Irish journalist debunks the Armstrong myth
Standing atop the winner’s stand in Paris following his record seventh straight Tour de France victory, Lance Armstrong offered a departing shot to those who questioned the legitimacy of his legacy.”The last thing I’ll say to the people that don’t believe in cycling, the cynics, the skeptics, I’m sorry for you,” the Texan declared. “I’m sorry you can’t dream big, and I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”Put veteran London Sunday Times sportswriter David Walsh at the top of that heap of nonbelievers. In his new book, “From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France,” Walsh offers a haul of evidence, painstakingly researched, that implicates Armstrong, his former teammates and coaches in one of the biggest cons in the history of sport.The real miracle, Walsh contends, is that Armstrong, despite substantiated evidence that he doped to win his unprecedented seven Tours, continues to get away with fraud while so many of those around him have either been caught or have confessed to cheating.
Consider: Of the five winners of the Tour between 1996 and 2006, Armstrong is the only one who has not been caught for using performance-enhancing drugs.While Armstrong has repeatedly, vehemently insisted that he “won clean,” Walsh does his part to show how implausible those assertions are. Rivals such as Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso were resorting to doping practices that seemingly would have made it impossible for the Texan to keep up with them, much less beat them – and yet, Armstrong’s claims of being a “12-cylinder” man ring true to his millions of fans. Walsh writes at length on the rampant use of synthetic EPO among elite cyclists beginning in the early ’90s. The red blood cell-producing hormone was responsible for drastic performance gains, changes so potent, in fact, that average cyclists were able to erase the fitness gap between themselves and their superior peers. For the super-competitive Armstrong, getting dropped by inferior riders was utterly unacceptable. It’s this indignation, Walsh writes, that led Armstrong after the 1995 season to Michele Ferrari, an Italian doctor known for his laissez-faire attitude toward EPO use and for putting together doping programs for elite riders. Armstrong eventually severed ties with Ferrari in 2004 after the doctor was brought up on doping charges in an Italian court, but not before winning the bulk of his Tours.And while the evidence linking Ferrari – a Victor Conte-like figure in cycling circles – to Armstrong is arguably enough to cast the Lance miracle into question, Walsh doesn’t stop there. The most damning evidence is the testimony from some of those closest to the champion earlier in his career and at the outset of his Tour reign.
A former U.S. Postal Service team masseuse tells Walsh that Armstrong once asked her to dispose of a bag of syringes because he didn’t want them left at a team hotel. Two others, a husband and wife, tell Walsh that they visited Armstrong in an Indiana hospital after surgery to remove cancerous lesions from his brain. When asked by a doctor if he’d ever used performance enhancers, the husband and wife say, Armstrong listed five different drugs: EPO, growth hormone, cortisone, steroids and testosterone.Armstrong insists such testimony is completely fabricated by “grudge holders” and “ax grinders” envious of his success. It’s a strategy that has continued to keep Armstrong’s name above the doping fray, allowing him to remain, to millions, one of the most inspiring champions of all time, a miracle-worker.For anyone who reads “From Lance to Landis,” however, those miracles quickly dissolve into a hard truth: When something looks too good to be true, it almost always is.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.