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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Procycling: I love you

14 07 2011

In October last year, as the World Road Cycling Championships were being hosted in Geelong, a doping scandal broke in professional cycling. Not just any doping story – the doping story: three-time Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador had tested positive for the banned substance, clenbuterol. The news hurt; as Australia watched the best procyclists in the world go around, arguably the best cyclist of his generation, who had not only won Le Tour, but taken out the three grand tours – the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta e Espana – had added his name to a list of drug cheats so long that the sport was beyond a joke to many people, and another cut to the ranks of those who see it as an unmatchable combination of athletic ability, teamwork, tactics and individual belief. As I wrote here, I desperately wanted the news about ‘Bertie’ not to be true. As it stands, hewas cleared byhis home cycling association of any wrongdoing, but the World Anti-Doping Agency & Union Cycliste Internationale (International Cycling Union) appealed the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The case was supposed to be heard before the start of this year’s Tour; so Contador rode – and won – a tough Giro d’Italia. The case was postponed: for whatever reason, WADA & the UCI agreed to Contador’s lawyers’ request for an adjournment. That sparked a predictable, ‘should he or shouldn’t he race the Tour’. For what it’s worth, I am firmly in the yes, he should ride camp. Legally, he is entitled to compete. If he was barred, without WADA / UCI appeal being heard, let alone won, the vanquer of this year’s Tour would always have the, ‘could he have beaten Contador?’ tag around his neck. This week saw the undignified bundling into a car by Team Katusha of their promising young rider, Alexandr Kolobnev, who returned a positive A sample for a diuretic masking agent. He was pulled out of the race after a bizarre statement from the UCI that virtually forced the team to do ‘the right thing’ and after the rest of the world learned of the result via the French sporting newspaper, L’Equipe (owned by the same French consortium which organises the Tour) before Kolobnev was himself informed. But this post isn’t about doping. It’s an open letter of love and respect to the men and women who ride bicycles professionally.

Firstly, the prayer of a stranger from the church for the fallen. Among the cyclists seriously injured or killed this year, the death of Team LeopardTrek rider, Wouter Weylandt, in this year’s Giro was perhaps the most horrific because it happened in front of those watching. His helmet was no match for the fall, and he died from the terrible wound the road inflicted on his brain. It was a shocking thing to witness, the death of an athlete young, to paraphrase Housman. His bib number, 108, has been retired from the race. Yet in the midst of their anguish, his teammates and best friend, Garmin-Cervelo sprinter, Tyler Farrar, rode the next stage of the race. As the peloton grouped behind them, they locked hands and crossed the line to end a stage of a grand tour not in a furious assault, but bowed, finally, in sorrow. It is a moment in sport – any sport – that I will never forget. If you missed it, or have no interest in professional cycling, and have never heard Wouter Weylandt’s name, this is all you need to know: 

Then, two weeks later, came the news – unbelievable – that Spanish cyclist, Xavier Tondo had been killed in a freak accident, crushed beneath a garage door. The Movistar team rider another missing from the peloton. Last week, glued to the Tour and watchng advertisements for the Amy Gillett Foundation (established in the name of the Australian cyclist killed by a car while on a training ride in Germany), Australia lost another cyclist in the same way. Carly Hibberd was struck by a car while training in Italy. Cadel Evans tweeted, stunned, from the Tour:

I’m very, very sorry. I ride that road too.

So it is with great sorrow when I read comments, supposedly made in jest, that it is somehow fun to watch cyclists crash. ESPN sports commentator Michael Smith was forced to apologise for this barrage of inanity  (captured in its entirety on the excellent Tour de France Lanterne Rouge blog) about an appalling accident on Stage 9 of the Tour, where Vacansoleil’s Johnny Hoogerland and Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha could also have lost their lives when a car from the French broadcaster France 2/3 tried to barge its way ahead of the breakaway group they were riding in. Watching the accident with a friend, we could not believe what we were seeing. Flecha was lucky not to go under the car, while Hoogerland was flung on to a barbed wire fence. This on the same stage that saw another serious accident end this year’s tour for Astana’s Alexandre Vinokourov, Omega Pharma Lotto’s Jurgen van den Broeck and Frederik Willems, as well as Garmin-Cervelo’s David Zabriskie. Sky’s main GC hope, Bradley Wiggins was also forced to abandon after a crash, while Contador has been involved in a number of falls.

