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his use of performance enhancing drugs to Oprah Winfrey. Now he is on an apology tour to all his opponents. Humo looks back to all what happened with some of them. Four firsthand testimonies.
By Joost Vandensande
The interview would have taken place at Armstrong’s house in Austin, but eventually it took place in an anonymous hotel in the center of the town. While you saw Armstrong swallow uncomfortably and grimace seemingly in pain, Winfrey started her cross examination: “Yes or no, did you ever take banned substances?” EPO, growth hormones, testosterone, cortisone and blood transfusion, he was familiar with all of them. Since USADA’s Reasoned Decision everybody knew the facts, but still it was weird to hear him say it. At the end Armstrong concluded it like this: “I will have to apologize myself for the rest of my life”. And that’s what he’s doing, in between law suits. The American press calls it ‘The Apology Tour’ or ‘The Forgive Me Roadshow’ because the list is long. In November Armstrong met first with his former soigneur, the Irish Emma O”Reilly. Once they were good friends, but after her painful dismissal from the team, she was the first one to confess. Once he called her an ‘alcohol addicted whore’, now she accepted his – she thinks sincere- apologies. “He looked tired, psychologically he was a wreck,” Christophe Bassons A couple of weeks later in Paris, he saw Christophe Bassons, the cyclist who was spit out by the whole peloton because he refused to take performance enhancing drugs and who talked openly about the drug use of his colleagues in the Tour of ‘99. In the race Armstrong made it loud and clear that it was better he left the team. Many years later, Bassons has become the symbol of clean cycling of the 90’s. Christophe Basson: “In the beginning I wasn’t really okay with it. Neither where the people standing by my side: he would use me to clean up his image. But I thought I could give a strong signal. For my job I give prevention campaigns and I try to keep young cyclists away from drugs. I chose to do it in a clean way and I’m very happy now. Something that can’t be said about Armstrong: he obviously wasn’t feeling well.” HUMO: How did you notice that? Bassons: “He looked exhausted and acted very nervous. We first talked for an hour in the presence of a journalist of ‘L’Equipe’, on my request because he would have preferred doing it without the press. Then we ate together, without anybody there. And we continued talking until half past one. We talked about the valuable things in life and it was hard for him to be confronted with himself. Before, that would have been my goal: I wanted to push the right button.”
HUMO: Was he sincerely sorry? Bassons: “About his arrogant behavior, he was sorry. But not about the fact he used drugs. In that time, he wanted to be the best, and then it’s hard to be sorry about it. He’s unhappy because he has no future anymore. He still has his family and still enough millions on his bank account, for now. But besides that, he has nowhere to go. I also saw fear in his eyes, maybe because he’s afraid that he has to go to prison. That cold look in his face, of which everybody was afraid, seemed to be gone. He was humble and sounded honest. I was under the impression he had changed: he show weakness. That must be new for him.” HUMO: Do you believe him? Bassons: “I do realize that most people have their doubts. Meeting with him is good for his defense. And if I’m wrong, I’ll look like a fool. But I’m willing to take that chance, because the message is clear: I can be proud of my decision I made and nobody would like to trade with Armstrong. We are planning to start a campaign against doping. We don’t know how yet, but he has promised to help me. I do realize you can’t change him from one day to the other, but I don’t think he should be punished for all the others. I felt sorry for him, but at the same time, I’m keeping my distance: I haven’t forgotten what happened.” HUMO: ‘Being a cyclist champion was the only option to really become somebody in this life,’ Armstrong told you. That’s why he did what he did. Bassons: “It was either that, or working at Starbucks, he said. And the fact that he hadn’t studied, he used as well. That could have led to some sort of self-reflection.” HUMO: Armstrong seemed convinced that not too much has changed in cycling. Do you share the same pessimism? Bassons: “I am an optimist, but I do think that the mentality hasn’t changed: if there is a possibility to cheat, they will do it. It only has become much more difficult to cheat. For me, everything starts with enough self-respect – then you don’t use drugs for the fame, the money or because you want people to love you.” ‘’Being poor for Lance, means not flying in business class anymore,” Betsy Andreu From Betsy Andreu we hear a different story. Her husband Frankie was a teammate of Armstrong and so knew from the beginning all about the use of performance enhancing drugs. She became one of his biggest opponents. It looked like a crusade, American style. When Armstrong was in the hospital in 1996 with cancer, she heard him confess to the doctor that he had taken epo and growth hormones as a cyclist – something he has denied until now.
