The Big Texan’s Telenovela, Pt II

18 01 2013

In which I delve inside the mind of The Big Texan after the airing of the first chapter of ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter’: Oprah Winfrey’s new series of interviews with people looking for publicity on a network seeking people desperate for publicity: ‘Lance Armstrong admits to doping’.

Lance Armstrong admits doping: well knock me down & colour me purple, Oprah. It’s why he’s there. As an aside, one of the more interesting diversions was a Twitter exchange between Leigh Sales (@leighsales), Tracy Grimshaw (@tracygrimshaw), Monica Attard (@attardmon), Jenny Brockie (@JenBrockie), Wendy Carlisle (@wendycarlisle) & Mia Freedman (@MiaFreedman – who famously ‘didn’t care’ when Cadel Evans won the TdF, but was all over Oprah like a rash) over Oprah’s interviewing technique. I highly recommend you check it out. Personally, I’d prefer Lance to be in a courtroom, but hey, I’ll take what I can get. Oprah didn’t do a ‘bad’ job, but she let him off the hook a few times. Contrary to the pre-publicity, Armstrong didn’t answer every question and when he did, his answers were pure Lance:

  • it wasn’t possible to win seven Tours de France ‘in that culture’ without doping
  • he’d looked in the dictionary (probably one he wrote) and checked the definition of ‘cheating’. Nup, he concluded. He hadn’t gained an advantage over his fellow competitors; “… it was a level playing field …” 
  • had he failed a test? ‘Technically, yes’. Not at the time, of course. Oh, those pesky retrospective EPO tests.

So … is Lance Armstrong a sociopath or psychopath? Given Armstrong ‘looked up the definition of cheating’, I’m delving into some pop psychiatry. Firstly, the labels are often interchangeable and shorthand for personality disorders as defined in the American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM IV TR – fourth edition, text revision). What tips me toward ‘sociopath’ is Armstrong’s constant references to his childhood . ‘Mom had her back to the wall, we both had our backs to the wall,’ he told Winfrey. He has said as much throughout his career. It’s a statement of fact, not blame. In the good old days, this disorder was known as megalomania. Under the Hare Psychopathy Test, Armstrong’s behaviour fits Factors 1 (a) and (b), closely aligned with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  Factors 2 (a) and (b) are more closely associated with Antisocial Behavioural Disorder, violence and criminality. NPD is indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)  pre-cancer, Lance is a guy in the peloton. Post-cancer, he wins the world’s biggest cycling race. He becomes ‘Lance Armstrong’. He BEAT cancer. He smashed that bastard to a pulp. He is the resurrected, ‘Cancer Jesus’, peddling yellow bracelets. Not so much. No one ‘beats’ cancer in the same way that no one has CURED cancer. You are diagnosed, you might be treated, & the still inexact science might mean you go into remission, and you celebrate anniversaries – five, 10, 30 years’ cancer free; or the cancer just gives it the big, ‘fuck you’, & spreads, & you go through the treatment cycle again & you get some more time, or you die.

Sundance Kid: “I can’t swim.” Butch Cassidy: “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.”

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love … His tweet following the release of USADA’s ‘Reasoned Decision’ was classic – ‘ just kicking back enjoying life’. Kicking back, photographed lazing on the sofa below the seven mounted maillot jaune lining the wall. Living in LA LA Land, where, despite the weight of evidence pouring out, you’re still the man. Also, he wouldn’t be sitting with the Mighty Opes if he hadn’t come back to the sport. He would have gotten away with a great fraud. He was only undone by his own greatness.

(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)  ‘Being Lance’ was an amazing gig, despite him downplaying it to Winfrey: ‘I didn’t know how big it would be.’ Get your hand off it, mate. How many of your peers are invited to rub shoulders with Presidents? Also, his dismissal of hardcore cycling fans as ‘the people outside the bus’. The great unwashed. Ugh. Today, it was evidenced by his refusal to answer questions about others implicated in the doping scandal, particularly his trainer, Dr Michele Ferrari, who is a ‘good man, a smart man’. He wasn’t opposed to delivering the occasional backhander, such as that handed out to former team mate, Christian Vande Velde, who alleged Armstrong had the power tell his team mates to dope, or they were off the team. ‘There was never a direct order,’ Armstrong said. Duh, VdV, you idiot. You just thought there was. Because Lance.

