One from the Vault

April 2, 2019 § 2 Comments

I went through a very short podcasting phase a couple of years ago. Podcasting is difficult, requires technical expertise, and overwhelmed me after my first couple of attempts. Hats off to Brian Co at the SoCal Cycling podcast, now in its fourth year and going strong. If you want quality journalism and amazing production values, he’s your guy.

However, one of my podcasts was about Lance’s upcoming trial date back in 2017. A reader transcribed it and emailed it to me, suggesting I post it as a blog. I’d done the whole thing off the cuff and didn’t have a transcript. When she sent it I thought it was dated and irrelevant, but then I read it and realized that I hadn’t posted anything in a couple of days, so here it is.

It’s long. Dated. No pictures. And it ain’t Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Lance’s Date with Destiny

Today is back to the future day, where we check in on cycling’s bad boy and eternal scoundrel, Lance Armstrong. I tried to figure out what in the world is going on with the lawsuit he is so afraid of that he kicked the trial date down the road some more. This guy is in no hurry to face the jury, he has been in litigation now for five long years, and it’s not over yet. Sometimes the Lance Armstrong saga feels like fighting the Medusa. You lop off one head only to find out you are locked in mortal combat with another one. Everytime I swear this is the last time I will ever, absolutely, positively EVER say anything about that fucking guy, he makes himself relevant again.

How, I hope you are wondering, can this jerk possibly be relevant? TDF titles: stripped. Cheating ban: lifetime. Public reputation: in the shitter. Significance to cycling: none. But actually, he is relevant. Very relevant. And I am starting to make my peace with  his permanent installation in the constellation. He is relevant because if you are in your mid-forties to late fifties, he was the definitive character in your personal cycling history. Young riders nowadays don’t know about him or care, and they certainly don’t read Outside magazine, or read for that matter, but those of us who were racing when Lance was young will ever be bracketed by the events in his life. His name strikes a sour note that can’t be listened away, if only because the note was once so sweet. YOU say “He is old, slow, wrinkled, balding and gray.”

But guess what? So are we.

Lance’s latest foray into relevance was written about, and written about well, in the September 15th issue of Outside Magazine. The gist of the article was simple and written by S.C Guin. Read it. Storyline 2017. Lance is racing ahead with his life, he is surrounded by hangers-on. He is rich. He’s a family man. He’s atoning for his sins. And he is still an asshole.

But we can stepmother this fairy tale as Lance’s date with destiny on May 7th, 2018, the date set by Judge Cooper, on which his false claims act and fraud trial will begin in a Washington, D.C. federal court. If the worst case scenario comes to pass, Lance will get dinged with a 96.9 million dollar judgement that will vaporize almost the entirety of his personal wealth. Suddenly, he might have to struggle to pay for the kids’ college, just like the rest of us. Dither between e-tap and mechanical, check the tires again to see if they really need to be replaced …

And Lance is worried about his dance date, too. In the Outside article he sends a clear signal to the Department of Justice that he is in the mood to settle. The risk here is sky-high for Lance, but only marginal for the government. Lance is already $15 million down in legal fees, but the government has also spent a fortune on this case. And there is no reason to think they will win in front of a jury, given that they’ve been out- maneuvered at almost every turn in the pretrial phase of the case. As the pressure builds, and both sides start to calculate how much they could lose, for Lance money, and the government a big fat black eye and a couple of lead lawyers careers wrecked, a settlement seems possible.

But they aren’t there yet, and they may never be, because the sum will be large, and in the meantime, the trial date is real.

In order to understand why Lance is pacing the floor, you have to understand the legal guts of his case. It’s remarkably simple. His lawyers have pared away virtually every single issue in the litigation until only one remains: Did the US Postal Service get what it bargained for? In other words, even though Lance lied, did the government come out ahead?

Because, if they did, Lance wins. That’s the only thing left in this case. The government tried to set up the issue for trial differently, arguing the value of the sponsorship was zero, because they would have never signed up if they had known about the cheating. If they paid $32 million for something worth nothing, then the USPS’s actual damages are three times the actual $32.3 million in sponsorships payments. Since the damages are trebled in  a false claims act lawsuit, Lance would be on the hook for three times 32.3, or $96.9 million.

