LeMond: Armstrong ‘manipulated the cancer community’

In an interview, the three-time Tour de France winner says Armstrong was "not capable of the top five"

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Greg LeMond had some harsh words to say about Lance Armstrong Monday night during an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN.

In his first in-depth interview since Armstrong was stripped of his titles last year, LeMond claims Armstrong was “not capable of the top five.”

On Armstrong’s battle with cancer and his subsequent creation of the Livestrong charity, LeMond was even more critical: “He manipulated the cancer community. I mean, I have family members with cancer. Everybody has been affected — by cancer. But it was the manipulation and using that as — a way to, like, it was like Teflon. He used the money, he used the foundation to — not only cover for him but also destroy people.”

The full interview transcript, courtesy of CNN:

Anderson Cooper: For you cycling was — emotionally important. It wasn’t just something you were good at and wanted to compete and win at. It was – it filled a need in your life?

Greg LeMond: Well, yes. I, I had — I had really great parents when I discovered cycling. It was after a really difficult period in my life where I been sexually abused prior to getting into cycling. It was kind of like a blank out. But cycling literally saved my life.

AC: When you say it saved your life, it gave you something to focus on, gave you a way out?

GL: Yeah, I say it. I have no clue what I would have been like had I not found it. The exercise really opened my mind, it actually gave me kind of peace, but it was also very fulfilling. And I would say that it saved my life. I always go, gosh, you know, I can see somebody in my — my, say the way my brain works, coming from a period of being sexually abused, you could be self-destructive. People could self-destruct. Cycling was a very positive aspect.

AC: You didn’t want to dope?

GL: No. No. Of course not.

There is a sickness in sports. It is an ego deal. If somebody is better, really just more talented, the egos of all these other athletes, don’t belief that person is that much better. They believe that guy has got to be cheating. And they cheat. And so, it is rare — I think I was very fortunate to be extremely talented and not have, never even had to think about that to perform. I mean, why would you — why would I have to think of taking something if I’m winning?

AC: When did you meet Lance Armstrong? When was the beginning of your —

GL: I met Lance at The Wind Tunnel in — I think 1990. I had just won the Tour. Kind of was aware that — some young riders might be nervous to meet me. I kind of jokingly said you look more of a football player than a cyclist. My wife said he didn’t take it well.

AC: You spoke out about Lance Armstrong. And a lot of people criticized you for that at the time. Why did you speak out?

GL: It wasn’t Armstrong. If it would have been a Belgian and I knew this, it would have been — I would have had the same opinion. It wasn’t Armstrong in particular but —

AC: In fact, it sounds like almost if it was somebody else you would have spoken out more –

GL: Absolutely.

AC: — because there wouldn’t have been the cancer story, there wouldn’t have been the Livestrong charity, there wouldn’t have been all these things.

GL: Yeah. But that actually was the thing that got me the most that he manipulated the cancer community. I mean, I have family members with cancer. Everybody has been affected — by cancer. But it was the manipulation and using that as — a way to, like, it was like Teflon. He used the money, he used the foundation to — not only cover for him but also destroy people.

AC: The sheer number of people who had a vested interest in protecting him — whether it’s companies or individuals, hangers-on, other riders — I mean there was a whole industry sort of geared toward protecting him.

GL: Yes, I never understood that. I actually, when I raced, I’d believed that rules, you know, a sponsor, if I am — doping and I’m positive that I would lose that sponsor. I would get kicked out of the sport. That’s what I think a lot of riders believed.

But that changed. It became so rampant in the ’90s. But Armstrong, I think, came in with a perfect opportunity where there was a huge drug scandal in 1998 called Festina Affair. They found 1,000 ampoules of drugs in a car. And this Tour de France came to its knees. And when he came back, the cancer story, everything it was like, he had brought life back to the sport. But it was a false hope.

AC: In 2001, in an interview, you said, “If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports; if he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.” Do you think what Armstrong did was the greatest fraud?

GL: Absolutely. Absolutely. The greatest fraud was that — I mean, I know his physical capability. He is a top 30 at best. I mean, at best. No matter what. If he was clean, everybody was clean, he was top 30 at best. He is not capable of, not — capable of the top five.

AC: Is it true he threatened you that by saying that he would say that you used EPO?

GL: Oh, yeah. He did offer $300,000 to a teammate to say that I took EPO. The guy refused. And this is a guy that could have used the money.

AC: Why would he go after you like that?

GL: He is a bully. He’s a thug to me. And I’m the one that wouldn’t put up with it.

AC: And so, when Lance Armstrong says, look, everybody was doing this. I was just trying to even the playing field?

GL: He wasn’t. He couldn’t race on a level playing field. That’s why he bribed the governing body.

AC: What do you think should happen to him now?

GL: This is not a sporting infraction. This is criminal.

AC: You think he should go to jail?

GL: I do, yes. Yes.

There is a point when there are people that are just not good. And there are some people — I mean, I’m sorry, but there are people who are criminals that just shouldn’t be able to participate again in anything.

AC: And he’s one of them (ph)?

GL: Yeah. It’s like Bernie Madoff. Should he be allowed to come in and be part of Wall Street managing money? No. He shouldn’t. And that’s what Armstrong — he shouldn’t be allowed to be back in the sport.

AC: Greg LeMond, it’s really an honor to meet you. Thank you.

GL: All right. Thank you. Thanks.