Skip to comments.In Armstrong's cycling world, paranoia and fear reign
Posted on 08/06/2006 7:17:06 PM PDT by Arec Barrwin
Posted on Sat, Aug. 05, 2006
In Armstrong's cycling world, paranoia and fear reign The Dallas Morning News
By Michael Grabell and Cathy Harasta
DALLAS - Lance Armstrong rose to sporting power in a world where paranoia ruled.
He had his meals delivered in a blue cooler during his final Tour de France for fear of sabotage. His team drove miles to dump its trash, knowing that the moment it threw something away, someone else would pick through it. And former cyclists still active in the sport were so worried about the power the seven-time tour winner wielded that they began taping conversations with his associates.
The details from a confidential Dallas legal case decided earlier this year provide an inside, often deeply unflattering look into a part of professional cycling far from the famous Champs Elysees in Paris where the tour champion is crowned. It's a shadowy, insular world that has bred rumors for years that the Plano-reared champion used drugs to boost his performance.
With this year's champion Floyd Landis officially failing a drug test - French authorities announced Saturday that sophisticated tests had detected synthetic testosterone in his urine sample - the stories about Armstrong are circulating again.
Yet despite the incessant gossip, and the ensnaring of several high-profile athletes in doping investigations, Armstrong's image hasn't been damaged. To most Americans, he is still a hero who beat cancer to become one of the greatest athletes of all time.
"He's the most tested athlete in the history of mankind and never failed a single test," said his Austin attorney, Sean Breen. "He's been absolutely willing to go to the mat on these allegations and he's won every single time."
Including the Dallas legal case, which began in September 2004 as a contract dispute over a $5 million bonus for Armstrong's 2004 Tour de France win. In the end, the case morphed into the closest thing to a trial of Lance Armstrong in the U.S., with Armstrong victorious.
In the thousands of pages of transcripts, depositions and exhibits that were presented during the confidential arbitration hearings, there was no definitive proof that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs.
Instead, much of the testimony was from those who had heard stories from others or saw strange things that aroused their suspicion. Several who appeared admitted they were no fans of Armstrong.
His former masseuse testified that she traveled to Spain to pick up a box of pills and delivered them to Armstrong the next morning in a McDonald's parking lot. The wife of an ex-teammate said a trainer named "Pepe" handed him a brown paper bag after dinner in France.
This is a world, according to Armstrong adversaries, where top-rated cyclists traveled to out-of-the-way rendezvous in a camper van with a doctor. Armstrong called "Schumi." Where, on race rest days, couriers carried in drugs in refrigerated compartments attached to their motorcycles. Where a Belgian bike mechanic transported drugs to cyclists in their hotel rooms by hiding them in the hollowed-out heels of his clogs.
"In Europe, it is common knowledge among cycling sports fans that a large number of cyclists dope," said Jeff Tillotson, an attorney for the company Armstrong sued in the Dallas case.
"It is simply assumed as part of the sport much like people here know professional wrestling is staged. Just like we would laugh at a Frenchman who would demand literal proof that the WWF is staged, they laugh at us when we say, `Yeah, but you don't have any positive doping tests.'"
Armstrong, 34, converted from triathlons to cycling as a teenager and began winning races. In 1993, he became the youngest person to win a stage at the Tour de France. And in 1996, he was ranked No. 1 in the world.
But later that year, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Within days, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to his lungs and brain. Armstrong and many others thought he would never race again.
What happened next was a cure and a comeback. Armstrong began training again - and winning. And the drug rumors began drafting behind him everywhere he went.
Armstrong declined, through his attorney, an interview for this story. But in the legal case, he explained the rumors like this:
"I came along in 1999 after 1998, which was probably the biggest drug scandal in the history of world sport. I came along as somebody who was supposed to be dead 18 months ago. You put those two together, competing in the hardest event in the world, it's logical that if he wins, people are going to say, `I don't believe it.'