Armstrong tried to set it up differently, contending that the benefits USPS reaped from having him as their poster boy demonstrably outweighed the cost of sponsorship, and that the government’s actual damages are zero in that they got what they paid for in terms of publicity and actual media impressions, and then some. In the single biggest pretrial wrangle of the case, both sides moved for summary judgment, essentially asking for the court to rule in their favor before the case goes to a jury. The court’s ruling rejected both arguments, holding that the case would have to go to the jury to decide whether or not the USPS had been damaged. And if so, by how much?

This was ostensibly a win for the government, but Armstrong’s lawyers still get to go to the jury with the best possible of weapons. They have experts that will try to prove that USPS was not harmed and they’ll have withering cross examination to debunk USPS’s methodology for calculating the financial value of damages. That shouldn’t be hard, because there is no methodology. At least none that will survive a Daubert challenge. The court said in the motion for summary judgment that damages in FCA cases are generally measured based on the  “benefit of the bargain” received by both parties. Under this approach, the government’s actual damages are equal to the difference between the market value of the products it received and retained, and the market value that the products would have had if they’d been of the specified quality.

Applying this benefit of the bargain rule is often straightforward. In a typical case involving a governemnt supply contract, for example, the difference in market value between a conforming good and a non-conforming good can easlity be calculated, for example, computing the precise cost to replace a falsely branded tube in a radio kit supplied to  the government. Calculating the benefit of the bargain becomes more difficult in cases where the market value of the product or the service involved is not readily ascertainable. This is particularly true for contracts for personal and professional services, like those provided by Lance’s cycling team. And the difficulty of this will play into Armstrong’s hand come trial time.

Armstrong buttressed his argument by attacking one of the government’s experts who attempted to document the value of the contract as well as a separate expert who testified about the value of the negative publicity resulting from the revelations of Armstrongs PED use. By striking these evidentiary claims, LA would have gutted the government’s ability to prove damages and would have won the case. Even if he were a bad boy,  USPS could never have proven they had lost money on the deal. However, the judge held that both declarations did in fact have some bearing on the calculation of benefits USPS obtained from the cycling sponsorship, and thus were relevant to the actual damages. This doesn’t mean that a jury will buy the experts’ testimony, though. It just means that it will go to trial. Rest assured, the entirety of Armstrong’s defense will be based on demolishing these experts, and the fuzzy nature of their arithmetic means that he will likely succeed. As long as the jury understands the speculative nature of the experts’ calculations, Lance will likely win.

Armstrong’s claim that the USPS got more than it paid for has two parts: First, USPS said in documents obtained through discovery that it had obtained increased sales of $24 million over and above what it had paid for the Armstrong sponsorship. This seems to show that USPS clearly benefited. But the court said it isn’t  increased sales, but rather increased “net” sales and USPS itself admitted that they couldn’t isolate reasons for the increased sales, which were affected by other factors in addition to the Armstrong sponsorship. In other words, the court said that the $24 millionnumber that Armstrong claims he increased USPS sales by was speculative, and therefore, the trial has to go forward on this point because it is a factual matter for the jury to decide.

Lance’s second prong in showing the benefits USPS had received was the alleged positive media exposure for being associated with such a cancer crushing, biking badass. If USPS had paid for all that good press, according to Armstrong’s experts, it would have cost $103 million, a number that far exceeds the $32 million in sponsorship. However, Armstrong’s own expert admitted that not at that time, or this time, or anytime, was anyone on earth ever going to spend $103 million on a cyclist for advertising a product. This strongly suggests that it’s what I call a unicorn number.

Think about it like this: Say you had a marble that cost a penny, and someone took the marble and smashed it into a thousand bits, then an expert examined the shards and opined that if someone were to manufacture each of those pieces separately and combine them into a single marble, it would cost $1000. Yes, except for the fact that no one would ever do that. They’d simply go to the five-and-dime and buy another marble for a penny. Even with things looking grim for Lance’s alchemist accounting, AND his astrological marketing analysis, the bottom line is that the government, who has the burden of proof, still cannot quantify how much it was harmed by the publicity surrounding Armstrong’s doping admission. And this difficulty is real easy to explain: The value of the bad press was zero.

