Nosing out the Armstrong scandal

Perhaps it’s coincidence that the two journalists who have pursued Lance Armstrong most assiduously – David Walsh and the former professional cyclist Paul Kimmage – are both Irish. Kimmage has been a vocal anti-drugs campaigner since his landmark book A Rough Ride was published in 1990. The Sunday Times settled a libel case with Armstrong out of court (in the libel-friendly English courts) after the paper published extracts from Walsh’s French-language book, LA Confidentiel. M’learned friends are revisiting that case as I write; and I imagine that publication of USADA’s ‘Reasoned Decision‘ will open the way for an English-language edition, or an update of his book From Lance to Landis.

Despite all the leaks, the USADA report, which runs to 200 pages with another 800 pages of affidavits by way of an appendix, is eye-watering. There’s a line in Matt Rendell’s book, Significant Other, written about and with the US Postal domestique Victor Hugo Peña, where Peña says of Armstrong, in effect, that while all professional cyclists live the abstemious life, Armstrong does it more than anyone else. The same turns out to be true of drug abuse.

A profile of David Walsh in the current edition of the UK Press Gazette, explains why Walsh became curious about Armstrong:

What first piqued Walsh’s suspicion was Armstrong’s reaction to an article by a young cyclist named Christophe Bassons, in which the Frenchman claimed the top riders were still doping.

“Armstrong bullied him and hounded him out of the race,” says Walsh. “My feeling at that moment was that a clean rider wouldn’t have done that. It was pretty obvious to me that Armstrong was doping – not from any evidence I had but from the way he behaved.

“I think if anybody had been applying cold logic at the time, they would have come to the same conclusion.”

That was in 1999, and Bassons (along with the former US Postal soigneur Emma O’Reilly who talked to Walsh for LA Confidentiel) is one of the unsung heroes of the Armstrong affair. When Armstrong did something similar to Filippo Simeoni, another critic from inside the peleton, five years later, more suspicions were aroused. (As an aside, Armstrong’s line as an enforcer of the omerta within the peleton on drugs use is an interesting application of game theory: the correct strategy is the maximum level of personal threat to the edge of the law).

Anyway, I worked as a journalist myself at the start of my career, and I thought that Walsh’s observation was a fine example of what’s sometimes called journalistic ‘nose’ – niggling away at something that doesn’t quite fit until the underlying story reveals itself.

It’s clear, now, that one of the reasons that cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has been so irritable about the USADA investigation is that now the evidence against Armstrong is public, their own complicity is visible. The former President Hein Verbruggen was on the offensive this week with a fine line of bluster. But of course, like Armstrong, the UCI suits do their own line in bullying, pursuing a ‘shoot the messenger’ strategy in the Swiss courts. Floyd Landis has just lost a libel case brought by the UCI and its current and immediate past Presidents Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, and Paul Kimmage is being sued by the same trio for comments in an interview with Floyd Landis published in the Sunday Times, because, says the UCI, “Mr Kimmage had made false accusations that defamed the UCI and its Presidents, and which tarnished their integrity and reputation.” (The full transcript of Kimmage’s interview with Landis can be read at NYVeloCity).

Kimmage, unlike Landis, is contesting the case. Vigorously. (The UCI hasn’t sued the newspaper, which speaks volumes for their approach: and some of the legal affidavits about the UCI in the documents released by USADA with the Reasoned Decision seem pretty tarnishing, which may give the court at least a pause for thought).

You can show your support for Kimmage by contributing to his defence fund, started on the cycling site NYVeloCity, which is at $60,000 as I write. There is, inevitably, an expletive laden Downfall parody online, of the moment the UCI learns of the defence fund. But increasingly, in the wake of the USADA documents, the UCI and the two Presidents look like the losers here, no matter what the outcome in the courts. Given the extent of the evidence that USADA has pieced together, they’ll have to choose if they want to be taken for fools or for knaves.

This cartoon of Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen is from the cycling commentary and satire site cyclismas, well worth visiting for its coverage of the Armstrong affair and other things cycling, and it is used with thanks.



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