t been in the barn for ages. The collective weight of the documents released in USADA’s Reasoned Decision dethroned your myth as the prevailing world view. It’s often said that history is told by the victors. Your story proves exactly that. Your version of events stood for a decade, but game, set and match have gone to Travis Tygart. By giving an interview to Oprah that fell short of what we learned from the Reasoned Decision, you failed to meet the minimum level of confession required to help your image. We didn’t need a body language expert to tell us your pursed lips meant you were holding back. And the interview also came too soon in that the public remains outraged over the revelation that the Cancer Jesus was something more akin to Machiavelli. They simply aren’t ready to forgive a lie that great.
As my colleague Charles Pelkey noted (and yeah, I know you think of him as “clueless”), your use of the passive voice—“got bullied”—suggests you really haven’t taken responsibility for your actions.
You dodged both the “deathbed confession” at the heart of your fight with the Andreus and the 2001 positive at the Tour of Switzerland. We no longer believe what you’re telling us. Why you won’t simply confirm that Betsy and Frankie have been telling the truth mystifies me. It’s not like you can hope to win the coming suit by SCA Promotions, so why hide? Why you won’t admit the Tour of Switzerland positive took place is less surprising. At this point, you have no reason to protect Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid, as they are no longer protecting you. But it’s obvious that Nike, alleged to have helped pay off Verbruggen to make the positive go Jimmy Hoffa, would suffer a PR black eye far worse than sweat-shopping every child in Southeast Asia, and if you out them, your dream of rehabilitating your image so that you can once again “Just Do It” for them will go bye-bye.
That you would sit down with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission may have been the biggest lie you told Oprah. Dude, come on, if you won’t level with her—and she’s as sympathetic a listener as anyone ever gets—there’s little chance you’ll tell the whole truth to people who really know the sport, people who will ask hard questions.
I like to imagine that there’s an alternate universe, one where you delete the Strava account and go underground, where you drop by cancer wards unannounced, where you sit with people at death’s door and do what you do best: Give people hope. While I think Sally Jenkins’ quip that you beat cancer fair and square is asinine, I know that you can’t fake hope. There’s another narrative in you, room to say, “Yeah, I did some really stupid things to my body and my sport, but I still managed to beat this disease, and you can too.” And when you aren’t visiting cancer patients, you would be quietly showing up on doorsteps. First the Andreus. There’d be an apology and then you’d whip out your calculator to help figure the value of all that lost income.
And then you’d write a check.
Next, you’d fly to the U.K. and do the same for Emma O’Reilly. Then on to New Zealand where you’d present six figures to Mike Anderson. You’d take Floyd Landis out for beers, but not until you gave him a check, one with two commas. The toughest one would be the LeMonds. Done right, you’d find a bike company with the horsepower and credibility to revive LeMond’s bike line, probably Specialized or Giant, because I doubt John Burke, the head of Trek, and Greg LeMond will ever shake hands again … thanks to you, of course. In my mind’s eye you’d apologize to the LeMonds and tell them of the new deal, one that required no lawyers, and then the biggest check of the bunch, one that measured in tens—of millions. Yeah, that one would hurt. It’s the one that would make you think, over and over, about what you have done.
Without any press in tow, without any of your minions to insulate you, and no lawyers to get in the way, you’d come face to face with your actions and deal with the fallout. But word would spread and nothing could rehabilitate your image like having Betsy Andreu say, “Lance Armstrong sat down with Frankie and me, apologized, and then asked, ‘What can I do to make you whole?’”
Writing checks can’t fix the harm you did, but it would be a way to reconcile their earnings to yours, a way to right-size what your and their careers should have been. Despite all the good you’ve done for millions of cancer patients, the way you damaged the lives of those who got in your way stands as a symbol for the damage you caused cycling as a whole. With Oprah you rued the $75 million hit you took in a single day. Well guess what? Cycling as a sport has taken a much bigger hit. You are our Hurricane Katrina. Selling cycling to potential sponsors is tougher than selling real estate in the Ninth Ward. We’ll be cleaning up this mess for years to come.
I used to smile and wave when people at the side of the road called out, “Hey Lance Armstrong!” My God man, you single-handedly transformed cycling from the non-sport of geeky outcasts into a triumph of healthy living. Your downfall took us with you; now cycling is the sport of cheaters. Today, I hear people yell, “Doper!”