Not a single person on earth thought worse of the USPS after LA flunked his Oprah exam with flying colors. And that’s not just because the sponsorship had ended five years before USADS’s Reasoned Decision and Joe Public had forgotten about USPS and its link to Lance in the first place. It’s because no one had a good impression of the USPS to start with. Americans may disagree on Trump, and they may disagree on Obama, but one thing they all hate in unison is the USPS. The USPS service hired Lance to provide services that no one could provide: the service of rehabilitating their horrible image. And the telling fact isn’t in their muddled claims about increased revenue, it’s in the fact the the USPS had, and has, an intractable PR problem that is created and maintained by Congress and the mechanism through which USPS is funded. Fixing USPS’ image with a few manorexic big wigs pedaling through sunflower fields in France, really? Uh, no.

There’s another huge problem with the USPS claims that the Armstrong deal was a money loser. The only way the USPS can make money on first class stamps, their traditional profit center, is this way: by people buying the stamps and not using them. That’s it, period. The reason is that no matter how much their sales increase, they lose money on every single first class mail transaction. The only net positive revenue they could have generated through Armstrongs publicity, or anyone’s publicity, was by selling first day covers or other collectibles that would have never been redeemed. Can you imagine a business model that depends on customers never using what they purchase in order to succeed? Can you say gift cards? What about lottery tickets?

By hiring Armstrong to increase Joe Public’s awareness of the USPS, and to encourage Americans to go write more letters, the USPS was hiring Lance to provide a service that, had it been successful, would have lost them even MORE money. From 1998 to 2003, the lucrative first class mail business was mortally wounded and had turned belly up. The Queequeg that had stuck the harpoon in the belly was email, and the USPS was blocked by Congress from leaping into equal parcel competition with UPS and Fed Ex. The first class mail biz that had been their cash cow for over 200 years had become the mill stone around USPS’s neck. Some estimate that it costs the USPS about twice the price of a stamp to actually deliver a first class letter. Nor would a Lance-led PR victory have reversed this trend, even if he’d won a hundred tours, riding yellow unicorns that farted cancer clearing gas clouds through pediatric oncology wards. USPS’s other services, junk mail, overnight mail, periodicals and packages, were all subsidized by the incredible profits of the first class mail business. Make that the formerly incredible profits.

When Lance was winning his tours, USPS was a bottomless well of red ink. It’s amazing that Lance’s lawyers never identified this gaping gash in the government’s argument. Namely, that Lance didn’t cause them to lose more money, they were operating on a business model which guaranteed that greater revenue would lead to greater losses. The telling fact is this: USPS desperately wanted out of the sponsorship, much earlier than 2003 when the relationship finally ended and Armstrong was picked up by Discovery Channel. That’s the time when he was at the absolute top of his game, years before Landis outed him for doping. Management at USPS understood better than anyone alive that the Armstrong sponsorship was a bleeding failure, not because he was a doper and the value of his brand was zero, or because he had somehow besmirched their snow-white reputation, but because the more they sold, the more they lost. And every year they re-upped with team Lance, they were dumping millions of good money on top of the bad.

Long before 2003, USPS wanted out. What had started as a feel-good promotion for the stodgy old USPS, a kind of bargain basement expense on a nutty, niche sport, had morphed into the money eating Lance monster. The contracts for title and presenting sponsorships were reaching $9 million per year, and under the terms of a proposed new contract figure would bloat to about ten percent per year. And despite their fuzzy internal memos about $24 million in new revenue, and “We’re getting more from this relationship than they’re paying,” USPS knew better than anyone that they were getting nothing out of the sponsorship. This coincided with drops in bulk mailing contracts and budget crises that were coming to a head over USPS’s roughly $90 billion dollars in pension liability. $90 billion? What in the fuck were they doing spending so much as a penny on some shaved-leg asshole who raced his bike in France and was mean to people? And USPS had known from the very beginning that the Lance deal was stupid and meaningless, but, like every huge beaurocracy, once they got started it was damned hard to stop.

