Drugs and the Peloton
Team Armstrong Responds
Last week, just before the news broke that Lance Armstrong had decided to walk away from his battle with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and accept the likely loss of seven Tour de France titles, Betsy Andreu gave an interview to Bill Strickland, an editor-at-large for Bicycling magazine who has written frequently about the allegations that Armstrong doped. Betsy, the wife of one-time Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, has been a public critic of Armstrong’s for a long time, starting back in 2005. That year she and Frankie both gave depositions saying that in 1996 they heard Armstrong tell doctors in an Indianapolis hospital room that he’d used EPO, human growth hormone, cortisone, steroids, and testosterone.
Armstrong has always denied that. As often happens with him, the denial has been accompanied by harsh attacks on the messenger. So, in his telling, Betsy wasn’t just mistaken about what she said she’d heard, she was a liar and a shrew, motivated by “bitterness, jealousy, and hatred.” In fact, her motivation was straightforward: she was subpoenaed to give a sworn statement in a legal dispute between Armstrong and Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which was trying to withhold a $5 million bonus payment to Armstrong based on allegations that he’d doped to win the 2004 Tour de France.
Strickland asked her what it was like to be blasted for speaking honestly. “What’s the upside been, going up against Lance?” she said. “To be publicly and privately portrayed as an ugly, obese, jealous, obsessed, hateful, crazed bitch?” She pointed out that crossing Armstrong wasn’t exactly good for her husband’s career arc in bike racing. “We've dealt firsthand with very real threats to our economic well-being because we refused to be on the lie-for-Lance train.”
Andreu isn’t alone in being vilified. Others on the list include David Walsh (co-author of the investigative book L.A. Confidentiel, who Armstrong once called “a fucking little troll”), Greg LeMond, Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, Emma O’Reilly, Richard Pound, Travis Tygart, and me.
I joined Armstrong’s staff in late 2002 as a mechanic, trail builder, and all-around handyman and assistant. At that time, we were friends who had often been on mountain-bike rides together, and he had made a written and verbal commitment to finance my dream of opening an Austin bike shop once my work with him was done. Armstrong soured on me for reasons that had nothing to do with my performance as an employee, and when I was abruptly fired in late 2004, no clear reason was given for my termination. He reneged on the promise about the bike shop and started attacking me, personally and professionally, in a way that ruined my job prospects in Austin. I ended up moving my family to New Zealand to start a new life.
Keep in mind that Armstrong went on the offensive first—filing a civil suit that alleged I was extorting him—simply because I was trying to get him to live up to a business agreement we’d made. Unlike some of his foes, such as Landis and LeMond, I had never said a harsh word about him in public. I countersued to protect my livelihood and reputation, and during a battle that was ultimately settled out of court, Armstrong and his lawyers dismissed me as a disgruntled schemer, a line they continue to push whenever my name comes up. A fact sheet that Armstrong’s camp supplies in response to journalists’ queries about me is headlined “Anderson’s Complete Lack of Credibility.”
Armstrong is having a bad year, and it’s about to get worse. His lawyers’ efforts to derail USADA’s case against him—a scorched-earth campaign aimed at destroying the organization outright—failed, so he chose to quit rather than keep fighting. But more revelations are coming soon, with the release of The Secret Race, a tell-all by Tyler Hamilton and co-author Daniel Coyle that promises to expose U.S. Postal’s organized doping program in excruciating detail. Judging by an Associated Press report based on an advance copy, the book could be the death blow to Armstrong’s reputation as an athlete.
Unlike Hamilton, I can’t offer dramatic proof that Armstrong doped—the evidence I saw and heard was convincing to me, but it was also circumstantial—but I can shed light on how he operates as a friend and an employer. This is relevant because Armstrong’s strongest remaining line of defense is that he’s a good guy who’s being victimized, a theme that permeated his statement last Thursday. He still doesn’t admit that he cheated, instead claiming that he’s walking away because USADA’s “charade” is rigged and the legal battles are taking too much of a toll on him and his family. “From the beginning,” he wrote, “this investigation has not been about learning the truth or cleaning up cycling, but about punishing me at all costs.”