Book excerpt: Chapter 18 from Juliet Macur’s ‘Cycle of Lies’
Editor’s Note: This excerpt has been reprinted from “Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong” with permission from author Juliet Macur and HarperCollins Publishers. “Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong” is available wherever books are sold including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local independent bookstore.
As [Bob Hamman, of SCA Promotions] had hoped, evidence against Armstrong spread. News organizations around the country reported leaks of the SCA testimony. Even before the press got ahold of it, USADA was on the phone to [SCA attorney Jeff Tillotson]. Could their lawyers come to review the evidence?
Less than a week after the case was settled, [USADA CEO Travis] Tygart and an associate, Bill Bock, flew to Dallas to debrief SCA’s lawyer.
Tygart and Bock were especially interested in Frankie Andreu’s testimony. They believed that if a rider that close to Armstrong had provided information on his doping, they could build a strong case. They returned to Colorado Springs with copies of everything—depositions, hearing transcripts, exhibits from both sides.
Hamman had lost once, but now the bridge master had dealt himself a second hand. And this time, USADA was in the game.
In the deepening love affair between the American public and Lance Armstrong, however, the SCA settlement meant little. No one much cared about an obscure company called SCA—they only cared about Armstrong, an international celebrity who had transcended sports by raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the Livestrong Foundation. He had built a formidable bank of goodwill. The rest was mind-numbing legalese and creeping litigation.
What helped the public believe him when he insisted that he never doped was a report released in the spring of 2006 that addressed L’Equipe’s accusation that six of Armstrong’s urine samples from 1999 had tested positive for EPO.
Less than two months after L’Equipe broke the story, the UCI had commissioned what it called “an independent report” to examine how the French lab conducted its analysis of the urine samples and how the news of the results were leaked to the press.
Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman, the former head of the national antidoping agency in the Netherlands who later represented athletes in doping cases, was paid by the UCI to compile the report. He said his investigation would be unbiased and that neither the UCI nor Armstrong would have a role in it.
“In no way will they be able to see the report in advance or influence the results,” Vrijman said.
Behind the scenes, according to two people with direct knowledge of how the report came together, it was the complete opposite. The whole idea started as a way the UCI could make Armstrong—its star—and the entire sport appear clean when in fact the doping problem that had hovered over cycling for a hundred years still existed. Armstrong, his agent and his lawyers were upset that L’Equipe had been able to figure out which urine samples from the 1999 Tour were his—and they blamed the UCI for it. The cycling union needed to help fix the mess it and L’Equipe had caused, they said.
Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, hired Vrijman at the urging of [former UCI president Hein Verbruggen], who was the UCI’s honorary president after stepping down from the head role in 2005. Verbruggen, a Dutchman who was a powerful player in the Olympic movement and an honorary IOC member, was friends with both Armstrong and Vrijman.
Instead of acting independently as he said he would, Vrijman received feedback from the UCI in compiling the report, said the two people with knowledge of how the report was created.
Vrijman also received input from Armstrong, through his representatives. Stapleton was the point man, and might even have written some of the report, based on language in the document that matches language Armstrong had used to defend himself in the past. Stapleton was the man Armstrong had once called indispensable, declaring he “has had my back for so long. I don’t remember when he didn’t have it.”
The 132-page “Vrijman Report” was released in the spring of 2006. It blamed the French lab for violating athlete confidentiality and said the lab did not follow international standards when its scientists examined Armstrong’s samples. The Vrijman Report also chastised the World Anti-Doping Agency for its conduct regarding the so-called positives. But it neglected to address two very important points: whether EPO was, in fact, found in those samples or the possibility that Armstrong had used EPO to win his first Tour.
Vrijman said his report “exonerates Lance Armstrong completely with respect to alleged use of doping in the 1999 Tour de France.”
The American media bought right in. The Associated Press said Armstrong had all along called L’Equipe’s story about the six positives “a witch hunt,” and that “he may have been right.” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas ran an editorial titled, “Sweet Vindication,” that addressed the report. It said, “Count the report as Armstrong’s eighth Tour de France victory.”
Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, was one of the few outspoken naysayers. He said the report was “so lacking in professionalism and objectivity that it borders on the farcical.” But Armstrong and the UCI had won that crucial round.
In the spring and summer of 2006, when he normally would have been training for the Tour, Armstrong, in retirement, enjoyed his status as an American icon.