(4) requires excessive admiration … see the second coming of Cancer Jesus. Can you imagine training for triathlons (which, to be fair, he was pretty handy at as a young man before deciding it was all about the bike) while Floyd Landis, Alberto Contador & Carlos Sastre drank champagne on the road to Paris? Come on. To Winfrey, he concedes he’s a jerk, but makes sure he slips ‘humanitarian’ in at the same time. Jerk.

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations see the testimony of his fellow riders in USADA’s ‘Reasoned Decision’. In LA LA Land, the USADA investigation was ‘an unconstitutional witch hunt’ and a ‘waste of taxpayers’ money’. Actually, no, Lance. The waste of taxpayers’ money was the years your cycling squad was sponsored by the US Postal Service, when you and your squad broke a contractual obligation not to dope. In today’s interview, Armstrong was asked if he felt bad, whether his actions were wrong, whether he felt like a cheat? No. Non. Nyet. ‘Hey, Travis (Tygart) – soz for all the bad stuff I said about you, or had my Orcs put out, bud; we can sort this out at a truth & reconciliation meeting – I’ll be there!’

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends Armstrong admitted to being a bully & trying to ‘control the narrative’. Fact: after the 2001 Tour de Suisse, Armstrong made out a cheque to the UCI for $25,000, pledging a further $100,000 in 2005 – to fight doping. They called it a donation. Tyler Hamilton called it hush money for Armstrong’s alleged 2001 Tour de Suisse positive test. Michael Ashenden, independent doping expert, calls it, ‘unconscionable’. Today, Armstrong said the UCI asked for a donation. The organisation was so poor it went to him & asked for money to assist its anti-doping efforts. Who knows? I think Armstrong used the words, ‘I’m no fan of the UCI,’ four or five times in the Winfrey interview. Get ready, Hein Verbruggen, Thomas Weisel, Johan Bruyneel, et al: you’re going under the bus. Lance. Does. Not. Want. To. Go. To. Prison.

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others see Armstrong’s treatment of anyone who stood up to him – journalists Paul Kimmage (@PaulKimmage) and David Walsh (@DavidWalshST) for a start. Armstrong called Emma O’Reilly an alcoholic prostitute & Betty Andreu a crazy bitch. Today, that dead-eye shark smirk as he refused to confirm her account of Armstrong’s admission to doctors on his cancer diagnosis that he was doping: ‘…but … I didn’t call her fat!’. Reference to cancer as ‘the disease’: ‘Cancer Jesus’ is exacting a big toll on LIVESTRONG. In its official statement after the airing of the Winfrey special, the organisation released this statement; he visited HQ on Monday and apologised for the stress he’d caused, not for lying. Stress caused because you lied, Lance. In the 2004 Tour, wearing the yellow jersey, he infamously, needlessly chased down a breakaway Simeoni was in because the Italian had testified against Ferrari. As he approaches Simeoni he gives him the sign of the omerta – seal your lips – & more. Simeoni drifts back through the pack, in his own words, ‘face wet with tears & the spit of others’. Some publicly mused on, and criticised the bizarre incident at the time; others, including then Australian professional rider, Scott Sunderland, said it was ‘stupid’ of Simeoni to speak out.

In 1999, Armstrong told Christophe Bassons – the only Festina rider cleared in the 1998 scandal – that he should leave the Tour for questioning Armstrong’s ascendency in a newspaper column. Armstrong confirmed the conversation on French television:

“His accusations aren’t good for cycling, for his team, for me, for anybody. If he thinks cycling works like that, he’s wrong and he would be better off going home.”

It worked. When Bassons transferred to Francaise des Jeux, he was persona non grata in the team, & the peloton. So he left.

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her among his many feuds, one of the nastiest is with Greg LeMond, the three-time Tour de France champion, not only the first American winner, but the first non-European cyclist to win. Was it not enough to ‘win’ seven consecutive tours? Armstrong had to stomp on LeMond’s achievements & bury his bike brand?  When Armstrong announced his return to professional cycling, and joined the same team as Contador, he announced that he ranked their team mate Levi Leipheimer on the same level as the Spaniard. Or he might even win again. Christ on a bike.

