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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Living in LA LA Land

15 10 2012

“Anyone who imagines they can work alone winds up surrounded by nothing but rivals, without companions. The fact is, no one ascends alone.”

Lance Armstrong, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life

Lance Armstrong knew all about teamwork.

For every grimace in the face of an outrageous mountain gradient; for every second split in a bunch sprint; for every sinew straining in the race of truth … Lance Armstrong climbed to the top of the Tour de France podium seven times as part of a team.

Sportspeople rarely claim their spoils as individuals. Tennis players thank everyone in ‘their corner’, just as boxers do; some athletes have an annoying tendency to speak of themselves in the third person. Cyclists have their team on the road, and off it. Everyone from the soigneurs to the directeurs sportif is part of the team.

Last week, the world learnt just how far Lance Armstrong’s ‘team’ went to ensure their companion’s ascent, and what happened to those people who didn’t play by Armstrong’s rules.

On 10 October 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released this statement and its 202-page ‘Reasoned Decision’ on the Disqualification and Ineligibility of Lance Armstrong and supporting information to the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC).

Some of the language is hyperbolic:

The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.

I disagree. For me, that title will forever belong to State Plan 14:25, the systemic, state-controlled, barbaric doping of approximately 10,000 East German athletes. US Postal may have been more sophisticated in its methods, more professional at hiding the truth and staying ahead of the testing regime, but even seven Tour de France victories pale in comparison to the image built for the DDR by their ‘ambassadors in tracksuits’. Those in charge of the programme poisoned children; their experiments and drugs leaving wounds that have long-outlasted the Cold War.

That said, the statement from USADA Chief Executive, Travis Tygart, provides in one paragraph a great summary of the key issues and defences Armstrong, his cronies in the press and the peloton have used, repeatedly, to damn those who came forward before USADA built its case:

The evidence of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming and is in excess of 1000 pages, and includes sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 riders with knowledge of the US Postal Service Team (USPS Team) and its participants’ doping activities. The evidence also includes direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS Team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.

Firstly, anyone who reads even the 202-page version is living on the Planet Ignorant or the Planet Stupid if they can dismiss the evidence USADA has collected. A lot of it has been heard before, because people like Frankie and Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly and Filippo Simeoni had the guts to take a stand against Armstrong very early on. They paid a hefty price for breaking the silence against Dr Michele Ferrari or alleging Superman was a Supercheat. Ostracised from the peloton, careers crippled, businesses and reputations destroyed. I urge you to go further, and read the affidavits of all 26 witnesses. It was easy for Armstrong to take pot shots at Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. They were ‘known drug cheats’ and ‘liars’. It becomes more problematic when the list of witnesses includes names such as Michael Barry, Levi Leipheimer, Jonathan Vaughters, Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde, and the granddaddy of them all … Armstrong’s most loyal lieutenant, his ‘bro’, George Hincapie. Danielson, Leipheimer, Vande Velde and Zabriskie are still part of the peloton. It was Hincapie’s recent retirement which made me believe USADA had more than a couple of ‘disgraced’ riders and some ‘bitter ex-employees’ giving sworn evidence against Armstrong. Some of the stories are painful to read. Hincapie’s cold detail; I cried when I read Simeoni’s story – even though I knew it – of Armstrong bullying his way around the 18th stage of the 2004 Tour de France peloton to catch Simeoni in a breakaway, with the now infamous ‘zip your lips’ gesture (see 18 second mark, and between the 40 – 1 minute 40 second mark for the agitated encounter), a sign that Simeoni should not have testified in 2000 to doping under the guidance of Ferrari. Of Simeoni dropping back through the pack, crying and being spat upon by the group. Zabriskie’s affidavit is plain sad. A man who had grown up the son of a drug-addicted father, turned to cycling as a clean release, refused to dope and had his wages slashed in return, and then crossed the threshold to doper … some of them will make you white-hot with anger. No one covers themselves in glory by staying silent for all of these years, especially giants of the sport who could have made a difference, such as George Hincapie. The ‘omerta’ or Code of Silence was strong in these ones; yet none of them leaves me with any doubts that these events happened, and that Lance Armstrong was Doper-in-Chief. As pages 6-7 of the Reasoned Decision state:

“It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced. He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and re-enforced it.” (for more, see pp. 16-87)

The financial records – especially the payments to the good doctor – make me think I went into the wrong business. A million or so Euros? A lazy 25,000 Euros in cash? Give me strength. The emails between Armstrong and Stefano Ferrari (Dr Ferrari’s son) detail the financial transactions, and offer an insight into Armstrong’s attitude to his teammates and rivals and confirm he was in close contact with Dr Ferrari during a period he has previously denied.

It’s easy to make light of some of the ways Armstrong distributed performance enhancing drugs, especially “Motoman” (pp 30-35 of the Reasoned Decision), but the way Lance Armstrong and USPS avoided being caught (pp 129-139) is dark. The scientific data and laboratory tests (pp 139-144), stopped exaggerating the number of doping tests he’s been through, or claim (falsely) that he’s never failed one.