There were no more surprise drug tests. No more clandestine prerace injections. No more reasons to even come close to France. Between his trips to Livestrong functions or to advocate in other arenas for cancer awareness, he moved into his dream estate in Austin.
At the Indianapolis 500, he drove the pace car, a 505- horsepower Corvette. At Tufts University in Boston, upon receiving an honorary doctorate, he told graduates: “Somebody send the photos to the principal at Plano East Senior High and let them know that I, in fact, graduated from Tufts and that he has to call me Dr. Armstrong now.” In Washington, D.C., he lobbied Congress for an increase in cancer funding and some lawmakers clamored to meet with him. At least one powerful politician, Jim Oberstar, a long-serving Democratic congressman from Minnesota, had one of Armstrong’s yellow jerseys framed and mounted on his office wall. At a gathering of Livestrong supporters in front of the Capitol, Armstrong talked to the crowd and was met with cries of “Lance for President!” The Arby’s fast food chain proclaimed him the “Greatest Natural Athlete of All Time,” ahead of Jim Thorpe and Muhammad Ali.
Armstrong soaked in fame, while some of his former teammates mounted their bikes and chased after it. After seven straight years as the Tour de France winner, Armstrong saw his former teammate-turned-nemesis, Floyd Landis, win the race in 2006.
Landis’s victory was achieved primarily with a breathtaking performance that overshadowed even the best of Armstrong’s rides. It came on Stage 17. A day after falling eight minutes behind the leader, Landis rode solo over three Alpine passes to win the stage. He crossed the finish line in Paris as only the third American to win the world’s most famous cycling race.
That 2006 Tour had begun with nearly a dozen riders—including those who finished second, third, fourth and fifth behind Armstrong the year before—being banned from the race because they or their teams had been linked to a blood doping ring in Spain. At Tour’s end, Landis was touted as a clean rider who could take American cycling into a new post-Armstrong era. His old friend Allen Lim wasn’t sure what to think of that.
Lim had visited Landis in his plush Paris hotel suite the morning after Landis won the Tour. He had not worked directly for Landis during that race, but was still part of his entourage while recording and publishing his power numbers as part of a marketing push for Saris Cycling. In appreciation for his support, Landis gave Lim both of his wheels from his Tour bike.
As Lim turned to leave, Landis said, “Al, do you know why guys cheat?”
“No, Floyd, why do guys cheat?”
Landis pulled off his shirt. Then, as if he were a ripped and strutting linebacker rather than a whippet-lean cyclist with a farmer’s tan, Landis struck a pose.
“Because they’re pussies, Al,” he said. “Because they are all fucking pussies!”
Lim left the room dazed. He wanted nothing more to do with Landis, with doping, with the moral relativism that said cheating was OK as long as everyone did it. He left Paris that afternoon determined to use his unique experience with Landis to change cycling for the better. If only he knew how.
Only four days after Floyd Landis stood on the podium on the Champs-Élysées with the American flag flapping in the wind behind him, his Phonak team announced that their champion had failed a drug test.
The positive test came from urine supplied during his amazing and improbable Stage 17 solo ride over the Alps. His ratio of testosterone-to-epitestosterone was 11-to-1, nearly three times the acceptable limit.
In a hastily organized teleconference, Landis took the Armstrong approach: Deny, deny and then deny more loudly, preferably on national television. He said the positive test could have come from the Jack Daniel’s and beer he drank the night before. That, or from his naturally high testosterone level. It seemed as if the only excuse he didn’t use was Tyler Hamilton’s vanishing twin story.
On a teleconference with dozens of reporters around the world, I asked him if he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs or doping methods. He paused, awkwardly: “I’ll say no.”
In Ephrata, Pennsylvania, his parents staked a big yellow sign on their lawn with an array of spiritual proverbs: “The glory of young men is their strength” and “To God be the glory.” Even after the report of his positive test, Landis’s family remained hopeful of his innocence. His mother, Arlene, appeared on WGAL, a local news station, in her modest brown dress and Christian head covering. She said, “They stirred up trouble for Lance, too” and “I think God is allowing us to go through this so Floyd’s glory is even greater.” Floyd’s sister Charity said, “I am proud of my brother. It humbles me to know that my brother can claim his victory with integrity.”
A few days later I learned that his urine had tested positive for synthetic testosterone.
