Tour de France 2020

Walsh on Armstrong podcast comeback: ‘Don’t expect me to be cheering alongside’

VeloNews caught up with acclaimed journalist David Walsh to gauge his opinion of Lance Armstrong’s return to the cycling milieu.

LONGWY, France (VN) — Lance Armstrong is back in the peloton.

Since his USADA case in 2012, it’s no surprise that the controversial ex-pro has largely stayed away from cycling. After all, he’s banned for life, and had all seven of his Tour de France victories erased from the history books.

Armstrong, 45, tip-toed back into public view last year when he started his podcast “Forward,” but has largely steered clear of cycling.

With a podcast and blog running all month during the Tour de France on Outside Magazine, Armstrong will be opining daily on the race he used to rule.

Not everyone is thrilled. VeloNews caught up with acclaimed journalist David Walsh to gauge his opinion of Armstrong’s return to the cycling milieu:

VeloNews: Armstrong is stepping back into the cycling game with a new podcast and blog; any thoughts on his return to the sport?

David Walsh: It doesn’t bother me either way. I do remember Lance used to say during what he might look back on what might consider the good ol’ days, ‘when all you guys are still covering the race, asking all your stupid questions about doping, I will be on the beach, opening a cold beer, and I won’t be thinking about all this stuff.’ Now all the years have passed, and I saw some podcast yesterday, and Lance was doing some sort of debrief on the second stage of the Tour de France, a flat stage for sprinters, which should take about four seconds. I just thought, ‘Lance, it wasn’t meant to be like this.’ You were meant to be on the beach, cracking open the beers.

VN: He definitely had a different ending to his story than he expected …

DW: He certainly did! Deconstructing the second stage of the Tour de France was meant to be left to ordinary mortals like you and I, journos, who have to eke out a living doing this. But it was meant to have been better for him.

VN: Do you see this as a grasp at relevancy? He has been through a lot, regardless of what you think of him …

DW: Of course, he’s been through a lot, and some people would say self-inflicted. And while he was self-inflicting, he was trying to inflict on other people as well. Especially people like Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly and Stephen Swart, and all those people who got screwed by him. I understand that he wants to get back up on the ladder that would take him back to social respectability. I get that. I understand that cycling is probably the only way he can do that. I have a sense that America is not very interested. Over in Europe, we’re more interested in him than his own people are. He is certainly entitled to try … He is sort of climbing back into social respectability, but in a general sense. My attitude is leave him to it.

VN: Has he asked you to appear on his podcast?

DW: No, no, I don’t expect he will. It would be a good conversation. I would first have to decide whether I wanted to, wouldn’t I?

VN: It’s interesting to see how different countries react to their former dopers, isn’t it? In France, we see Jalabert and Virenque on TV. In Germany, Jan Ullrich wasn’t even allowed to attend the Tour … do you think these riders need to ‘repent’ before being accepted back into the sport?

DW: That’s fair. And Lance, to a large degree, has. If Lance is allowed to be back, that’s up for other people to decide. I remember too much of the bad side of Lance. It was a long fight. When he went to court against the Sunday Times, he didn’t know that it wasn’t going to end my journalistic career. I can imagine he hoped it would. And if it had, he certainly wouldn’t have lamented it. So, of course, I am going to have a particular view. Those court documents they filed in a London courtroom; that was perjury. Perjury, as Dustin Hoffman said in the film, it’s not like telling little white lies to journalists. It’s a different thing …

VN: And that case against The Times had a chilling effect on all journalists covering Armstrong; everyone said, ‘if Walsh and The Times lost, who’s next?’

DW: It did. I spent a large part of two years going from my home near Cambridge down to London to meet with lawyers and barristers, discussing this case endlessly, and getting the witnesses lined up. The Sunday Times capitulated, because it cost them a million pounds. That’s a lot of money for a newspaper that isn’t earning much money.

VN: What do you remember of those days?

DW: That was a tough time. He went after me legally. But he also went after people like Emma, Betsy and Stephen Swart personally. Good luck to Lance on his efforts to get back. He is entitled to do it, but don’t expect me to be there cheering alongside.