From Landis back to Lance

Usually when it comes to writing a blog post on Irish Peloton I know what I’m going to write before I sit down and write it. I’ll have thought of a topic a couple of days beforehand, mulled it over during the commute into town or while out on a spin or while simply daydreaming at my desk, then I’ll write it relatively quickly. All that’s left to do then is to trawl through the cycling news archives and the cycling quotient site to verify a few stats and facts. But in general I’ll usually have a post fully mentally prepared so I can just spew it out when the time comes. I’m just back from a three hour spin over the Sally Gap and I still have no idea how to tackle the monster that is the Floyd Landis scandal.

I’ve met Lance Armstrong twice. The first time was at the Nissan Classic in 1992. My Dad had brought me down to the finish line of the final stage which ended on O’ Connell Street in Dublin city centre. Dutchman Louis de Koning won the stage but we were wandering around the team cars after the riders had finished and Paul saw a Motorola rider sitting in the back seat of a team car with his feet out the door changing his shoes. Paul leaned down to me and said “Cillian, that’s Lance Armstrong, he’s a young rider, he’s gonna be really good, go over and ask him for his autograph”. So I did. Just under 12 months later, that young rider who was going to be really good was the World Champion.

The second time I met him was last year when he was in Dublin after the Tour of Ireland had finished. Thousands of cycling enthusiasts showed up to the Phoenix Park to ride with him after he announced he was heading out for a few laps. I weaseled my way to the front of the sometimes volatile mix of racers and commuters and managed to share a few words with Armstrong. In true Irish fashion I talked about the weather. In fairness to me, the weather in Cork at the finish of the Tour of Ireland the previous weekend had been particularly atrocious and seemed worth talking about at the time. I was meeting a seven time winner of the Tour de France, I was on a high afterward, it really was an incredible experience to ride my bike beside him for the two or three minutes I lasted at the front before being gobbled up by the world and his mother. I had met a World Champion.

In contrast, Floyd Landis is a convicted cheat. He cheated to win the Tour de France. He adamantly denied cheating for almost four years. He shamelessly asked for money from unsuspecting fans to aid his expensive legal battle against the governing bodies of the sport. He was responsible for a phone call to Greg Lemond purporting to be Lemond’s uncle mocking him for being sexually abused as a child. Landis is an odd character who has lost all integrity over the past four years. Yet, I find myself believing him. I don’t believe him because he seemed genuine when talking to ESPN yesterday, nor do I believe him simply because he would have nothing to gain from lying. I believe him because much of what he claims is not brand new information. Allegations of drug use at US Postal and by Armstrong in particular have been rife for years.

Armstrong’s chief detractors have been Irishmen David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. Walsh has written two books on the topic, ‘From Lance to Lanids: Inside the American doping controversy at the Tour de France” and ‘L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong’. The latter was never published in English, only in French. This is because Armstrong refuted some allegations brought by Walsh in the book and accordingly filed a lawsuit and won. As a result, the book was never published in English and consequently a large percentage of those who would be most interested in reading it were denied this opportunity. I must admit, I haven’t read either of them.

This isn’t because I don’t read cycling literature. As I type I’m staring at a bookshelf in front of me which is filled top to bottom with magazines and books dedicated to the sport of cycling. No, I haven’t read them because I didn’t want to be convinced that the allegations against Armstrong were true. I wanted to believe the miracle. But ever since the initial allegations by L’Equipe that Armstrong doped to win the 1999 Tour, there has been a huge elephant in the room that is the career of Lance Armstrong. Journalists like Walsh and Kimmage have continuously tried to blow the lid on that elephant, but they have never been allowed inside the room, they’ve only been peering in the window. Now, for the first time, somebody from inside of that room has begun talking about the elephant.

The responses of Armstrong and Bruyneel have been predictable. Denying the claims of Landis while attempting to discredit him as a credible source of truth. In fairness, because of Landis’s past he will be faced with this credibility problem for the duration of this scandal. But all it will take is for one of the people that Landis mentioned in his email to corroborate any of the allegations, and suddenly, Landis will have his credibility restored. There have been 14 people directly implicated by Landis thus far, apparently there are more emails which will eventually be released. Either Landis has created an uber elaborate lie or every one of these 14 people will have to lie themselves.

Often, when these huge stories break in the world of sport, somebody somewhere writes a book about it and makes a few bob, (Landis is already planning to write one). But for this story, the allegations making the front pages are not new. The books are here. They have already been written. I’ve managed to procure an English language copy of ‘L.A. Confidentiel’ (thanks to Simon Lamb), and I finally plan on reading it. If I had read it before, I would be reading it believing it was false with a blind, naive scepticism. Now that the Elephant has been released from its shackles, I’ll now read it with the belief that it is true.

The first line of the first page of L.A. Confidentiel is sitting in front of me, a quote from Saint Jerome:

If a misdeed arises in the search for truth, it is better to exhume it rather than conceal the truth.

Better late than never Floyd.

If I had read it before, I would be reading it believing it was false

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  1. rich_mutt - May 21, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

    it’s hard when you finally see the man behind the curtains. fortunately, i didn’t lose my faith in the sport.

    some more food for thought…

  2. Ronan - May 21, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

    There are many people who avidly believe that Armstrong is a cheat and equally there are many who believe he’s clean. But you may just be the first to have changed his mind on Armstrong because of this Landis story. I find this article strange and it’s hard to get my head around where you’re comng from. You must have had strong doubts about Armstrong before this latest Landis soap opera? I don’t agree that Landis had nothing to gain by slamming Armstrong. He has millions to gain if he can do this right and time his book release correctly.

  3. Paul - May 21, 2010 @ 7:09 pm

    Cillian I’m a bit like yourself. I watched Armstrong during the Tour last July and was awe struck that he could still compete at that level at his age. I have since read two of his books and feel that he entered the sport at a time when juicing up seemed the norm. But reading about his cancer issues I cant believe having come through all of that suffering he would be willing to risk his life again.

    But stranger things have happened and I’ll continue to give the man the benefit of the doubt for now.

  4. irishpeloton - May 21, 2010 @ 7:58 pm

    Ronan – Yes I had strong doubts about Armstrong before the Landis claims. But I suppressed these doubts. I suppressed them because I didn’t like them. I wanted to believe in this miraculous story. I liked watching old DVDs of Armstrong winning his Tours. But now, with Landis’s allegations I have little choice but to harvest these doubts.

    The number of convicted dopers in the top 10 of the Tour de France during Armstrong’s winning years, the number of US Postal riders who were caught doping after they had left the team, the allegations previously put forward by L’Equipe and Walsh. All facts which it has been possible to gloss over with the old ‘never tested positive/most tested rider ever’ story. But now with these fresh allegations from a former team mate, all of this becomes too much to ignore or refute any longer.

    A rider on a Bruyneel has never tested positive until Chinese rider Li Fuyu this year. Bruyneel having the UCI in his pocket would explain a LOT.

  5. Paul Madden - May 22, 2010 @ 10:05 pm

    I read LA Confidential some years ago. The “evidence” in it – however anecdotal or circumstantial or even scientific is VERY hard to deny. Time for the fairy tale to end Lance – you stole my sport and I want it back!!!!!!!!!!

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