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes see all of the above. Armstrong speaks in the royal ‘we’;  his critics are ‘haters’ – questioning or criticising Lance meant you hated the entire sport; he blacklisted journalists; he sued, or announced he was suing, everyone from his former mechanic to the Sunday Times. He sledged Landis for almost a decade, now he wants to settle his whistleblower lawsuit. Little wonder. He doesn’t have the manpower to take on the Justice Department as well in the case, which centres on the alleged defrauding of the Federal Government.

I don’t think I’ll bother watching tomorrow’s ‘mesmerising’ insights. I think Lance Armstrong is mad, bad and dangerous to know. I don’t want to see his crocodile tears about being dropped by sponsors. I doubt we’ll see anything more probing, given the promo at the end of today’s show. Here are a few more highly recommended reads:

  • If you missed the interview, Jane Aubrey (@janeaubrey) gives a good wrap-up on cyclingnews (@cyclingnewsfeed), & captures the reaction of WADA President, John Fahey
  • Shane Stokes (@SSbike) interviews Bike Pure’s Andy Layhe for VeloNation (@Pro_Cycling)
  • Everything by the New York Times’ Juliet Macur (@JulietMacur), who has consistently been ahead of the pack. Especially this
  • Nice analysis in VeloNews (@velonews) by Matthew Beaudin (@matthewcbeaudin); Jake Stephens in VeloNation (@Pro_Cycling)
  • .. and with so many cycling journalists & commentators in Australia for the upcoming Tour Down Under, check out these interviews (and compare the reactions): Rupert Guinness (@rupertguinness), Phil Liggett (@PhilLiggett) Paul Sherwen (@PaulSherwen) on SBS’ Cycling Central (@cyclingcentral) website
  • USADA issued a two-paragraph statement. I think Trav wants to see Lance in another chair.
  • … as opposed to the UCI. Pat McQuaid thought Lance did good, has the Truth & Reconciliation chair warming. Vomit.
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Cadel, le vainquer

25 07 2011

I didn’t really have many words last night … just a feeling.

In 2007, Cadel Evans went into the starting house within reach of Alberto Contador. I had watched the Spanish man dance on the pedals in the mountains, & thought, ‘now this is not merely sport, but art’. I didn’t know how he would time trial. I knew Cadel could time trial, and he did. He rode the race of his life and at every checkpoint, he took time from Contador. It wasn’t enough. ‘Bertie’ showed he could do it to0. He won the Tour by 23 seconds. 

In 2008, the man wearing the yellow jersey, Carlos Sastre, having destroyed his follow ‘heads of state’ on the hairpin bends of the Alpe d’Huez, went into the starting house holding a 1’34” lead on third-placed Cadel. I think everyone expected him expected to fade. He didn’t. More importantly, Cadel didn’t time trial as well as everyone thought he would. Sastre won the 2008 Tour de France by 58″.

Thge 2009 Tour was awful. He finised 45′ behind Contador. From two 2nd places to 30th. Clearly the relationship between Cadel & Silence-Lotto was over, despite the addition of Phillipe Gilbert (PhilGil) to the team.

Then that day at Mendrisio … world champion. The announcement that Cadel was looking for new challenges & would leave Lotto. Signing with BMC Racing Team. Winning Fleche Wallone and the holding the maglia rosa at the Giro. He didn’t win, but as he and Alexandre ‘Vino’ Vinokourov slugged out stage 7 on the strada bianche like a muddied Frasier / Ali, there was just this feeling that this year would be the year. New team, rainbow jersey, solid Giro in the legs. Now for the Tour. We know now what happened, but at the time it seemed like that was it. After taking the yellow jersey, Cadel ‘cracked’ on the next mountain stage. He lost something like 8 minutes & collapsed in tears in the arms of his teammate at the end of the stage. He had fallen the day he took the jersey. Still, there was an assumption that the effort of the Giro had caused him to crack. The gruelling Tour of Italy had certainly taken it’s toll, but we learned later was that he had broken a bone in his arm. He finished 26th. That he finished the Tour at all is incredible; but there seemed to be a sense that time was running out for Cadel to win the Tour, that the rivalry between Bertie and the brothers Schleck would dominate.

