Disgraced star engaged in shameless rearguard action to salvage reputation
It would be nice to think that Armando Iannucci and Peter Capaldi are watching the intense build-up to Lance Armstrong’s “tell-all-I-want-to” interview with Oprah Winfrey with wry smiles on their faces.
As they did during his racing career, the disgraced former Tour de France star and those around him are adopting tactics which could have come straight out of the Malcolm Tucker textbook to salvage what they can from the wreckage.
We’ve endured the denials, amid the diversionary bluster about being the “most tested athlete on the planet” and about being the victim of a witch-hunt. And we’ve seen the bullying. Next up, we are apparently going to encounter the most surreal twist of all: Armstrong the whistleblower: “planning to testify against several powerful people in the sport of cycling who knew about his doping and possibly facilitated it,” indicated reports. If the former great man goes down, he will take some other big men with him, so it seems.
The irony of the prospect of Armstrong turning state’s evidence, with accusations of skullduggery, will be lost on no one who has watched his progress over the years.
This is the man, after all, who spent eight years intimidating and vilifying those who spoke out against him: Emma O’Reilly, Greg and Kathy LeMond, Frankie and Betsy Andreu, Filippo Simeoni, Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton. He didn’t like whistleblowers. Indeed, he devoted much time and energy in attempts to shut them up.
The sight of Armstrong bursting out of the peloton to retrieve Simeoni, when he attempted to break away in the 2004 Tour de France, to make sure there was no chance he could win a stage, was one of the defining images of the man for me. One of the rare moments when the carapace cracked a little and you could glimpse the unpleasantness inside.
Ultimately, it was a whistleblower, Landis, who made the key revelations that opened the floodgates.
So now, floating the prospect of Plucky Ol’ Lance the whistleblower spilling the beans about the guys who may variously have not minded him doping, profited from him doping, let him dope to his heart’s content, is a tactic worthy of the spinmeister dark angel Tucker.
It may happen, but it doesn’t have to happen. The idea that Lance may have been a victim of a kind will be out there in people’s minds. And hell, he can’t be all bad if he wants to reveal who the bad guys really were, can he?
Lest we forget, Armstrong is a past master at putting stories out into the ether that muddy the waters, create an impression but then don’t materialise – the “possible Hour Record attempt”, which was “revealed” to Gazzetta dello Sport in 2001 to spike the Sunday Times story that he was trained by Michele Ferrari; the independent testing by a leading expert that was supposed accompany his comeback in 2009, then eventually dropped.
Floating the notion of “Armstrong the whistleblower” achieves precisely what the other stories did: it keeps the momentum of events with Armstrong and keeps the media working to his agenda. Most critically, it contributes to a fog of detail and speculation that hides the key fact revealed by Usada’s reasoned decision: this guy was at the top of the biggest fraud in sporting history. This guy doped persistently to win the biggest event in cycling.
There are questions out there involving Lance and some big names within sport, men and companies who variously run or finance bits of cycling. The reasons for the $125,000 donation he made to the sport’s governing body, in two tranches at different times between 2001 and 2004, has never been adequately explained.
There is the claim and counter-claim over the mysterious “positive or possibly not” test at the Tour of Switzerland from 2001. And the claim made by Usada head Travis Tygart, that Armstrong was “given the keys” to the test for the blood booster erythropoietin, denied recently by the lab involved.
Clarity on these areas would be an interesting prospect and might help to clear up the mess in which Armstrong and his cohorts have left cycling. If they led to a resignation or two, that might be of benefit.
But the notion that Armstrong might point the finger at bigger fish for the good of the sport is not to be entertained. This is the man who refused to co-operate with Usada as it investigated the doping allegations against him and described their inquiry as a “vendetta”.
He could have given them the complete story, but that would have meant following their agenda.
Few of those who have been unmasked in the series of doping scandals that have scarred professional cycling in the last 14 years have emerged with any credit, from Richard Virenque claiming that he was doping “without his knowledge but by his own free will”, via Raimondas Rumsas’s story that the drugs in his wife’s car were for his mother-in-law to Hamilton’s claims of a “false twin” in his blood.
Armstrong should be seen in the same light. He was the one who took the decision to dope. He knew what it meant and he knew what the implications were. Any “revelations” will be in the same spirit that any “confession” may have been made to Oprah Winfrey: not to advance the cause of clean cycling, but to save the skin of Lance Armstrong.