Again, from the ‘Tour de Carnage’ as Australia’s Stuart O’Grady (Team LeopardTrek) named it, came great courage. The battered, bleeding Hoogerland and Flecha both finished the stage, and in another triumph of the will, collected his polka dot King of the Mountains jersey. Overcome with emotion, he wept silently on the podium, earning the admiration of everyone who loves the sport. As Hoogerland said, “… I’m still alive. Wouter Weylandt wasn’t that lucky.”  They both continue to ride, heavily bandaged and stitched up. They ride in pain, in the company of men who suffer their own agonies, whether it’s hanging on to the peloton as it forms an echelon in the whipping wind off the Bretagne coast, or climbing hills (soon to become mountains), or give every ounce of effort to throw themselves at the line in a bunch sprint.

Cycling is often seen as an individual sport, particularly as we start ‘the real Tour’ tonight with the first mountain stage. When a peloton of 170 riders are defeated one after another by relentless climbs until a handful of the strongest riders, fighting for the golden fleece on the podium of the Champs Elysee, attack and counter-attack until one proves himself as a class above the best. It’s easy to understand that perception of individualism; each rider with their idiosynchracies; the cat-and-mouse games played out by an elite, taunting each other with a burst of acceleration in the hope they won’t be caught. The truth is far from it. Cadel Evans chances of winning the Tour de France were often talked down by the inability of his then-team, Silence Lotto, to provide him adequate cover and support. This year, after a calamitous result where he was lucky to finish the tour, having ridden his one day in yellow with a broken bone in his arm, he has had a purpose-built racing programme with one goal in sight: to win the Tour de France. His team, BMC ProRacing, is there to fulfil his ambition. “What can be achieved when 19 people (riders, management and staff) are pulling in one direction,” his teammate, Marcus Burghardt, said after their stunning (and unexpected) 2nd to Garmin-Cervelo in the Team Time Trial. Evans has ben guided, protected, nurtured at the front by his Praetorian Guard, led by 16-Tour veteran, George Hincapie. He has the confidence of winning a stage, and sitting in third place overall. BMC has also demonstrated its strength by frequently driving the peloton, doing the pacemaking despite their leader not wearing the yelloy jersey. To some, it seems a peculiar waste of effort; to me, it is a test of mental toughness, a clear message to the “big” teams that BMC is ready to take the tour by the neck and wring every drop of lactic acid from themselves and their rivals in order to complete their mission: the top spot on the podium for their leader, and the maillot jaune in Paris.

This is my love letter to these men of the peloton; those we have lost, and those who honour the sport with their refusal to give in to bodies screaming for the stage to just stop, those who fall and right themselves, race on back to their brothers in the pack. Those like Thomas Voeckler, who snatched the overall lead in that momentous stage 9 by daring to breakaway from the group, and stay away, only to see the stage go to another man, Luis Leon Sanchez. It is for the unsung heroes, the domestiques, who work their guts out to deliver their team’s star a victory. It is for the ‘lesser’ teams, those with no real hope of getting a place in the top 20, let alone a jersey of any description, but who ride with as much heart and hardness as the big names. It is for the superstars of the sprints, such as HTC’s Mark Cavendish, and the men of the Basque country, Euskatel-Euskadi, whose famed mountain prowess should come to the fore in the Pyrenees. It is for the most consistent rider wearing the maillot vert, and the innovative rule changes to the intermediate sprint points. It is for the startling individual ability of a man against the clock in the Individual Time Trial, the penultimate stage and ‘race of truth’. Most of all, this is a love letter to the sport, the vainquers and the vanquished; the pundits, ‘roadside randoms’ and fans.

With love and admiration,

Kimberley