"Well, he not only won it once, he won it again and again and again, seven times. So obviously those questions and concerns have persisted. And I've learned and grown to deal with them, and we have done what we could to try to fight them and combat them. But at the end of the day - literally at the end of the day, I sleep like a baby, and that's what's most important."
Along the way, the legend of Lance Armstrong was told again and again. And cycling went from a sport of athleticism to one of superstardom like a kid riding on the handlebars of Armstrong's bike.
"After he won his first few tours, he transcended a sports icon," said Andy Lee, spokesman for USA Cycling. "Americans have dominated the Tour de France the last eight years. Anytime you become more successful, the level of scrutiny will be raised."
The origins of the Dallas legal case were in a dispute between Tailwind Sports, the company that managed Armstrong's cycling team, and SCA Promotions, which indemnifies sponsors who promise prizes for athletic achievements.
Dallas-based SCA refused to cover a $5 million bonus Tailwind promised Armstrong for winning the 2004 Tour de France - his sixth straight title - until it could investigate allegations reported in a French book, ``LA Confidential - The Secrets of Lance Armstrong.''
Armstrong and Tailwind sued to force SCA to pay.
Both sides brought in former teammates, business partners, journalists and doctors to testify in a North Dallas office building near the High Five interchange.
Sources for the French book put their allegations under oath. Experts debated the credibility of positive urine test results, reported last year by the French newspaper L'Equipe. Attorneys questioned Armstrong's ties to others who have been linked to cheating.
The proceedings were supposed to be kept secret, the testimony and documents ordered to remain confidential. But in June, details of the case leaked when French newspaper Le Monde reported that a former teammate's wife had testified about a 1996 hospital visit, during which, she said, Armstrong told a doctor he had taken "growth hormone, cortisone, EPO, steroids and testosterone."
Armstrong vigorously denied it.
Two weeks later, the Los Angeles Times reported more details of the case. But public confidence in Armstrong appeared to go unshaken. He got away with off-color jokes while hosting the ESPY awards a week later and was named "Best Male Athlete" for the fourth consecutive year.
The Dallas Morning News obtained virtually all of the documents and other records presented in the case such as transcripts of depositions and testimony given by key participants, including Armstrong. The material was provided to The News by a source who asked to remain unnamed because the proceedings were supposed to remain confidential.
If Armstrong is the Hulk Hogan of cycling to some, to others he is Andre the Giant, the enormous wrestler who often portrayed the evil counterpart to Hogan. And Armstrong's former conditioning consultant, Dr. Michele Ferrari, is the equivalent of the shifty wrestling manager who holds an opponent's neck under the ropes when the ref isn't looking.
SCA attorneys questioned Armstrong's relationship to Dr. Ferrari, calling him "the most notorious doping doctor of all sports."
In 2004, an Italian court convicted Ferrari of sporting fraud but acquitted him of an allegation that he distributed doping products to athletes. The conviction was overturned, but he never lost his reputation as someone who reportedly told a French newspaper, "EPO is not dangerous; it's the abuse that is. It's also dangerous to drink 10 liters of orange juice."
Armstrong's attorneys say the doctor was misquoted and that he was referring to legitimate medical uses of EPO. Dr. Ferrari's critics say that he knows how and when to use performance-enhancing drugs so that they won't be detected in drug tests of athletes.
Supporters say he legitimately mastered the science of cycling. He could tell a rider exactly what weight he needed to be to make the fastest climb in mountain stages. And if an opponent gained a lead, he could calculate when he would tire out.
In one e-mail entered into evidence, Armstrong tells a friend before the 2004 Tour de France, "tests are good (even schumi is psyched)."
SCA attorneys argued that the e-mail was code for performance-enhancing drugs and Dr. Ferrari. Armstrong said they were psychological and climbing tests and that "Schumi" was simply a nickname, comparing the doctor to the top driver for the Ferrari Formula One racing team, Michael Schumacher.
In other testimony, Betsy Andreu, the wife of former teammate Frankie Andreu, described riding in a car with Armstrong and stopping in a small Italian town en route to the 1999 Milan-San Remo cycling race. She said Armstrong met with Dr. Ferrari for an hour in the doctor's camper van, which was parked in a hotel lot to avoid the media.
