Drugs and the Peloton
Team Armstrong Responds
If you’ve followed the reactions to Armstrong’s decision, you know that many people—fans and journalists alike—believe him. “I never thought I’d see #Armstrong quit,” read a typical tweet. “But this smells more like a witch hunt by #USADA than anything else. He’s never failed a test.”
The standard Armstrong defense starts with the naive assumption that it’s impossible to beat drug tests and usually rounds out like this: Even if Armstrong did cheat, he’s a person who came along when drugs were endemic to the sport of bike racing, and he got sucked into using them like many others did. But that era is behind us, so we should let it drop and move on, celebrating Armstrong for the good work he does as a cancer philanthropist. “Yes, Lance has 2B stripped of his 7 Tour de France titles now,” ESPN columnist Rick Reilly wrote in his Twitter feed. “Still, to millions, his work for cancer victims alone makes him a champion.”
“Lance Armstrong is a good man,” Sally Jenkins (co-author of It’s Not About the Bike) declared in a Washington Post column that took dead aim at USADA. “There’s nothing that I can learn about him short of murder that would alter my opinion on that.”
I might be sympathetic if I hadn’t worked for Armstrong, hadn’t seen him act so often based on a combination of self-interest and spite. Many of the episodes I discuss in what follows—including what I observed on the doping front—have been aired before, in depositions taken during the lawsuits. Some haven’t been heard anywhere, including the statements I made last year to Jeff Novitzky during the FDA investigator’s failed attempt to take Armstrong to federal court.
I’m telling my story now because millions of people still look up to Armstrong as a role model. That’s their choice, and I think it’s possible he can emerge from the wreckage and continue his second career as a fundraiser for cancer awareness. But he needs to come clean at this point, and the people who support him need to understand that he isn’t and never has been a victim. Here, too, Betsy Andreu put it best: “Until the truth is told, you’re not even dealing with reality.”
I'VE BEEN MADLY IN love with cycling since I was five. Not the sport at first but the bikes themselves—for the exhilaration they gave me as an Army brat, constantly being moved from place to place and needing consistency wherever I could find it. Growing up that way made me an independent kid, a trait encouraged by my very independent Irish Catholic mother. I wasn’t into team sports at all. The only vaguely sporting thing I liked was racing down the street or through the woods on a bike.
In 1989, when I was 17, my father retired from the Army and we moved to Dallas, where my parents had grown up. About halfway through my senior year in high school, I got a job at one of the huge bike shops that sprouted during the sport’s late-'80s boom. That’s where I first heard the name Greg LeMond and developed an interest in road racing. The sport was mainly contested in Europe, and it had the Old World feel and traditions. Even better, it seemed like an individual’s pursuit, and for once an American was winning.
The shop was owned by a well-to-do South African who sponsored a junior racing team and spent generously to provide good kit and a proper coach. The team members were off racing most weekends, often returning with stories to tell. Some were about another kid who was already dominating, and not always in a nice way. His name was Lance Armstrong, and like me, he was 17.