Lance Armstrong – No More heroes.
Lance Armstrong chats with Greg Lemond 2004 TdF courtesy of Daily Peloton
Its funny how time slips away.
It is 10 years since Lance Armstrong announced that he had testicle cancer.
I remember the news very well. I was just making the final preparations for a family holiday when I turned on the Television to catch the latest sports news. A scared frail man sat behind a polished desk, flanked by two or three people. Incredibly this was Lance Armstrong.
As the press conference unfurled its grim news like a flag on a windless, rainy day, it seemed that we were looking at one of death’s men. Lance Armstrong a mere shadow of the rider who had become World Champion in rainy Oslo was facing death and the final defeat.
I had seen a similar look on Armstrong’s face the year before, when he had been narrowly beaten in a two man sprint in the 13th stage of the Tour de France by the Polti rider Serguei Outschakov. Armstrong looked shocked at the finish, he shook his head, scarcely believing that his body had let him down; “I knew he was strong” he mumbled trying to make some sense of the defeat “but, I didn’t think he was that strong”
Now Armstrong delivered his grim news and it seemed that the Golden Boy of USA cycling would have a brief but glittering cycling career, more like a shooting star than a the conquering Classics comet we had expected.
15 JUL 1995: LANCE ARMSTRONG OF THE USA (FOREGROUND) RIDES LEVEL WITH SERGEI OUTSCHAKOV OF RUSSIA (BACKGROUND) DURING STAGE 13 OF THE TOUR DE FRANCE FROM MENDE LOZERE TO REVEL, A DISTANCE OF 245KMS. OUTSCHAKOV OUTSPRINTED ARMSTRONG AT THE FINSH OF THE STAGE TO WIN IT courtesy of Daily Peloton
But time marches on and by the miracle of modern aviation I found myself on the Greek Island of Kefalonia that evening. I spent the flight time reading about young World Championship riders, with Armstrong firmly on my mind.
The first young gun on the World Championship scene was Karel Kaers. He lived a long life after winning the 24 laps of a flat 9.4 kilometre circuit in Leipzig in 1934 with his powerful sprint. With that irony only cyclists know, he is probably more famous these days as the champion of Rik Van Steenbergen.
Van Steenbergen was from of a poor working-class family. He delivered meat as a boy, and one of the customers along his route was Karel Kaers, the 1934 World Champion. Kaers, recognizing the talent of Van Steenbergen, gave the boy an old racing frame and helped the future Champion.
Far more tragic, is the short star burst of Jean-Pierre Monseré . His amazing talent saw him win the Giro di Lombardia as a 20 year old. The following year he became the Belgian and World Champion. However a year later in 1971 on March 15, he was hit by a car during the GP Retie and died. Monseré is regarded one of the best cycling talents ever; he was the youngest cyclist ever to become World Champion
Back in Kefalonia , the wife and children are established on a beach where the biggest danger was an overdose of Corelli's Mandolin. I hired a mountain bike and went for a ride in the hills.
Through olive grove and pine forest I steadily climbed , pausing at a small whitewashed village as I checked my route a group of Touring cyclists passed. I joined up with them and started chatting. They were from the USA and were cycling from Athens and then through the islands which scatter southern Greece like dropped gloves.
“Did you hear that Lance Armstrong has cancer?” I asked. It was clear that no one had a clue who Armstrong was. I was surprised at his lack of fame, particularly since I was, after all, talking to a group of cyclists; and well equipped cyclists at that. All helmets, Lycra and shipped in bicycles. “Can I ask you a question?” one of them asked “Why don’t you wear a helmet?”
Ten years after and 7 Tour de France victories later, and nearly everyone wears a helmet and Lance Armstrong is one of the world’s most famous personalities.
Armstrong is big news even when there is no news. In the last few days he has been linked with actor Matthew McConaughey (“Lance Armstrong and Matthew McConaughey Laugh Off Gay Rumors”) and Ivanka Trump (Armstrong's publicist insisted that "Lance and Ivanka are not dating," reports Contactmusic).