More than a month after Frankie and Betsy Andreu testified, Betsy was getting restless. She wanted the public to know that she and her husband didn’t offer to testify against Armstrong—they were impelled to by subpoenas.
“If I had to, I’d do it all again because I did what I thought was right,” she said. “But next time, I’d brace myself emotionally. Just because it’s the truth, people aren’t going to embrace it . . . America wants to believe this fairy tale about Lance, that he’s this great guy who’s a hero, but I know who he really is. He’s just a fraud.”
The Andreus were worlds away from the life they had once enjoyed in Europe. Betsy took care of the couple’s three children, all of them younger than eight years old, and volunteered each week as a lunch monitor at their Catholic school. Frankie had directed a small U.S.-based cycling team, Toyota-United, until he was fired shortly after his SCA testimony broke in the news. His team owner had a previous relationship with Armstrong, which they figured was all they needed to know.
“Once you’re out of Lance’s inner circle, you’re way out,” Frankie Andreu said. “He holds grudges and wants to crush you, and that’s exactly what he’s trying to do to us.” With the subpoena, Frankie said he and Betsy were “put into a difficult position, a position that we gained nothing from, and, if anything, it was going to hurt me. I chose to tell the truth.”
They felt as though they had risked their livelihood by complying with the law. Betsy was concerned for her family’s safety. While the SCA case moved forward, she filed a police report saying someone had accessed her AOL e-mail account without her permission. She had a hunch it was Armstrong or one of the henchmen in what she called “the Lance Mafia.”
Her father once complained of her obsession: “Why do you have to keep talking about Lance? Can’t you just stop and forget about it? It would be so much easier—”
She cut him off. “Lance Armstrong is trying to destroy this family. I’m not going to shut up about it.”
Even her postman knew what occupied Betsy’s every idle thought. He waved to her one day as he brought the mail. She was on the porch having a bite to eat.
“Got a picnic there, Betsy?” he asked.
“Yes, Joe,” she said. “Want some tea and cookies?”
“Wish I could,” he said. “But I don’t have time to talk about Lance!”
It might seem weird that everybody in town seemed to know about her preoccupation with Armstrong. But to her, exposing Armstrong was a serious mission. After the SCA case, she began giving away all of the family’s Nike gear—sweatshirts, sneakers and hats—because she was sure the company was complicit in Armstrong’s doping, or at least was turning a blind eye to it. On the Nike gear she kept, she placed a dark piece of tape over the iconic swoosh. Betsy felt that her family was being threatened for taking a stand against Armstrong. She had good reason.
One night in 2005, Stephanie McIlvain, Armstrong’s former Oakley representative, left a message for Betsy on the Andreus’ answering machine, saying, “I hope somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head. I also hope that one day you have adversity in your life and you have some type of tragedy that will definitely make an impact on you.”
Frankie Jr., her seven-year-old, immortalized the family’s feelings in a crayon drawing. It showed gun-wielding G.I. Joes running toward a man behind bars. Next to the jailed man was a name: “LANCE.”
Her friends in cycling—women with whom she had lounged on the French Riviera—no longer spoke to her. Angela Julich, the first cycling wife Betsy had talked to about Armstrong’s hospital room confession, “didn’t want to get involved” when I asked her to comment for a story I was writing about the Andreus. Leipheimer’s wife, Odessa Gunn, was also indifferent. Two other wives I spoke to worried that Armstrong might ostracize their husbands if they dared to pick up the phone to talk to Betsy—or even about her.
Frankie Andreu told me that having talked about Armstrong’s hospital room confession, even under oath in a supposedly confidential legal proceeding, made it difficult for him to work in cycling. “I would love to see this pass over and go away, but Betsy very much believes in the truth and believes that there is a right and a wrong,” he said.
During the week I visited them in August 2006, Betsy and Frankie argued about my presence. From the next room, I heard them bickering in the kitchen.
“Why is she here?” Frankie said.
“We need to talk to her, Frankie. C’mon, please!”
It was a surprise, then, when Frankie talked with me for two hours, and answered one question I never thought he would: “Did you ever dope?”
He sighed, bowed his head and said, “No one has ever asked me that. I don’t want to answer.”
“Does that mean yes?” I said.
He said, “I tried my best never to use performance-enhancing drugs. I did make a couple of bad choices, but that was a long, long time ago. It’s not something to be proud of. I did use EPO, but only for a couple of races.”
I was stunned.