Together, the evidence – which USADA is at pains to stress was not provided by US law enforcement – making a bigger mockery of Phil Liggett’s bizarre old-man rant Skype interview with Ballz Radio and his fellow commentator and Armstrong-booster, Paul Sherwen’s tweet that he was, ‘not sure if (it was) Al Capone or Alien (he was) reading’. I truly hope SBS dumps them both from commentating on cycling next year. Firstly, because we just don’t need them anymore – we have our own talent; secondly, I can’t see either of them admitting they’ve been very wrong, for many years (NB: Liggett has finally tonight said on Australia’s ‘4Corners’ programme that ‘everyone was doing it … so I can’t see how Lance wasn’t doing it’. This investigation is no witch hunt, nor was it a waste of taxpayers’ money, as Armstrong claimed, somewhat despicably in light of the fact that US Postal took tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.

There are people who, despite all of the evidence presented by USADA, the personal testimonies of 26 people, the emails, the positive samples, the relationship and payments to the disgraced Dr Michele Ferrari, this weekend’s ‘parting of the ways’ between Armstrong’s US Postal Team manager, Johan Bruyneel, and his employer, Radioshack-Nissan Trek (for more on Bruyneel, see pp. 107-115) will continue to support Armstrong. Those people who read his books and are inspired by the ‘Big Texan’. It’s a compelling story – the comeback from cancer and the ‘unparalleled’ record in the grande dame of grand tours. Millions of people around the world to whom Lance remains a hero, the person who drew them into the Euro-centric world of men’s road racing, or insist that it doesn’t matter if he doped because the Lance Armstrong Foundation (or LIVESTRONG) ‘fights cancer’ (for the record, I don’t believe that raising $470 million and spending it largely on awareness campaigns helps ‘fight cancer’). I disagree with those who say you can separate the work of LIVESTRONG from Lance Armstrong. LIVESTRONG would not exist without Lance Armstrong. It may be a false equivalence, but do you think people would give money to the Floyd Landis Foundation? When you are so closely associated with good deeds, does it give you carte blanche to do so much wrong?

People are flawed. I am a huge hypocrite when it comes to doping in cycling. I love the sport. I still shout my support for many riders who have been caught doping. Unlike some, who demand apologies from dopers, I don’t want them to self-flagellate for my benefit. Anyone who follows my cycling tweets knows I am a huge fan of Alberto Contador. His ‘it was the steak what done it’ excuse for testing positive to clenbuterol may be pathetic, but I’ve never heard him blame anyone – not even the team cook. I like the irrepressible Alexandre ‘Vino’ Vinokourov. I get tingly over ‘Tommeke’ (Tom Boonen). I believe that as the size of the English-speaking contingent in the peloton has increased, a certain amount of prejudice has grown among cycling fans toward non-English speaking dopers, especially those who express no remorse for what they did, such as Alejandro Valverde; that unless you publish mea culpa after mea culpa a la David Millar, you’re forever a filthy drug cheat instead of a reformed drug cheat. Do I think there are riders who continue to dope, teams which find new ways of beating the system? Yes. Do I think there are riders who do it clean? Yes. Are there certain riders I would be devastated to learn had doped? Yes. The rumour mill in the cycling fraternity never stops whirling. Perhaps I would even admire Armstrong if he just copped the ban. I don’t want him to say ‘sorry’. If people want to keep buying plastic wristbands to ‘fight cancer’, in much the same way as you can stop child soldiering by buying a Kony 2012 pack for $39.99, then that’s their call. Just stop bullshit like this:

“To all the cynics, I’m sorry for you … I’m sorry you can’t believe in miracles. This is a great sporting event and hard work wins it.”

The Tour de France is a great sporting event. Hard work wins it; but the only miracle Lance Armstrong was involved with was the one that kept his myth alive for so long.

To bastardise his own words, Armstrong has chosen to descend alone.





A Simple Message to Cadel

22 07 2011
Dear Cadel,

You’re a fine man & a champion athlete. You have shown that time & again. Last night was no different. You rode your own race … and a few others’ as well.

Tonight: the Alpe d’Huez. Tomorrow: the race of truth.

Marcus Burghardt said it best in a tweet after stage 4:

Today we saw what BMC Racing Team can do with 9 riders and 19 staff pulling for one goal

Now, there is a million-plus army clad in the black & red of BMC.

A whole country willing you on.

Your bella Chiara – her humour & grace beloved by all.

All pulling in the same direction.

One goal – to see you in the maillot jaune on the only road that matters … the Champs Élysée.

Two more efforts. Chapeau. Forza

 

Close to Flying

One man against the clock
Chiara Passerini and her World Champion, Mendrisio, 2009
BMC Pro Racing, on their way to 2nd in the Team Time Trial, 2011 TdF