It seems that while Armstrong is not dating either Matthew or Ivanka his charitable work for Cancer continues.
The Moab Century is a prime example of that inspiration. Armstrong’s legacy
Riders in front of Castleton and the Priest and three Nuns (on the left) rock formations. Photo c. Action Shots of Moab, Utah
Meanwhile Kentucy.com reports that Armstrong will visit Lexington on Monday as part of the President’s Cancer Panel when it meets to explore how healthy lifestyles can help reduce the risk of cancer.
The panel visits four cities a year, holding daylong discussions to gather information about different aspects of cancer, including treatment and prevention. Monday's event will focus on research and public policy related to tobacco and exposure to indoor smoke. The panel produces an annual report with recommendations.
Rather less charitable, and somewhat less flattering, is Armstrong’s dispute with his Texas neighbours over a local beauty spot and pool named Dead Man’s Hole.
The Houston Chronicle
reports “Armstrong bought a 200-acre property upstream from the pool and decided, on his own and without the required state permit, to dam Dead Man's Creek, the source of the pool's above ground water. The construction sent a wave of sludge down the waterway, turning the idyllic swimming hole into a murky mess with a muck filled bottom”
The paper draws a damning verdict “ In taking his time in designing his own clean-up program without cooperating with other landowners, Armstrong is duplicating his initial mistake of altering the area's watershed without consulting others who would feel the impact. He would be well advised to stuff the petulant complaining, say he's sorry and work with the community to undo the damage to Dead Man's Hole.”
However the biggest story this week is “LA Official” a book by Pierre Ballester and David Walsh, who wrote "L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong" in 2004. This book is based on testimony given in a legal dispute between Armstrong and Dallas-based SCA Promotions that had a bonus contract with the cyclist.
Lance Armstrong’s response was forthright and unequivocal -
Predictably, I will be the subject tomorrow of another baseless attack by another French book. The authors, David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, now issue a sequel to an earlier French book that was likewise founded upon a demonstrably false string of sensational, untrue and fabricated allegations. This latest attack will be no different than the first - a sensationalized attempt to cash in on my name and sully my reputation by people who have demonstrated a consistent failure to adhere to the most basic journalistic standards or ethics. For example, Walsh bolstered the first book’s most colorful accusations by knowingly using false, backdated and manufactured diary entries and documents. He violated fundamental principles by paying his sources for “information”; he then compounded his unethical conduct by lying and denying those payments until confronted with irrefutable proof to the contrary.
The “sequel” will once again be published only in France to hide from legal accountability. The allegations and sources in the second book are just as baseless, unreliable and manufactured as they were in the first book. The first book was so unreliable and baseless that it was available only in France and rejected by all twenty-plus English language publishers to whom the book was pitched. Continuing a pattern of distortion and fabrication started in the first book, the new book takes cherry-picked allegations and testimony from the losing side of a court case I won and attempts to portray them as facts.
I responded in court to these allegations, most of which are made by a handful of grudge holders, axe grinders, and a so-called “expert” whose graduate degree turned out to be by way of correspondence courses -- and I proved them false. I was awarded 7.5 million dollars in actual and punitive damages by a professional panel of legal experts who received all the evidence and heard from all the “eyewitnesses”. Every allegation and witness was confronted thoroughly, lawfully and fairly. I was vindicated yet again. I raced clean. I won clean. I am the most tested athlete in the history of sports. I have defended myself and won every court case to prove I was clean. Yet another French book with baseless, sensational and rejected allegations will not overcome the truth.
The traits of a champion are often not as beautiful as we would like too imagine. Most Champions seem to be stubborn, obsessive, ruthless, and selfish. Both Armstrong and his bête noire, David Walsh (who was indeed a Champion Journalist) are, like many rivals, probably more similar to each other than they would care to admit.
