Armstrong’s former teammates

27 February 2009

An interesting spat at the launch of the Tour of California between the cyclist Lance Armstrong and the former cyclist, now journalist, Paul Kimmage, who has long held the view that Armstrong has used banned performance enhancing drugs. When Armstrong made his comeback, Kimmage called him “the cancer in the sport”. Armstrong never forgets anything that anyone says, but all the same you’d be unlikely to forget a remark like that.

At the Tour of California news conference, Kimmage asked a question about riders who had returned from drugs bans:

“You’ve spoke recently about the return of Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis, who have returned after their suspensions, compared to David Millar – that they should be welcomed back like he was. But there was one obvious difference in that Millar admitted his doping whereas these guys have admitted to nothing. What is it about these guys that you seem to admire so much?”

Armstrong did get round to answering the question eventually, but reminded Kimmage first of his previous remark:

“When I decided to come back, for what I think is a very noble reason, you said, ‘The cancer has been in remission for four years, our cancer has now returned’ – meaning me, that I am the cancer! … You are not worth the chair you are sitting on with a statement like that, with a disease that touches everyone around the world.”

And here’s the answer to Kimmage’s question:

“You have to consider what has happened to David [Millar], who I admire a lot [and] who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Is it heroic that he has now confessed? Some would say so. I applaud him that he is back and I hope that he is very successful. Floyd [Landis], on the other hand, there is a lot of evidence against him and there is a lot of evidence in his favour. Floyd does not believe he is guilty, so to appease people like you he can’t confess.”

Obviously Lance Armstrong never used performance enhancing drugs. He has said so repeatedly and has won libel battles in several countries to prove it. But the departure of his former team mate Manuel Beltran from the Tour de France for a positive test prompts an interesting list of those who rode for Armstrong in his Tour-winning years who subsequently have tested positive: apart from Beltran, there is Frankie Andrieu, Tyler Hamilton, Roberto Heras, and Floyd Landis.

For me the moral sludge around this was exemplified by Discovery’s offer of a contract to Ivan Basso at a time when he was deeply implicated in the findings from the Operation Puerto investigation into blood-doping. (One of the bags in the good doctor’s lab was code-named with the name of Basso’s dog; subtle.) At the time no other team would touch him, but Discovery saw him as a potential tour winner. Of course, the deal fell through when Basso admitted his involvement, and he has just returned from a ban for drugs use.

Armstrong has said in public that the exclusion of Astana from the Tour de France is effectively motivated by a grudge against him by the organisers. But since the Astana team is now run by Discovery’s management, I’d have thought that the Tour was just taking a necessary precaution: since you’re more likely to get caught these days, show us that you are clean by running for a while without any positive tests.

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