Not least because those were the heydays of the Armstrong bandwagon. You had to be there to believe the Armstrong feeding frenzy. Outside marketing people who wanted the deal to continue came up with all kinds of ways to turn the sponsorship into a net positive deal. But it took very little to realize that USPS did not give a fuck times a million. During the Armstrong era, post offices had every kind of tri fold and display,  even at the lamest faux gift shops where you could buy postal themed crap. But you never, ever anywhere saw a US Postal cycling team display. No Sam the Eagle in a USPS jersey, none of those USPS themed action figure sets, where you might have a car and eight cyclists made of plastic or something like that. No posters, no caps, no jerseys, no rah-rah. No flat fucking nothing. USPS had checked out almost from the start because they were running a business based on losing money. Lance might be able to whoop up on cancer, but he was an impotent little clown show in the context of USPS’s debt. Did I mention the number $90 billion?

Even things as basic as Champs Elysees sales never happened. The vendors on the Champs Elysees as the Tour comes through make incredible money. Everything for sale is shlock, over-priced and ugly, dumb. But people want a memento. Do you remember those awesome USPS commemorative stamps that showed Lance and the team winning the tour? Lance in the yellow jersey? Lance and the guys doing a TTT in postal blue? Lance sticking a red hot poker up cancer’s ass? Remember those stamps? No? You know why? Because they never existed. USPS never even bothered with a vending truck near the finish line selling vintage USPS Lance commemorative stamps, items that would have sold by the book and by the sheet at ungodly markups. If there were ever a stamp someone would never use, it was a stamp purchased in France when they went over  to France to watch Lance win the Tour. And not just win it, but crush it, leaving nothing in his wake but defeated dreams, empty syringes, howling Betsy and outraged Greg and Kathy.

USPS could have easily sold sheets of 50 cent stamps with a center image of the USPS eagle logo, and sold them as posters, or framed them, or framed and signed posters by Lance, or even Lance and the team. But nope! Nothing. Ever. USPS didn’t make money on Lance for the reason they never made money on anything. The first class mail cash cow had been slaughtered, skinned, butchered, packaged and sold at Safeway for pennies on the dollar. So the irony, here on the eve of trial, is that Lance’s best argument is the one he can’t use: USPS knew it was entering into a money loser and was defrauding the American public along the way by pretending that sponsorship deals of any kind were anything besides a breach of fiduciary duty to the taxpayers. The great news though, is that Armstrong can rest easy. Department of Justice lawyers may be clumsy in pretrial, but they are horrible in front of a jury, especially when they have to contend with top dollar private sector lawyers who are sharper than shark’s teeth. Armstrong’s team has, through relentless procedural mud fighting that has set Sir Lance back a cool $15 millskies, whittled the entire case down to a single issue: Did USPS lose more than it got? And by the time Armstrong’s lawyers get through with the fake numbers a dodgy calculations of the government’s experts, the case will be too muddled or too in tatters for a jury to do anything other than render a defense verdict. That’s my call.

Lance will still be able to hang onto his hundred millsky, his house in Aspen, his house in Austin, his bike shops, especially his tainted tour jerseys. Because even though close to twenty years have passed, no one from the years of 1999 to 2005 has stepped up asserting THEY raced clean, to claim them. You know what? No one ever will. Now isn’t that funny?

END

POSTSCRIPT: Lance settled with the government, paid a paltry $5M, and went his merry way.


End of an error

April 23, 2018 § 27 Comments

“I’m looking forward to devoting myself to the many great things in my life – my five kids, my wife, my podcast, several exciting writing and film projects, my work as a cancer survivor, and my passion for sports and competition,” he added. “There is a lot to look forward to.”