"I was in there for a brief meeting, check body fat and body composition," Armstrong testified. "But I understand the insinuation that I went in and got doped up the day before Milan-San Remo. I've heard that, but that's not what happened."
Several witnesses described a world not unlike the corrupt union shop in the movie classic ``On the Waterfront,'' where Armstrong can make sure "canaries" never work in cycling again.
"Public opinion is very pro-Lance Armstrong and we take a lot of flak if we say anything negative about him, and it's difficult for our kids," Kathy LeMond said before breaking down in tears during her deposition.
Mrs. LeMond, wife of three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, testified that she and her husband began taping phone conversations with Armstrong associates in the cycling world. The LeMonds said they feared retaliation for speaking out and needed the tapes as protection.
"Everybody is trying to earn their living in the sport, and they think if they go against Lance, they're going to be out of, out of a job," Mr. LeMond said to an Armstrong associate in one taped conversation, according to a transcript.
The feud between the two most famous American cyclists began after LeMond publicly criticized Dr. Ferrari. According to LeMond, Armstrong called him and threatened to produce 10 people who could say he took EPO.
LeMond testified that he then received a series of calls from Armstrong associates. He said John Burke, president of Trek bikes, where both cyclists had contracts, told him that he was being pressured by Armstrong's associates to get LeMond to retract his Ferrari comments.
"For me, it was Lance was trying to extort me, trying to threaten me," LeMond testified.
According to the LeMonds, Julien Devriese, a bike mechanic who worked with both LeMond and Armstrong, told them that Armstrong's team kept mini-refrigerators, called "frigos," to store their drugs. They said he also told them about a training camp in the Pyrenees, where Armstrong and others used "a secret product that no one else had and was undetectable."
LeMond said he also taped a conversation with Emma O'Reilly, Armstrong's former masseuse.
"She said that Julien told her that . . . he is the one that takes in drugs via a hollowed-out heel on his clogs," he testified.
Armstrong denied he threatened the LeMonds and called their allegations "a hundred percent made up." In a statement released in late June, his attorneys called the LeMonds liars and produced a response from Devriese denying the accusations and saying that he doesn't even own a pair of clogs.
Still, others feared Armstrong.
Andreu, who was a U.S. Postal Service team director when Landis and Armstrong were among its riders, produced a tape of a conversation he had at the 2004 Tour de France, in which Armstrong associates tried to get him to sign a statement denying the allegations made in the book ``LA Confidential.''
"I didn't know where this conversation was going to go, and I didn't trust them," he testified. "So, I recorded it."
The Andreus also produced a transcript of an online Instant Message conversation Frankie had in July 2005 with Jonathan Vaughters, another former racing colleague of Armstrong. Andreu and Vaughters had just returned from France, where they worked the 2005 Tour de France.
In the online conversation - which was not admitted into evidence in the Dallas case after the Armstrong attorneys objected that it had not been properly authenticated - the two men seem to discuss doping regimens allegedly used by several cyclists, including Armstrong, at the 2005 tour. They also say that Landis is aware that some tour riders are doping and is angry about it.
"Floyd was so pissed at them this entire tour," Andreu wrote.
"anyhow - i just feel sorry for floyd and some of the other guys," Vaughters wrote.
In an email to The News, Vaughters said that the online conversation did take place, but that he did not believe the transcript was complete or entirely true. "That conversation was a private conversation with (a) bunch of embellishments and BS, and shouldn't be taken otherwise. I don't have any first hand knowledge of any of this stuff."
He also submitted a sworn affidavit to that effect in the Dallas case.
Armstrong's attorney, Breen, said in an email to The News that the IM exchange "is unauthenticated, it has no basis in fact, it is third hand gossip, Vaughters has described it as a stupid embellishment and that it is patently un factual and only gossip."