Look, I’m the first to argue against the lifetime ban for cyclists. We profess to be a society where anyone can apologize and be forgiven, but Lance, we don’t yet believe you’re contrite. When I look at how much harm, shame and ridicule you’ve brought to cycling, I realize if anyone has earned a lifetime ban, it’s you.
Red Kite Prayer
Tempting as it might have been, my good friend Patrick O’Grady and I decided not to crank up LiveUpdateGuy.com and offer up a running commentary during the “Worldwide Exclusive” on Oprah these past two nights.
“Why bother?” the sage from Bibleburg asked.
It would have been fun, but mostly because it would have afforded both of us the opportunity to catch up with the group of regulars, who have come to call themselves “LUG nuts.” That’s a bit of shorthand for that little community that comes together during the grand tours for a combination of race reporting, thumbnail sketches of local history, haiku and a healthy dose of snark.
For a race, it’s a nice little place to field questions, offer observations and commentary and – if the occasion warrants – rude descriptions of people who take themselves way too @#$%ing seriously. But to devote two evenings to one of that latter group? Nahhhhh.
O’Grady was right. Why bother, indeed. Dinner, a nice Cabernet and even sleep were each a better option.
Instead, I took a pass, catching up on video of the interview and others’ observations in those quiet, early morning hours that have become my favorite time of the day. So, yeah, I ended up watching the entire thing, but not in real time.
To be honest, there is something rather liberating about no longer being obligated to report on the “Lance story” with anything resembling a sense of urgency these days.
What interested me more than the interview, though, were the reactions from those I respect … and those I do not.
Reactions I wanted to hear
On Friday, I woke up in time to catch the Sunday Times’ David Walsh on the BBC, offering a mixed reaction to Part I of the interview. David was making the rounds, doing his seventh or eighth interview of the day and beginning to lose his voice.
His were opinions I wanted to hear. David brought a healthy dose of skepticism with him to the 1999 Tour de France. He left with a high degree of certainty, offended both by the arrogance of a drug cheat who could lie without flinching and the apparent unwillingness of the sport’s authorities to do anything about it. It was especially painful in light of the fact that we were there reporting on the first “Post-Festina” Tour. 1999 was supposed to be the start of a new chapter in cycling. Unfortunately, it was … but for all the wrong reasons.
What I admired – and still admire – about Walsh is that he stuck to his guns. Even when shunned by teams, riders and, yes, even friends and colleagues, he did his damnedest to get at the truth. The man that the Armstrong camp constantly referred to as “the f#cking troll,” finally saw the target of his efforts concede that he had been right all along.
“Do I feel vindicated? I will be honest and say no,” Walsh said. “Vindication comes when you are challenged by many people and you need other people to say you were right. I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I never needed other people to say I was right.
“I’m glad it came out but I never needed that to know that Lance Armstrong was involved in doping in ’99 … and every time subsequently since that time.”
Walsh did appreciate that it was Armstrong himself publicly acknowledging that he had cheated, but he remained deeply offended by the interview subject’s unwillingness to concede, for example, that Betsy and Frankie Andreu have been telling the truth for more than a decade.
When asked about the now-infamous 1996 “hospital incident,” in which he confessed to using a veritable pharmacopeia of substances in the years preceding his cancer, Armstrong demurred, saying he simply didn’t “want to go there.”
Armstrong revealed to Oprah that he had tried to make amends in a call to the Andreus’ home days before the interview. When asked if things were “good” with his former teammate and his wife, Armstrong acknowledged that he has a long way to go before that will happen.
“They’ve been hurt too badly and a 40-minute conversation isn’t enough,” Armstrong said with heart-tugging sincerity.
Then, much like the Alien bursting out of Executive Officer Kane’s chest, the old Armstrong suddenly reared its ugly head.
“I think she’d be okay with me saying this,” Armstrong incorrectly assumed, “but I am going to take the liberty to say this and I said ‘listen, I called you crazy and I called you a bitch. I called you all these things, but I never called you fat.”
Why Oprah didn’t just lean over and slap him across the face right then and there shall forever remain a mystery to me.
Meanwhile, Betsy, a guest on Anderson Cooper’s 360 program on CNN, was floored. Her emotional reaction didn’t flare up because of that feeble and dismissive attempt at humor. Hers was an honest, heart-felt response to more than a decade of abuse heaped upon her, her husband and his career.
Betsy is still pissed and, dammit, she deserves to be.
