The wrath of Lance Armstrong: USADA outlines witness intimidation
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency sketched a chilling portrait of a vindictive and ruthless Lance Armstrong in its files Wednesday, painting the seven-time Tour de France winner as a peloton bully, capable of intimidating rivals both on the bike and at the bar.
The USADA report details confrontations or issues with Filippo Simeoni, Tyler Hamilton, Levi Leipheimer, Betsy and Frankie Andreau and Jonathan Vaughters, among others. The Armstrong character drawn isn’t a kind illustration of the disgraced champion, instead conveying the Texan as someone determined to keep those who would shed light on doping in cycling subdued.
At the 2004 Tour de France, Armstrong famously chased down Simeoni when he was in a breakaway group. Simeoni had testified against Dr. Michele Ferrari, who was Armstrong’s trainer.
“You made a mistake when you testified against Ferrari… I can destroy you,” Simeoni says Armstrong told him. Armstrong forced Simeoni back to the peloton, with a sinister “zip the lips gesture” that was replayed constantly on television, though at the time commentators claimed to have no idea what it really meant.
One journalist recalled Simeoni’s face — it was wet with both his tears and the spit of the peloton.
“Mr. Armstrong’s statement to Mr. Simeoni in which he referred directly to Mr. Simeoni’s testimony in a legal proceeding and said ‘I can destroy you,’ and Mr. Armstrong’s actions in connection with his threatening statement, constitute acts of attempted witness intimidation,” the USADA report reads.
An e-mail seeking comment from an Armstrong spokesperson wasn’t immediately returned.
An incident in 2011 with Hamilton at an Aspen, Colorado, restaurant in which Armstrong put his hands on Hamilton is widely known, as is what Armstrong is reported to have told his former teammate. Hamilton had given testimony in the federal investigation into Armstrong and later appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” and his former captain told him, simply: “When you’re on the witness stand, we are going to fucking tear you apart. You are going to look like a fucking idiot.” Hamilton further testified that Armstrong said, “I’m going to make your life a living… fucking… hell,” according to the USADA papers.
Leipheimer recalled a dinner with Armstrong in which the Texan sent a text message to his wife Odessa randomly that said “run don’t walk,” and that while riding for RadioShack, a team Armstrong helped found, he received various comments from team staff, such as “I never forget. One day I will pay back.”
Leipheimer wasn’t resigned by the team for 2012, because, according to the USADA report, he had given testimony to the grand jury in the federal investigation into Armstrong.
Armstrong is also accused with retaliating against witnesses, including Betsy and Frankie Andreau, for Betsy’s giving information to journalist David Walsh and testifying in an arbitration hearing regarding bonuses to be paid to Armstrong by SCA Promotions. The Armstrong camp characterized Betsy Andreu as “vindictive,” “bitter,” and “vengeful,” in the media and Armstrong sent Frankie Andreu an e-mail in December 2003, reminding him that “by helping to bring me down is not going to help y’alls situation at all. there (sic) is a direct link to all of our success here and i (sic) suggest you remind her of that,” according to the USADA report.
Armstrong is also accused of using his professional influence to go after the jobs of Prentice Steffen and Jonathan Vaughters. Vuaghters, a former teammate and doper-turned-clean cycling advocate, is the CEO of Slipstream Sports, the management firm behind the Garmin-Sharp ProTeam. Slipstream was the organization behind the TIAA-CREF development team, which preceded the Garmin squad.
Steffen, a former team doctor for the U.S. Postal Service and staunch anti-doping advocate that has spoken out on doping at the team, was quoted in a L’Equipe story in 2005 that discussed Armstrong’s now-infamous 1999 blood samples that turned up evidence of EPO use. According to USADA, Armstrong and his lawyers reached out to TIAA-CREF team management.
“Due to Mr. Armstrong’s stature within the sport of cycling, the management of the TIAA-CREF team ultimately concluded that if they did not remove Dr. Steffen from his position with the team that the TIAA-CREF team might suffer repercussions. As a consequence, Dr. Steffen was removed from the team for a period of time,” the report reads.
Slipstream has also received phone calls from Armstrong “suggesting” that Vaughters, whose text messages regarding doping were used as evidence in the SCA hearings, should no longer be employed.
USADA also says Armstrong told former rider Christophe Bassons he should leave cycling after Bassons questioned Armstrong’s performance at the 1999 Tour, and that the former Tour winner also berated Floyd Landis, another past teammate, after Landis accused Armstrong of taking drugs.
“Mr. Landis was accused of being a liar and vilified in the media by Mr. Armstrong and his representatives. As explained in this Reasoned Decision, Mr. Landis’ testimony regarding Mr. Armstrong’s doping is well corroborated by abundant eyewitness, testimonial and scientific evidence,” the USADA file reads.
Incidents like Hamilton’s run-in with Armstrong in Aspen or Betsy Andreu’s back-and-forths with Armstrong have been well publicized. On their own, they are abhorrant, but when woven together within the expansive USADA file, the stories paint a chilling picture of a vindictive, no-holds-barred Tour champion hell-bent on protecting the secretive practices that landed him in yellow on the Champs Elysées a record seven times.