That’s the sound bite from Lance Armstrong expressing his satisfaction at shaking off the last chokehold remaining from his years as Public Doping Enemy No. 1, as he settled the government’s lawsuit against him that had threatened to crush him with a $100M civil fine. But like all sound bites that Lance crafts, this too was simply a mask. In my opinion, the heart of the matter is likely this: He is, for Lance, flat fucking broke.

When you peer into the press photos, to say nothing of the facts, what you see is an old, beaten man carrying the haggard skin from his decades in the pro peloton, and the sunken eyes of a frightened defendant torn between pouring millions into the maw of his rapacious lawyers on the one hand, and living in terror that losing his case would mean complete financial annihilation.

Although various analysts have called Armstrong’s settlement a “win,” to his credit that’s a truckload of bullshit he doesn’t try to foist off on the rest of us. Better than anyone else, Armstrong knows that just because you didn’t get kicked off the team, it doesn’t mean you won the Tour.

Why did he settle?

The most common statistic I hear bandied about, and the one that jives with my own experience, is that less than one percent of all civil cases go to trial. There are three reasons for this: Money, money, and money.

Small cases don’t go to trial because they are too expensive. No one spends $25,000 to make $5 grand.

Big cases don’t go to trial because they are too expensive. No one wants to put their financial future into the hands of a “jury of their peers.” There’s always the chance that these are the peers who elected Trump, and everyone knows it.

That leaves, for the most part, medium-sized cases. They, however, only go to trial under a narrow set of circumstances. First, both sides must have a strong and viable theory of the case. Second, both sides must be able to financially afford a worst possible scenario outcome. Third, at least one of the two sides must be ideologically and irrevocably committed to their own sense of justice, so much so that nothing short of total vindication at trial will suffice.

Armstrong’s case was a big one. By the end of the summary judgment phase it was clear that $100 million in damages was never going to happen, but some lesser multiple of the $32 million that USPS had paid Armstrong was in play, and there has never been any indication that he could weather a financial Armageddon of that degree. More about the likely precarious state of his finances later, but he recently claimed that his doping travails have already cost him in excess of $100M. Various sources have said that before the fall Lance was worth $125M, and another similarly made-up amount puts his net worth at half that. If these numbers are even sorta-kinda in the ballpark, there is no way that Lance could have survived losing this case. Therefore, there was virtually no way the case would have gone to trial.

But even if it were a medium-sized case, it would have faced huge obstacles getting to a jury. Both sides did have strong and viable theories. Lance’s argument was that USPS got more than it lost, and he had expert testimony that would substantiate the claim. He also had the subsidiary argument by implication that a quasi-governmental agency accustomed to billions in annual losses could never prove that Lance’s doping had inflicted any meaningful loss to its bottom line.

The problem that Lance was going to face was the lineup of witnesses who the government planned to call, each one testifying, in effect, to the fact that Armstrong was a liar, a cheater, a bully, and an asshole. It is certain that Armstrong’s attorneys had exposed focus groups to the government’s arguments, and it’s hard to see how the average juror wouldn’t be disgusted by his personal behavior. That’s not supposed to sway the jury’s evaluation of the facts, but it invariably does.

The government had a good argument as well, namely that the negative dollar value of the bad press was greater than the amount they paid for the sponsorship. As long as the government could show they had a net loss of so much as a dollar, then Armstrong would lose. The government also has a nifty track record in False Claims Acts cases — 95%. Good odds, I would say.

But there were some turds floating in the government’s punchbowl, too. The feds have a terrible record getting convictions against doped athletes, and although this wasn’t a criminal case, seeing Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens walk likely played out in the government’s analysis as well. Moreover, Armstrong was going to level the howitzers on the government’s economic analysis, and you can bet neither their experts nor the witnesses for the USPS were looking forward to being cross examined about the state of that august agency’s financial health–before, during, or after Lancegate.

All of this is another way of saying that as far as their theories of the case, both sides had a strong and viable argument, and both sides knew that their own position had some some hair on it. A jury trial couldn’t be ruled out, as these are precisely the scenarios that go to trial.