So, too, is Emma O’Reilly, who, after speaking to Walsh about doping on Postal, was characterized by Armstrong as an alcoholic and a whore and then sued.
“She’s one of these people that I have to apologize to,” Armstrong acknowledged. “She’s one of these people who got run over, who got bullied.”
Please, note the use of the passive voice here. It’s akin to “mistakes we made,” not “I made a mistake.” Emma O’Reilly was “one of these people who got run over, who got bullied,” not “I made that poor woman’s life a living hell.”
In O’Reilly’s case, a big part of that bullying came in the form of Armstrong’s weapon of choice, the lawsuit. Indeed, it was something he so commonly used, he had to hesitate when asked if he had filed one against the former Postal soigneur.
“To be honest Oprah we sued so many people,” he said, finally abandoning the passive, ”… I’m sure we did.”
That he forgot whether or not he had sued a financially challenged young woman, simply for telling the truth, underscores the callousness with which he approached the question. Rest assured, anyone in O’Reilly’s shoes being sued for libel by a millionaire sports figure, backed by a cadre of high-priced lawyers, would have no trouble remembering the experience. But for the fact that there many more examples, that answer and that answer alone demonstrated how little real regard he had for the people to whom he was “apologizing.” Contrite as he tried to appear, this guy really didn’t – and still doesn’t – give a shit.
Salle de Presse
Virtually anyone who has written about cycling at any point in their journalism career has weighed in on this one by now. Some of them I truly enjoyed, a list topped out by Bonnie Ford’s insightful and thoughtful ESPN column “Still moving reflexively in the rubble.”
Ford has followed this silly-assed story since 2000 and is among the most insightful in the American press corps. She is, by any measure, the best ESPN has to offer.
If you shift your attention to the other end of the qualitative spectrum, however, you hit Ford’s fellow ESPN columnist, Rick Reilly.
This week, Reilly’s column started with an email from Armstrong.
Riles, I’m sorry.
All I can say for now but also the most heartfelt thing too. Two very important words.
And my first thought was … “Two words? That’s it?”
Two words? For 14 years of defending a man? And in the end, being made to look like a chump?
No, Mr. Reilly, you looked like a chump long before we got to “the end.”
Reilly and a parade of others, including Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post, former pro John Eustice, the TV guys, Phil, Paul, Bob and, sadly, even an old friend and colleague with whom I’ve traveled and covered races, had to know. They chose to ignore the truth, denied the doping and, more importantly, stood by with hands in pockets while the bullying was going on.
They were the enablers who allowed a sociopath to run rampant through this beautiful sport for more than a decade, all the while inflicting incalculable damage on a group of fundamentally honest and decent people.
What I wish were final thoughts
So what are we to conclude from the two-night confessional? To start, for all of the criticism offered after the announcement of Armstrong’s choice of venue, I have to say that Ms. Winfrey did a pretty reasonable job. She did her homework, noting that she had read the reasoned decision and “all of David Walsh’s books” in preparation. Her questions were solid and based on allegations and incidents that a well-informed observer would raise. Her only failure was not to aggressively pursue those questions when the answer proved evasive. All-in-all, she did a good job and probably got more out of the guy than would a three-member panel composed of Walsh, Andreu and O’Reilly.
Personally, I came away from it pretty much how I thought I might: A little amazed at the fact that the guy was actually admitting to things he’d been denying throughout his entire career; damn sure that he’s not telling the whole story, carefully calculating what he does say and, finally, the feeling that all of us were somehow being manipulated into the start of a new and concerted PR campaign.
The Oprah interview seemed to be a calculated kick-off to the sequel to Armstrong’s original “Road to Recovery,” when he returned to cycling from cancer. Now, we’ve been duly primed and ready to follow this newly contrite messiah on the “Road to Redemption.”
Armstrong said he would like to open up and cooperate with USADA or a “truth and reconciliation” commission in cycling. Following the first interview, USADA’s Travis Tygart released a statement that he would like to have Armstrong testify … “under oath.”
I would enjoy that and it could go a long way to cleaning up the sport, especially if he opens up about the UCI’s role in all of this. Still, one of Armstrong’s not-so-secret motives in all of this is to reverse what he called “the death penalty,” a life-time ban from any sport that operates under the WADA Code. “Death penalty,” seems a somewhat hyperbolic characterization of a life-time ban from competition, but given the nature of the offenses, killing off this career seems fair.
I have my opinion, folks. I welcome yours.