It is Armstrong’s misfortune that he has made his named in a sport where the reporters have been obsessed with dopage since the very beginnings of sport.
Arthur Linton – The first World Champion – courtesy Aberaman Museum
If Armstrong is news even when there is no news, likewise cycling journalists can find dopage where there is no dopage.
Take the example of Arthur Linton. Born in South Wales Arthur Linton began to race locally and by 1892 was well known throughout South Wales. During the 1893 season he began to establish himself nationally and he was signed as a professional to ride a 'Gladiator' cycle under the tutelage of the trainer 'Choppy' Warburton.
Choppy coached no less than three World Champions but with his secret formulae dispensed from tiny bottles at track side his antics finally got him banned from professional cycling even though no drugs legislation existed. He came from Blackburn, Lancashire.
In 1894 Arthur defeated Dubois, the French Champion, in Paris and was narrowly defeated by the Italian Champion Bonnic, who thereafter refused to race him again. He was given the title of 'Champion Cyclist of the World' and when he returned to Aberaman in December he was given a hero's welcome, a public banquet was held in the Lamb and Flag public house and he was presented with an illuminated address.
1895 was a less successful year for Arthur. He suffered a knee injury and split from his trainer 'Choppy' Warburton. However, it was during the 1896 season that Arthur won his greatest race, the Bordeaux to Paris Race in which he defeated Riviere. Tragically, it seems that this race took too much of a toll on his body and Arthur Linton died of Typhoid Fever in June 1896, only some six weeks after the race. He was just 24 years old when he died
Because of “Choppy” Warburton’s reputation, Arthur Linton has seen his legacy tarnished.
The Anti Doping Forum in Sydney 2004 cited Arthur Linton as the first reported death of an athlete from a substance – strychnine but give no date of death.
The Guardian records that in “1886: The first recorded death: cyclist Arthur Linton overdoses on trimethyl.”
While the Doping and Sports report from Paris 1998 further extends the legend. It announces that “In 1886, Arthur Linton died during the Bordeaux-Paris race.”
So it would appear that Arthur overdosed on trimethyl a full ten years before he won Bourdeaux Paris in 1896!
The British House of Commons report on dopage takes a far more sensible view.
Arthur Linton, a British cyclist from South Wales, reported to have died from typhoid fever (nine weeks after setting a record time in the then 'blue riband' Bordeaux-Paris race). His death (often given as 1886) has been linked to the use of trimethyl - one of a range of drugs in vogue within the sport at the time - but this link seems based on only circumstantial evidence.
It was the great Geoffrey Nicholson who observed the Press Room after a stage in the 1975 Tour de France. It was littered with empty coffee cups, wine glasses and full ashtrays. He commented that those who reported on dopage with such vigour could not get through even a flat stage of the tour without “several cups of coffee and cigarettes”
Cycling deserves to be a clean sport, and it deserves journalists of the quality of Geoffrey Nicholson. Has 2006 seen a major doping scandal in Spain? Or was it merely wild and speculative reporting from a Press too keen to accuse, and too irresponsible too prove?
Lance Armstrong has an advantage over Arthur Linton. He can defend his reputation, and yet the irony is, the more he protests the more attention he draws to what could have been an obscure French publication.
The ongoing battle between Walsh and Armstrong looks set to continue into 2007 and beyond. This is a sad legacy.
1996 – having waved goodbye to the American cycling group in Kefalonia, I headed ever upwards until I reached the top of the hill, overlooking the blue Ionian seas and the golden sun, which was sinking like a ship.
The Grecian blues turned to orange and then red before exploding into crimson and then darkness.
I reflected on the beauty and remembered Armstrong, Serguei Outschakov, Karel Kaers, Jean-Pierre Monseré and Fabio.
I started the descent sans helmet or, for that matter, lights…..
This article is dedicated to Derek James Ball .