Betsy Andreu: “The day before the interview was being recorded, he called Frankie and me and sounded sincere in his apology. In April we were supposed to meet, but he didn’t show up. So I don’t believe a word he’s saying when he says he’s sorry. He called us because he knew Oprah was going to ask about it. Honestly, Lance is full of shit. If you apologize to two people, it doesn’t mean it’s over. He tried to destroy us: we were sued and threatened. Frankie lost his job because of it, but still I wanted to give him a second chance. The only thing I wanted to see was a bit of humanity. It seems like his “sorry” was all one big lie. I think it was a calculated PR-trick. He saw Christophe Bassons and Emma O’Reilly right before an important court proceeding – need I say more? His only goal is to keep the money he still has and to fight his suspension at the USADA. He doesn’t know how other people feel because he suffers from a personality-disorder. He thinks he’s the victim and besides that, he only thinks: ‘What’s in it for me’. By the way, being poor for Lance means to go to Hawaii only once every two months and fly economy class instead of business (laughs).” HUMO: He admitted to Oprah that he had called you a ‘crazy bitch’, but he added ‘I never called her fat’ Andreu: “Hysterical, no? Lance has an obsession with fat women. The joke when we lived in Nice used to be that to be with Lance you have to have an eating disorder. All his women end up so skinny. Is it any wonder he’d find me fat? I didn’t want to watch Oprah’s show but he told me on the telephone that I should. At the end I was mad because he had admitted too little and especially because he refused to tell what had happened in the hospital. HUMO: That has become a key part of all of this. Why doesn’t he want to talk about it? Andreu: “Because he’s protecting people. One of his doctors, Craig Nichols, has made a false deposition where he claims that Lance never told him of his use of performance enhancing drugs. There was also his sponsor Oakley - they knew he was using epo. I asked Lance on the phone why he won’t admit to it. He answered, “ For legal reasons.” ‘’If Lance says he’s sorry, he actually means: ‘I’m sorry about it, but not that much,” Betsy Andreu HUMO: The war isn’t over then. What do you think of the interview? Andreu: “After ‘Oprah’, I was mostly relieved: after all those years, that crazy bitch seemed to have told the truth. Luckily, that stress is gone now. ‘Oprah’ was the beginning of the end of Lance and of the UCI like we knew it.”
HUMO: Will it ever be well between you guys? Andreu: “Time will tell. He has to be true to his word: pay everybody back, apologize and confess everything to the USADA. We were good friends once, Frankie lived together with him in Como and we had loads of fun – he can be funny. But, we have seen both sides of Lance. Remember one thing: when he says he’s sorry, he actually means: ‘I’m sorry about it, but not that much.’ (laughs)” ‘‘He’s a fascinating animal,” Paul Kimmage Paul Kimmage is the Irish ex-cyclist and journalist who wrote ‘Rough Ride’. He was the first to deal with drug culture in the peloton. His friend David Walsh – called ‘little troll’ by Armstrong - followed his example with his book ‘L.A. Confidentiel’, which he wrote with the French journalist Pierre Ballester. It caused the first cracks in the Boss’ armor. They both became obsessed with the hunt of Armstrong. Vice versa, team Armstrong tried everything to make them shut up. They both thought the interview with Oprah was a powerful moment. Paul Kimmage: “I thought the opening scenes at Oprah were very powerful. I didn’t expect her to ask such hard questions.” David Walsh: “She didn’t even give him a chance to hide behind the work for the cancer foundation. No, for Armstrong it was a very bad experience. He has only gone downhill from there on. I remember watching television all by myself in the big building of The Sunday Times in London and how insane I thought it was when Oprah asked him if he was going to apologize to me (laughs).” HUMO: Mister Kimmage, during the press conference of the Tour of California in 2009, Armstrong’s comeback, you asked him: ‘What is it about these dopers that you seem to admire so much?’ Gutsy, but his answer wasn’t bad either. Kimmage: “Yes, a memorable moment. I thought he had praised Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis too much when they returned after their suspension. Before that I had told him that with his comeback the doping cancer was back and had put cycling two steps back again. He overwhelmed me with an incredible answer: ‘You call me the cancer of my sport, while I’m here fighting against a disease that enters everybody’s life sooner or later. You’re not worthy of your position.’ And he kept going. I felt pretty bad about it afterwards. Yes he was very impressive back then. But he has always been impressive; I really think he’s a fascinating beast.” Walsh: “In fact, he was unique. Jan Ullrich didn’t have such a story. Armstrong was a global icon, a man who had told the cancer communion: ‘Build your hope on my shoulders, you can count on me.” He raised that much money that his sponsors and the American government – who all want their money back now – didn’t care what he did. Literally everybody got better, even the cycling organizations and the journalists. And in the meanwhile, he kept doing what he wanted and he thought he was untouchable.”
