Drugs and the Peloton
Team Armstrong Responds
In Spain, we often paid people with Euro notes worth $500, which Armstrong told me to pull from the pockets of a pink Chanel coat that hung in Kristin’s old closet. He kept the coat crammed with cash from his appearance fees. Whether he declared this as income or not, I don’t know. All I discussed with Novitzky was its existence.
In addition to the spending money, Armstrong always had loads of bike swag he wanted to discard, often the spoils of what seemed to be overzealous shopping sprees at NikeTown or other sponsors. I remember one time in Austin when thousands of dollars in shoes, clothing, sunglasses, and other items were simply piled into a heap in his bathtub. Armstrong told me to get rid of it. I had no idea what to do with it all, so I doled some out to my old friends at the bike shop and deposited the rest in Goodwill bins.
If I was so put off, why didn’t I quit? Well, in part because of my own flaws. I was not immune to the job’s obvious perks. Or, as Bill Stapleton once phrased it: “Welcome to the country club.”
Being in that sphere of fame was a strange experience: superficial, manic, sometimes energizing, but often nerve-racking. Within months of starting the job, I’d gone from being a quiet and anonymous wrench to a fixture in Armstrong’s entourage, a role that had me flying around in private jets with a wealthy, widely adored celebrity. Commercial shoots, great hotels, nice cars, free stuff. Armstrong gave me a BlackBerry loaded with every contact imaginable. I had Tiger’s number. I had Hein Verbruggen’s number. I had Bono’s number. I even had the number for President Bush. Not that I ever called any of them.
That summer of 2003, Allison and I watched the Tour at home in Austin with our newborn son. Armstrong won a difficult and tumultuous race, and we were proud of him. After the win, he returned to Austin for a repeat of the previous off-season menu of training, traveling, sponsorship, and Livestrong obligations, which sometimes seemed to get on his nerves. (At one Livestrong event where he had to speak, I heard him mutter under his breath: “I hate these fucking things.”) And, of course, he was dealing with his divorce, which was ugly.
AS I LATER REALIZED, I should have minded my own business—there were times, for example, when I thought Armstrong was partying too much in Austin bars, and I said so. He thanked me for the advice, but this period marked the start of a steady decline in our relationship. Perhaps I came off like a nanny, but a certain meanness emerged on his end, an increased self-centeredness that at times was understandable, given the strain of Armstrong’s breakup.
It wasn’t just his personal life that I was brooding about, however. During a training ride after the emergence of a doping scandal centering on Belgian rider Johann Museeuw—who’d been a favorite of mine for his multiple wins of Paris-Roubaix, the hardest one-day race of them all—I asked Armstrong whether he thought any of the cheating allegations were true. “Everyone does it,” he said nonchalantly, looking me straight in the eyes. That floored me. I didn’t say anything else, but the implication was clear enough.
We carried on that fall and winter with the same routine of training and traveling. I continued to do more and more, which at that point included looking after Armstrong’s ranchette, two houses in town, and the cabin that often housed guests like Michele Ferrari—the Italian physician, now also banned for life by USADA, who worked with Armstrong during all of his Tour wins. (See Bill Gifford’s 2006 Bicycling profile, “Paging Doctor Ferrari.”) We didn’t see as much of each other as in the previous year, and his training didn’t seem to be as solid, which I concluded was the result of his new bachelorhood.