I read this on the Velonews comment section back in February and thought it was worth sharing… Hey, I’ve been busy!
From 1996 to 2005, which includes the seven years of Armstrong’s dominance and the three years before, there were 13 different cyclists who occupied the top three positions in the Tour de France. Excluding Armstrong, 10 of the 12 men occupying those exalted positions (83 percent) have been implicated, one way or another, in the use of illegal performance enhancing techniques. The three winners prior to Armstrong were all dopers. Bjarne Riis, the 1996 winner, has admitted that he had won his title using EPO. German Jan Ullrich, the 1997 winner and later four-time runner up (three times to Armstrong), had to retire after he was tied to Operation Puerto. 1998 Tour winner, Marco “the Pirate” Pantani, died of a drug overdose at age 34, a broken man who never really recovered after being disqualified from the 1999 Italian national tour for an unnaturally high red blood cell count.
With only one exception, every rider that Armstrong beat into second and third place during his seven year run has either admitted to doping, been sanctioned for doping, or been strongly implicated in the use of illegal techniques. Armstrong beat them all, sometimes by large margins. To use a baseball analogy, when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were besting each other to beat Roger Maris’ famous home-run record, baseball cognoscenti looked at the changes in their body types, their anomalous homerun production, and concluded something fishy was afoot. Then, when Barry Bonds blew past McGuire’s record, it was a near certainty that Bonds, too, was on the juice. Maybe Americans just know baseball better than they know cycling. See, for example, sportswriter Rick Reilly’s unabashed criticism of Bonds, contrasted with his seemingly blind and unquestioning worship at the altar of Armstrong.
But the most damning evidence, in my view, is Armstrong’s disgraceful ostracism of fellow cyclists (and anyone else) who try to speak out against cycling’s culture of doping. Armstrong has been one of the most stalwart practitioners of “omerta” — the code of silence that prevents cyclists from revealing what really happens within elite professional cycling teams. When young French rider Christophe Basson wrote columns during the 1999 Tour that discussed doping, Armstrong approached him during a stage and suggested he drop out, later publicly saying about Basson, “If he thinks cycling works like that, he’s wrong and he would be better off going home.” Basson was shunned by his fellow riders and ultimately abandoned the contest. Basson had been the only rider on the notorious Festina team not to be implicated in the 1998 Tour scandal when the car of a Festina team trainer was discovered to be carrying a veritable pharmacy full of illegal drugs. Of course, as Armstrong well knew, cycling did and does work “like that.”
Most distasteful of all was Armstrong’s chasing down of Italian rider Fillipo Simeoni during the 2004 edition of the Tour de France. In a late stage in the race, with Armstrong comfortably in the overall lead, a group of riders who did not threaten the overall title broke away from the pack. Among the riders trying to make the break was Simeoni, a former client/patient of Dr. Ferrari (Lance’s doctor of “EPO is no more dangerous than orange juice” fame). Simeoni had testified in 2003 about using EPO under Ferrari’s care and instructions. Armstrong in yellow, alone and without teammates, chased down Simeoni and the two joined the breakaway together. Armstrong approached Simeoni and told him to return to the pack. Under pressure from the other riders, Simeoni was forced to give up his chance at victory, returning to the pack escorted by Armstrong. Armstrong later made the sign of “zipping the lips,” and said he had been “protecting the interests of the peloton” by denying Simeoni the opportunity to win the stage. Armstrong explained that other professional riders thanked him for punishing Simeoni, because they “don’t want somebody within their sport destroying it.” Armstrong’s conduct prompted an obstruction of justice investigation by Italian authorities because of Simeoni’s status as a testifying witness against Ferrari. Lance’s explicit message was clearer than that of a knee-capping Mafia enforcer: “speak publicly about doping and you will never be successful in this sport.” Floyd Landis at the time thought what Armstrong did to Simeoni was idiotic, as he explained in his recent Kimmage interview.
Armstrong’s arrogance and public contempt and mistreatment of people trying to clean up cycling make him worse, in my eyes, than any of the other doper winners of the Tour. Throw in his public assaults, through his lawyers and press relations minions, on Betsey Andreau and his commercial retaliation against Greg Lemond, and his attacks on others who have the courage to publicly ask the kinds of questions that anyone with a brain would be asking, and you come to the conclusion that Armstrong’s public persona is a fabrication and he is deserving of not admiration, but contempt.
I, for one, am glad that the coat of armor Armstrong managed to construct around himself based on his status as a cancer survivor has finally developed some chinks. Retirement in disgrace could not have happened to a nicer guy.