Lance talks doping, riding and cancer work in Aspen
ASPEN – Lance Armstrong told an Aspen audience Thursday night that his clean record on hundreds of tests throughout his career as a professional cyclist should be enough to end suspicions that he was doping.
Armstrong never directly answered whether he took performance-enhancing drugs. He insisted his record addresses the issue.
As a pro cyclist and in his earlier career as a triathlete, he took “hundreds and hundreds of tests, around the world, in and out of competition, urine, blood, hair, all of the things they use to test,” Armstrong said. “I’m going to let that stand and speak for itself.”
“I’m looking forward to not having to talk about it someday,” he later added.
Armstrong spoke before a standing-room crowd of more than 500 people at the Greenwald Pavilion during a conversation with Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson. He discussed doping, his love for his adopted home of Aspen, the thrill of helping bring pro cycling back to Colorado and his life’s passion – helping cancer victims and their families deal with the hardships the disease thrusts upon them.
Isaacson noted within the first 5 minutes of the discussion that Armstrong has “steadfastly denied” doping allegations by his former teammate, Tyler Hamilton, and other pro cyclists. He asked Armstrong to outline what the government is investigating.
“I only know what I read in the papers,” Armstrong replied. (Armstrong’s legal team has accused federal prosecutors of leaking information from grand jury hearings to the press.)
Armstrong said the U.S. government has never indicated that he is under investigation on any doping allegation. He questioned why it is an issue of concern to the government.
“I’ve been asked by many people, what could a retired cyclist from Austin, Texas have to do with a federal investigation based in Los Angeles and led by the Federal Food and Drug Administration?” That brought a cheer from many in the crowd.
The heart of the investigation, he said, appears to focus on his actions while in the Tour de France nine to 12 years ago: “Let’s just assume that everything that’s said is true. What’s next? Are we going to start policing cricket or things overseas?” Armstrong asked. “You laugh because it seems absurd.”
His final word on the topic was that he won’t let the investigation ruin his life.
“I’ve said this many, many times and I mean it – I’m not going to be distracted by this,” Armstrong said. The investigation hasn’t had any detrimental affect on his Livestrong Foundation, he said, again to cheers from the crowd.
The foundation has raised $440 million since its creation 14 years ago. One of its prime duties is providing information about cancer and treatments to its victims. More than 90 percent of the funds the foundation collects go to its core missions rather than administration, he said.
Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 at age 25. It spread to his lungs and brain. He had a remarkable recovery and went on to win the Tour de France a record seven times, each year between 1999 and 2005.
He retired in 2005 but came back to compete in cycling’s biggest event again in 2009 and placed third. At the time he was disappointed because he was “almost one hundred percent certain” that he was going to win for an eighth time. Now, looking back, he is proud of finishing third while competing against younger riders.
He endeared himself to the audience by saying Aspen is one of the special places in the world that can never be re-created. He and his family spend summers in their home in the West End. He said he appreciates that people in Aspen give them their space.
“I wasn’t born here. I wasn’t raised here. I got here as soon as I could,” he said.
When Isaacson asked him about his exercise routine these days, Armstrong said he spends more time swimming than cycling. He said he trains with the Aspen Speedos, a youth swim team.
“I was very proud,” Armstrong said. “I rode my bike 60 miles today, and I came home and I said to Anna [his wife], ‘This bike riding is really hard.'”
He said there is good riding around Aspen but not necessarily hard riding. The climbs are hard because they are high, but they don’t match the Alps for steepness.
“The Alps are twice as steep but they start much lower, so pick your poison,” he said. “Independence Pass is hard once you get up there because of the elevation. If you had that climb at a lower elevation it would not be that hard because it’s not that steep.”
Armstrong’s conditioning hasn’t suffered from retirement: He blazes the Ute Trail on foot in less than 17 minutes and reaches the top of Aspen Mountain in 43 minutes, 40 seconds, he acknowledged when pressed with a question from the audience.
Armstrong also acknowledged helping bring pro cycling back to Colorado. The inaugural USA Pro Racing Challenge will swing through the state Aug. 22-28, including what’s being billed as the “Queen Stage,” ending in Aspen on Aug. 24. Armstrong said it dawned on him one day on a ride in Aspen that it made no sense that Colorado didn’t host a pro race. He contacted then-Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter, and they teamed to help spawn the idea.
Armstrong said he heard that Cadel Evans will participate in the Colorado race, fresh off his Tour de France victory. Andy and Frank Schleck, brothers who finished second and third, respectively, in this year’s Tour, also have verbally committed to the race.
“This race will be unlike anything we do. In Europe, you literally race at zero or a thousand or two thousand feet,” Armstrong said. “How these guys respond to 12,000 feet is anybody’s guess. … I’m glad I’m going to be watching it on TV.”
During about 30 minutes of audience questions, no one revived the issue of doping. Most questions centered on his cancer work. He was cheered several times throughout the evening and given a standing ovation at the conclusion.
After the event, audience member Alice Davis of Aspen said she felt that Armstrong dodged the doping issue.
“He continues to be evasive by saying he never had a negative test,” Davis said. “He never denied it.”
She also credited him for all his great work on cancer issues.
Joyce Carp of Old Snowmass said she hopes he didn’t dope. But even if he did, his work to bring hope and relief to cancer victims and their families far overshadows it, she said.
“I find it a little shocking that he was never notified” about the government’s doping investigation, she said.
Carp said she was diagnosed with cancer nine years ago and read “It’s Not About the Bike,” Armstrong’s book about his fight with cancer. His ability to overcome the level of cancer he was facing, then become the world’s best cyclist was an inspiration to her.
“It’s a triumph of the human spirit,” she said.
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