He also said that characterizing the IM exchange as "factually based or even (Vaughter's) opinion would be incorrect and unfair . . ."
On July 25, Andreu was fired from the Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team for missing a race.
"It seems a little extreme and a little harsh for missing one race to be terminated from a team I helped put together," he said in an interview with The News.
His wife said she was skeptical because he missed the race a month before he was fired, just as the media reports on their testimony were released.
"Is it coincidence? I don't know," she said.
Mrs. Andreu testified in the case that she feared that Armstrong had hacked into her computer, although she couldn't produce any evidence. She said that a woman who works with him told her that he had put a device on his ex-wife's computer that could monitor keystrokes.
Breen, the Armstrong attorney, said the allegations were absurd. "That gives you a crystal clear snapshot of Betsy Andreu's credibility," he said in an interview. "She utters these allegations in the same breath and with the same fervor as all her other allegations and they should be given the same credence. None."
He disputed that people are scared of Armstrong.
"I think people that make false allegations are afraid of the ramifications, and therefore afraid of Lance Armstrong," he said.
Armstrong's adversaries even suspected his relationship with his cancer doctors.
Tillotson, SCA's attorney, questioned Armstrong's motivation for making a $1.5 million donation last fall to endow a position for the doctor who cured his cancer. The donation came two days after the Andreus gave their depositions in the case and the same day LeMond gave his.
But Armstrong's attorneys pointed out that negotiations to create the endowed chair had been ongoing for more than a year.
"I'm funding a chair for somebody who saved my life," Armstrong testified.
"You're not attempting to buy silence from someone at Indiana University Hospital with your donation, because there's nothing to keep silent. Right?" the attorney asked.
"Well," Armstrong replied. "I'm sure you would love to paint that."
When Tillotson questioned a $25,000 donation Armstrong made to the UCI to buy a blood-testing machine, he replied, "Of course, that's been viewed as Al Capone buying police cars for the Chicago police department, too, but it's not that."
When asked about Andreu's allegation that he once showed him little round pills that he would take at different parts in the race, Armstrong answered, "I have to confess, I'm - If you want a confession, I'm a bit of a coffee fiend." The pills, he said, were caffeine.
Armstrong's success in protecting his good-guy image partially rests on that kind of verbally agile, often sarcastic rebuttal.
"He's taken almost every single one of them head on," said his attorney, Breen.
But Armstrong's own testimony provided some of the most intriguing details about the air of suspicion that surrounds pro cyclists. He feared that someone might try to sabotage his last race.
"This year we protected the food a lot," he said. "Everything that went into my body, we protected. So there was a lot of talk even after the Tour de France about the blue cooler. Well that blue cooler, unfortunately for the skeptics, had water, bread, pasta, butter, jam, jelly, honey, et cetera, et cetera."
Breen points out that Armstrong wasn't the only worried cyclist. LeMond testified that he was warned the night before the last time trial at a Tour de France that some French guys were out to get him. So he photographed and put his fingerprints on all of his water bottles.
USA Cycling's Lee said paranoia might not be the right word, but he said whatever it is, "I think that's a byproduct of the ultra-competitive atmosphere."
"Just take a look at the case," Breen said.
At one court hearing, SCA attorney Chris Compton took a trashcan liner containing Armstrong's discarded chewing gum from Judge Adolph Canales' downtown Dallas courtroom, where an early part of the case was being heard. Compton then sent it to a DNA testing facility on Stemmons Freeway in hopes of later matching it up with urine samples from the Tour de France.
In the end, the gum didn't stick. And the arbitrators ordered SCA to pay Armstrong and Tailwind $7.5 million - $2.5 million more than the original $5 million bonus.
Still, for those worried about the integrity of cycling, the Dallas case raises significant questions:
If the allegations are true, why hasn't cycling's governing body sanctioned Armstrong after all these years of accusations? If the allegations are false, why would so many people risk perjury for no apparent gain?
And perhaps most important: Will the public ever be sure that Armstrong - or any other athlete - is clean?