(With the picture of Lance Armstrong: Christophe Bassons: ‘When we met, I saw fear his eyes, maybe because he’s afraid that he has to go to prison.) HUMO: Mr. Walsh, for you the battle became personal when Armstrong mentioned your deceased son. Walsh: “My son John died in a bike accident when he was 12 years old. Armstrong claims I started a vendetta against cycling because of that. He even thought I called John my favorite son, he didn’t understand I could say such a thing. I was shocked about the direction our fight had taken. I have such beautiful memories of my son, that’s why I am at peace with what happened. But he has never lost a child, he didn’t have the right to talk about that. It shows lack of his emotional intelligence. What was he thinking when he and Johan Bruyneel dumped Emma O’Reilly or didn’t give Floyd Landis a second chance? That they would take their secrets down the grave? I think it’s incredible how they misjudged those situations.” HUMO: How do you think he’s feeling now? Walsh: “That’s hard to say. He went from icon to symbol of corruption in sports. He isn’t relevant anymore. The Americans are ashamed of their hero and don’t want to be reminded about him. In Europe we never went along with his story that far.” HUMO: Would you accept his apologies? Kimmage: “I’d prefer he would talk to the authorities and apologize to people like Betsy and Greg LeMond. He damaged cycling, but he can still help them. If he does that, I’d be happy to wish him all the best.” ‘In the United States they don’t want to be reminded about him,” David Walsh Walsh: “If his apologies would be sincere, I would accept them. But I’m not looking for it: it was my job.” Kimmage: “Some say that he’s some kind of psychopath. I don’t know about that, but you can’t call him a rational, balanced man either. Such figures will get far in sports because there is only one thing that counts for them: winning.” Walsh: “I can’t really say anything about his Apology Tour because of course it also is a diplomatic matter. But he might have been sincere to Emma O’Reilly. Intellectually, Armstrong realizes that he made some serious mistakes, but emotionally he can’t say he’s sorry. He and his teammates took drugs, but what is worse was the constant intimidation and his plain evil behavior. I’m especially curious about what’s going to happen now. The American government and Floyd Landis demand 100 million dollar total from him and his team. A lot of people will finally have to tell the truth.”
HUMO: Does Armstrong have to lose everything? Kimmage: “No, I think he already paid a big price, and his reputation is ruined forever. I don’t feel for him, but he doesn’t need to be completely destroyed. That’s what was the most disappointing about the last year: everybody – both UCI and Team Sky – blamed Armstrong and thought the problem would be fixed. It wasn’t only about him obviously. People like Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurian have cheated all the time. Last summer I was in the Tour again, and I saw some particularly weird stuff going on.” HUMO: You’re not optimistic about the future? Kimmage: “Taylor Phinney was the only one to condemn the abuse of painkillers. That is the new drug free generation. It will always come down to this: wherever possible, cyclists will cheat: micro doses of a product, pills to lose weight, because some of the cyclists look like skeletons. That makes me feel very uncomfortable. The coming months are going to be very interesting. The independent research commission of the UCI can do a good job. But I’m afraid we’re at the same point as after the Festina-Tour. You hear the same as after Armstrong’s first victory ‘le Tour du renouveau’”. HUMO: Mister Walsh, you have followed Team Sky and Chris Foome closely in 2013 as an embedded journalist. What is your opinion? Walsh: “If people like Paul Kimmage and Christophe Bassons have doubts, then I know I have to be very careful. But I haven’t seen anything suspicious over the last year, and that was the case with Armstrong. If it’s ever going to be like that, I will be the first to write about it, but I don’t see any smoking guns.” ‘I first want to see what his goal is,” says Filippo Simeoni Filippo Simeoni was the Italian cyclist that testified against doping-doctor Michele Ferrari in 2002 who was also Armstrong’s doctor and that’s why the American got so mad at him. But Simeoni wasn’t scared and didn’t back off - he even sued him for harassment. Their fight reached a climax in the Tour of 2004: when Simeoni created a slipstream, Armstrong pretentiously called him back. A couple of days later, the exact same thing happened on the Champs Elysées. There was a rumor that after O’Reilly and Bassons, Armstrong wanted to make it up to Simeoni. From a coffee bar in Rome he denies that such a meeting ever took place. Humo got the confirmation that a meeting did take place but that neither Simeoni, nor Armstrong wanted to make a big mediacircus about it. He did want to talk to us very briefly. Filippo Simeoni: “You have to forgive me. I don’t feel good talking about it now. I want to wait and see first what Armstrong’s intentions are.” HUMO: Do his confession and apologies mean that the story is over for you?
Simeoni: “I prefer not to say anything now. I paid a big price for my battle: I was humiliated by everybody and I saw my career falling apart. But I remained relevant, like Bassons. That’s why I first want to see what’s going to happen – the story isn’t over yet.”
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