“Sorry, did you say that you used EPO?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m not gonna lie. That’s what I said.”
He then made a distinction I had never heard before. “There are two levels of guys. You got the guys that cheat [to win] and the guys that are just trying to survive [by cheating].”
But he said he felt guilty and couldn’t keep his secret any longer. If riders kept lying about doping, he said, sponsors and fans would be scared away from the sport for good.
Later, when Frankie was out of the room, Betsy said, “It was all for Lance. Everything those teammates did was for the glory of Lance.”
I called all seven other riders who supported Armstrong on that 1999 Postal Service team and asked if they, too, had doped, and if they had seen any doping on the team. Both Europeans on the squad—Peter Meinert-Nielsen and Pascal Deramé—said they did not dope, would never dope and had never seen doping in the sport.
Only one of the riders agreed to be interviewed, Jonathan Vaughters, said something different. We had talked many times since the SCA testimony was leaked to reporters. I tried to get him to go on the record with what he knew about Armstrong. I told him that one rider—I didn’t name Andreu yet—on the 1999 Tour team had said he had doped. I was looking for others to confirm that there had been doping on Armstrong’s squad that year. Did you dope for that Tour? Vaughters said to answer would be to commit career suicide. Initially, he warned me not to quote him: “Just so you know, my father is a lawyer.” But days later, when I told him that none of his 1999 American teammates would even call me back, he agreed to go on the record, albeit anonymously.
I then told him the other rider was Andreu.
“I’m not going to leave Frankie out there by himself, just hanging there,” Vaughters said. “Somebody has to back him up.”
Both he and Andreu echoed Betsy. They said they felt pressure to use EPO if they wanted to make that 1999 Tour team. “The environment was certainly one of, to be accepted, you had to use doping products,” Vaughters said. “There was very high pressure to be one of the cool kids.”
Neither Andreu nor Vaughters would say they had seen Armstrong dope. Both said they had no firsthand knowledge of his ever doing so.
The story ran on the front page of the New York Times on September 12, 2006. At last, Armstrong’s teammates—two brave ones—had told the truth about doping on the Postal Service squad.
Though the story didn’t accuse Armstrong of doping, his “mafia” saw it as an attack. His agent, Stapleton, called me “the worst journalist in history” and threatened a lawsuit. “You must have fucking failed journalism school.”
Armstrong told the Associated Press that the story was “a hatchet job . . . to link me to doping through somebody else’s admission.” He told USA Today that the Times had displayed “a severe lack of journalistic ethics by linking an admission by Frankie Andreu to me.” He was just as angry with the Andreus. He and team manager Johan Bruyneel called upon the Postal Service/ Discovery Channel team and cycling authorities to look into stripping Frankie of his race results and asking him to pay back prize money. (There is irony in that proposal, as time would tell.)
Armstrong also e-mailed a statement calling the article “categorically false and distorted sensationalism . . . My cycling victories are untainted. I didn’t take performance-enhancing drugs, I didn’t ask anyone else to take them and I didn’t condone or encourage anyone else to take them. I won clean.”
In what was now old hat, he concluded his statement with a plea to his base: “I want the millions of cancer patients and survivors with whom I battle cancer to know that these allegations are still untrue and to be assured that my victories were untainted and that they, too, have reason to hope for a full, healthy and productive future.”
After Travis Tygart read my New York Times story on Frankie Andreu, he called the Andreus at home in Michigan.
He asked Betsy, “Could Frankie come to the phone?”
Betsy thought to have fun with Tygart. “What are you gonna do, sanction Frankie or something?”
He told her that Frankie had, after all, admitted to using EPO for the ’99 Tour and a confession was a confession. And at seven years and two months, it was a confession that fell within the World Anti-Doping Code’s eight-year statute of limitations.
So, to Betsy’s question of sanctions, Tygart said, “Well, that’s what we’ve had to consider.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” she said to Tygart. “You have Lance, the biggest fraud, the biggest cheat in the history of sport still out there, and you’re coming after us? Frankie was fired. You’re telling me you’re going to go after a small guy like him because he refused to go on a doping program with Lance? Fuck you and fuck off!”
The next sound Tygart heard was the infinite hum of the dead line at the other end. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
David Zabriskie, Landis’s closest buddy, said he cried for hours, unable to leave his bathtub, after hearing that Landis had tested positive. He had last seen him in a sublime Parisian hotel suite, the Tour winner living large.