David M. Carter, a sports marketing and management consultant in Los Angeles, said that even with the allegations now made under oath in the U.S., Armstrong's legacy probably wouldn't be affected.
"Sports fans already have an opinion of him based on his body of work today," he said. "He has handled himself so well throughout this very public process. I don't believe there's ever been an athlete who has combined the athletic achievements with such a compelling story. I think he can stand on his record."
Armstrong is/was a great cyclist but he surely sounds like an ahole of a person off the bike.
I don't get that from this article....
They ride bicycles.
At the end of the day, sports is still just a game that doesn't matter one bit. Not too many Americans can quickly recall the winning championship teams in different college and pro sports.
I have gotten it from other sources other than this article and how he treated floyd landis when he left the Discovery team. As I stated, Armstrong is a great cyclist and his level of competiveness wouldn't surprise me if he was an ahole in person. And if he is, so be it. I still hold him in high regard as a cyclist and dont' confuse his greatness as a cyclist with how he acts or doesn't act as a person.
Ahh, that could explain a lot of things. But surely not a whisper of a chance of a) sloppy science or b) anti-Americanism. / major league sarcasm
The biggest game in any sport seems to be corruption.
The Sopranos look tame.
A lot of times, someone who is driven is seen as an a-hole...I know from personal experience.
yeah, some are and some aren't. I know many that are very driven that are complete aholes and not because it's sensed but becuase it's experience by their actions/words etc. On the other hand, I also know others who are driven that treat people well. Again, I dont' care wether Lance is or isn't an ahole. I just cared that he won for America and then gave the Froggers the big Middle finger. On a side note, I surely hope Floyd can prove that someone tampered with his urine, but I think that's wishful thinking.
I'm with ya...but Floyd's case seems pretty weak.
Unfortunately, I know. Floyd is toast.
From what I can tell, the sort of crowd that competes with him and roots against him is made up of aholes as well. The ugly American won! Get over it!
If a competitor can't take down his fellow cyclists by performance, then they'll engage in character assassination and a media campaign to destroy him. The motive is the big money to be earned in the sport.
Cycling, especially roadies, tends to be made up of aholes...that I know from being a Mtn biker and also working for a mtb'ing company long ago that sold to both roadies and mtb'ers.
How hard/easy would it be to slip one of these guys a cocktail of stuff which would get them to test positive?
WWF is fake?!!?
Why do you think that's true? What is it about bicycling that makes people assholes...or is it that assholes are attracted to bicycling...either scenario just seems...WEIRD!
Maybe one day they'll make a movie about it starring Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, and some beloved character actor who gets killed off half way into the film and make all the women in the audience cry. Not that I'd watch it.
How dare you even suggest such a thing!
It's those bicycle seats.
That's one of the damndest stories I have ever read. Just bizarre.
Road cycling is a long tradtional sport that has traditional attire etc. Plus it's roots are european. Mtbing was started here in the USA by people who dislike roadies and it's traditionalistic attitude and approach. Mtb'ers are just more laid back than roadies.
Hardly. It would only make everyone dishonest. That's not what we want in sports.
Great article. Thanks.
Ill tempered roid monkeys. The sport could turn into something between cycling and rollerball.
I attended St. Austin's School with Armstrong's attorney, Breen.
I am reminded that it's a small world - and that brilliance is not required to become an attorney.
How could you arrive at that conclusion? Armstrong defends himself well....as he should. His accusers are contemptible. To paraphrase "After all the surprise post and pre-race testing, we have obtained no evidence of drugs. We have lots of inuendo so that means we'll just need to keep assasinating his character."
In all the interviews I have listened to and read about, Lance has been a perfect gentleman. He shouldn't be faulted for fighting fire with fire.
I do not know any cyclists but my experience with cyclists as I am driving gives me the impression the majority of them are arrogant, selfish arseholes who cannot grasp the fact that a) what I am driving is bigger and can cause severe damage to them and b) being the slower vehicle they need to stay as far to the right as possible. Most of these jerks tend to take up the entire road.