But after eight years of litigation, one of the parties absolutely could not afford a worst-possible case outcome. That party was Lance. If you think this hasn’t crushed the life out of him, look at his photos. He has aged immeasurably in the last eight years, and the word “careworn” comes instantly to mind. He was highly motivated to settle this case because as he repeatedly said, a loss would “put him on the street.” Finally, neither party was ideologically committed to the righteousness of their cause. Lance has spent so many years admitting his wrongdoing that even though he still believes the case was “unfair and without merit,” there was zero fire in his belly. Lance the champion who always played to win had become the beaten down old man who now understood that sometimes you really don’t get a second chance.

Likewise, the government no longer seemed to much care about anything other than saving face, something that wouldn’t happen with a defense verdict. Even their wording was lackluster, as assistant U.S. attorney general Chad Readler announced the settlement by saying it “demonstrates that those who cheat the government will be held accountable.”

Given the amount of the settlement–$6.75M–and the amount that we’d heard for the last eight years that Lance was potentially on the hook for–$100M–the settlement demonstrates anything but. To the contrary, the settlement demonstrates that both sides were staying up late at night worrying about a bad outcome, and no amount of tequila was blotting out the demons.

Lose-lose

It’s impossible to conclude that the settlement was anything but lose-lose for both parties who were facing the potential catastrophe of Armstrongageddon. The U.S. government wasted untold millions because it swallowed the USADA lie that, with regard to Armstrong’s doping “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.

Kind of falls flat after you learn how to say “Grigory Rodchenkov” and realize that compared to the state-sponsored doping of Russia (not to mention East Germany), Lance’s antics were those of a third-rate bully in a fourth-rate sport. And it falls even flatter when you look at Chris Froome. “Lance Armstrong was the worst cheater ever until the next Tour champion,” may ring with something, but it’s not indignation or righteousness.

Anyone who thinks Lance came out a #winner is a bleeding fucking idiot. A quick look at the docket report on PACER shows no less than nine lawyers representing Armstrong’s interests, lawyers who presumably bill at $800/hour and up. Eight years of litigation involving four non-party respondents, a private plaintiff, the U.S. government as intervenor, and ten defendants would have cost Lance in excess of $2M per year simply to deal with the filings and appearances of the other parties, as well as litigating his own defense. A one-month trial in which half of the government’s witnesses were called could have easily cost Lance another million given the payroll of his legal battalion, and my guess is that they don’t take PayPal or IOU’s scrawled on the back of a napkin.

If Lance started with something around $125M, and lost $100M including legal fees, it’s easy to see that the only money he has left are his two homes ($9.25M in Aspen, $7.5M in Austin), and the balance that he has stuck away in retirement accounts to insulate himself from bankruptcy should he really lose all the marbles. In fact, in his settlement agreement, he promises to make the payments within one year and to put a lien on his Austin home as collateral, guaranteeing that he will make the payments. Should the home sell before his settlement payments are made, he will collateralize his home in Aspen, again as a guarantee. I don’t think that Bill Gates would have to put a lien on his home to pay a $6M fine.

All of this strongly suggests that Armstrong is anything but cash rich. Far from being able to reach into his hip pocket to satisfy the settlement, he is plainly dependent on the sale of his Austin home to make good. And none of this takes into account the outstanding legal fees he surely has yet to reckon with. So for the Betsys and Kathys and Gregs of the world, you can all take solace in the fact that Lance is having to hustle for every spare coin under the couch cushions, pretty much like everyone else.

Landis, a pithy guy if ever there was one, said it this way: “Lance benefited the most, but he has paid the most.”

The real financial crunch is the one that’s coming

On the other hand, getting this beast off his back is only the beginning. Lance now faces that most pedestrian of life challenges, commonly known as “getting a job.” His press release points us to all the great things that lie ahead:

  1. My five kids
  2. My wife
  3. My podcast
  4. Several exciting writing and film projects
  5. My work as a cancer survivor
  6. My passion for sports and competition

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the five kids and the wife (minor detail: Lance is single) are definitely not going to help with the income generation part of the equation. In fact, accustomed as they are to a $7.5M home in Austin and a $9.5M home in Aspen, my hunch is that no one is going to be particularly happy when Poppa Lance announces “Beans for dinner!” for the third time this week.