Zabriskie knew Landis had it coming: He had doped with Landis in the off-season before that Tour. Landis also had supplied Zabriskie with growth hormone, testosterone patches and EPO that made up his training regimen. Without Landis’s access to drugs, Zabriskie said he would have had no way to obtain those pharmaceuticals. Both men felt pressure to perform well at the Tour, the only race most Americans paid attention to—if they paid attention at all.
To hard-core cycling fans who knew about the sport’s history with doping, Landis had become just the latest cheater in a sport of cheaters. Zabriskie had gone from feeling happy for his friend’s success to sympathizing with his downfall. He knew the pain Landis had endured—and it was more than just the ritual disgrace of the failed test.
On August 15, 2006, a month after the Tour, Landis’s father-in-law—and best friend—committed suicide. David Witt was found dead in a parking garage in San Diego. He’d shot himself in the head.
Landis had told Zabriskie that Witt was his source for testosterone patches—they had come by way of a rejuvenation clinic Witt visited in Southern California—and that Witt had sometimes watched over his blood during the Tour.
It all left Zabriskie confused. Soon after the Andreu/Vaughters admissions, he once again explained his feelings about the Postal Service team’s doping to Steve Johnson, who recently had been named chief executive of USA Cycling. He wanted help from one of the most powerful men in American cycling—a man who once had been his mentor. Instead, Johnson said Andreu never should have gone public. Then he told Zabriskie, “If you ever do drugs, I’ll kill you.”
Already depressed by Landis’s positive test, Zabriskie was dismayed to hear Johnson’s criticism of Andreu. Nor did he understand Johnson’s admonition.
“Uh, Steve,” he said, “I already told you that I have used drugs, that the guys on Postal were injecting me with all sorts of stuff. Remember at worlds two years ago? I told you that they were doing drugs on that team.”
Zabriskie’s best guess was that Johnson simply didn’t want to hear it. As he did at the world championships two years earlier, the cycling boss looked at Zabriskie like he was speaking in tongues. Johnson just sat there, saying nothing until his wife walked into the room and gave him a chance to change the subject.
Zabriskie thought, “I already told him twice that the Postal team was doping. He didn’t do anything about it then, and he’s not going to do anything about it now . . . Ugh, he must know everything.”
Confrontation was not Zabriskie’s thing. He’d never had the courage to take on his alcoholic father. Now, rather than risk his riding career, he would not join Andreu and Vaughters in their public confession. He was embarrassed by his weakness.
Allen Lim’s good-bye to Floyd Landis in Paris in 2006 was just one of their many farewells.
The first had come a year before.
After the 2005 Tour de France, Lim promised to babysit a bag of blood in Landis’s apartment during the Vuelta a España and deliver it on a rest day.
At the time, Lim was contemplating working with young men riding clean for Vaughters, on a development team for riders under twenty-three that Vaughters had started in 2003. “Those young kids are not like Floyd, they are not like Lance, they are good kids,” Lim told me later. “I don’t ever want to see them go through this.”
He spent an afternoon with those kids in Girona. Then, instead of delivering the blood bag to Landis, he took it out of the refrigerator, placed it in the kitchen sink and stabbed it with a knife again and again.
Days later, Landis called. “How’s everything going?”
“It’s not going so well,” Lim said. “You don’t have a bag of blood anymore. It went down the drain.”
Lim expected Landis’s rage.
Instead, the rider said, “Shit, well, I guess it’s time to go home then, isn’t it?”
Lim thought he heard in Landis’s voice a tone of regret that he had dragged his friend back into doping.
“Yeah, Floyd, it’s time to go home,” Lim said. “It’s over.”
Editor’s Note: In an October 16, 2012, story on VeloNews.com, Lim said he’d “tried to thwart” Landis’ doping, and that Landis did not pay him a salary in 2005 or 2006. Lim said then that Landis’ accusations against him — that Lim had been complicit in Landis’ doping — were false, and that he had testified under oath to that effect. At the time, Landis did not comment. In “Cycle of Lies,” Lim changed his story, saying that Landis’ former wife sent him a check for $7,000. However in a March 13 story on Cyclingnews.com, Landis disputed Lim’s claims, saying that Lim carried his doping supplies through the 2005 Tour de France, and that he paid Lim over $80,000 during their work together. Lim continues to dispute Landis’ claim. When asked for comment by VeloNews, Landis did not respond.