This year, I watched Cadel ride and win Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Romandie. I didn’t watch the Criterium du Dauphine, where he finished 2nd. I have watched every moment of this Tour. BMC’s Team Time Trial showed how determined, & more importantly, cohesive the squad was. For the first time, watching him guided through the peloton at all times by a black & red-clad teammate, rarely in trouble while almost all of the top riders fell (some injured so badly they were forced to abandon) … there was a sense that it really was his for the taking. After denying Bertie on the line of the Mur de Bretagne, Cadel took the podium for the first time as a stage winner at the Tour (he was awarded his first stage – the first 2007 TT – retrospectively, following Vino’s positive test, but was denied the honour of a podium). Why were they racing so hard? Well, Contador had to make up big time. But Cadel? To me, it was a perfect stage to go for. As he kicked past PhilGil, it was only Contador who could go with him. These men both know the meaning of ‘every second counts’. They have won and lost 3,000km races by a handful of seconds. Cadel threw his machine at the line. He won.

All I could think at that moment was how much Cadel wanted the victory & smiled. I smiled as his team rode hard in week one, even though Cadel wasn’t in yellow. A lot of people questioned why. I liked it. It was a psychological message to the teams of the other big boys. We’re here. We will race hard every day. Every day, for every second.

As they reached the Pyrenees, Cadel was still there. Every move marked. We transitioned to the Alps. Where the Tour is won and lost. The team gave its all. Leopard-Trek did what they do in every mountain stage – set an excruciating tempo to isolate the other elite riders so that Frank & Andy Schleck could attack and counter-attack their rivals. It didn’t work on the first day. They couldn’t shed the yellow jersey of Thomas Voeckler, let alone Cadel.

They had to switch tactics. On the path to the Galibier, Andy Schleck attacked early. He rode solo, to victory for 40 kilometres, and deservedly so. Meanwhile, Cadel reduced a 4′ gap almost entirely by himself to just two. He saved his Tour. He towed a pack of men up the climb with him. He had to. He wanted it.

Then, the feared show down on the Alpe d’Huez. Same-same … Leopard-Trek would try and explode the peloton early, even though it was a short stage. But Bertie – his chances of a Tour win seemingly over – launched an even more audacious attack with 90km to go. The vanquished champion, battered & unlucky, had failed to stay with Cadel on the Galibier – and now he was attacking before Leopard-Trek had time to organise it’s tank-style group attack. This was racing – this was panache – and threw the script out of the window. Already disoriented by what was unfolding, as the cameras lurched back to Cadel several times at the side of the road, until he changed bikes, he had lost 70″ on the leaders, and with it, I feared, the Tour de France. To me, BMC’s directuer sportif, John Lelangue, made the difference. Cadel went back to the peloton, back to his boys, instead of chasing solo, as Voeckler did. For me, it proved the difference. He was given the support he needed & saved the energy he needed at the end to go up the Alpe d’Huez, clawing every second back. The only downside was watching Bertie unable to reap the stage victory on what was one of the most audacious rides I’ve ever seen, befitting the champion he is.

… and so the Battle through the Alps finished. It would go down to the ‘race of truth’. Cadel versus the Schleck brothers and the clock. Would the maillot jaune give Andy Schleck the wings it gave Sastre?

This time, after those two huge efforts & refusal to lie down because of some bad luck with the bike, and despitemy nerves jangling, I believed he could do it. I believed he wanted it more. As every time check passed, & it became increasingly clear that Cadel Evans was riding the time trial of his life & would take the maillot jaune into Paris, I realised how much this moment meant to me & to millions of people around the world. All of the disappointments, all of the bad luck, all of the criticisms that he didn’t attack … all erased. Cadel rode so brilliantly he almost beat time-trial wunderkind, Tony Martin to finish second. He not only recouped the time Andy Schleck held, he smashed it. He left it all on the road and was presented with the maillot jaune on the only day it matters. To wear it into Paris.

Thank you to the riders, the teams, the SBS crew led by Mike Tomalaris for bringing us each stage, and to everyone who has shared this beautiful race with me, on Twitter & by reading my blog posts (especially Chiara Passerini!)

Chapeau, Cadel Evans. Le vainquer du Tour de France 2011.