Which brings us to the podcast. Inconveniently, this appears to generate zero revenue. More inconveniently, it sucks. I struggled through his first Tourcast last year before concluding that the “brash young kid” from Texas was now just an “annoying old asshole” blabbering from a trailer. You can package it any way you want, but no one is making a fortune off of podcasts, although rumor has it that one especially enterprising old blogger pays for his coffee habit with $2.99 subscriptions to his cycling-related blog. Said old blogger will be happy to offer Lance some advice. For a fee, of course, and unlike those other lawyers, this one does accept PayPal.

Of course the podcast idea lurches from ridiculous to sad when we read that Lance has “several exciting writing and film projects.” This has BOLD-FACED LIE stamped all over it. Why? Because no one in the history of the alphabet has ever found writing to be “exciting.” Drudgery? Sure. Compulsive? Absolutely. A horrible albatross? Every time! But if you think writing is “exciting” you have never come up against rejections, deadlines, editors, editing, audiences, markets, costs, advertising, reviews, critics, social media, and the discipline of churning out shit in the hope that it will somehow become, if not a diamond in the rough, at least salable manure in the garden section of Home Depot. In other words, if it is “exciting,” you are not a writer. You are a delusional moron with a word processor, which, come to think of it, is pretty much the same thing.

Work as a cancer survivor? My memory is dim here, but I seem to remember that Lance unceremoniously resigned from the cancer charity he created when it became clear that he had lied for years about his doping. What will the new foundation be called? Livesomewhatstrong? Livestrongish? And how will it generate enough money to add a loaf of white bread to the beans? Speeches and lectures? “How I ruined my career as a lying cheater, blew through a marriage, Sheryl Crow, Kate Hudson, a ranch, $100M on lawyers, disappointed a generation of cancer survivors, and came back to thrive as a champion of cancer survivors.” I hate to sound cynical, but this is exactly how cynicism sounds.

Last and least we come to Lance’s passion for sports and competition. Again, my memory is foggy, but hasn’t he been banned for life from cycling? And although he is now allowed to compete in non-cycling events, it’s hard to see him gaining traction in the shot-put, pole vault, or synchronized swimming. But you never know.

And in this case, neither does Lance, because his sports company, WEDU, is yet another known unknown. Or is it an unknown unknown? From the Washington Post:

He’s working on a sports-endurance brand he calls WEDU. Though a formal launch isn’t expected until later this year, the company has already staged endurance rides in Texas and Aspen, Colo., and sells hats and shirts on its website. It eventually could encompass training, a charitable arm and more original content, like the two podcasts Armstrong hosts.

I am afraid I read that right. Lance is going to rebuild his fortune staging endurance rides, and by selling hats and shirts. Now, then. I have a friend who stages an endurance event, singular. Note to Lance: My friend still has a day job.

Additional note to Lance: I also have a friend who makes a living selling t-shirts. He works about 50 hours a week DOING NOTHING BUT THAT. And as a side note, he’s been doing it for 30 years.

These #fakeplans beg lots of questions. What will the rest of the “WEDU” slogan be? “Drugs”? And I hate to call a non-sequitur a non-sequitur, but how is a charitable arm going to make money? I thought that charities gave money away? The idea that WEDU will “encompass training” is about as tantalizing and novel as the idea that WEDU will encompass an app that lets you track your rides, compete with others, enroll in premium services, and award KOMs and QOMs for segments.

And I suppose that when you are the Washington Post, on deadline, and getting paid to write non-sequiturs, you totally let it slide when Lance says he will have “more original content.” Never mind that a real journalist would have asked:

  1. Written about what?
  2. Written by whom?
  3. Purchased by whom?
  4. Purchased for how much?
  5. Delivered through what medium?
  6. Paid for through advertising, subscriptions, or a combination thereof?

Rather than wait for WaPo to, you know, do its job, I hustled over to the WEDU web site, and I’m sorry to report that it consists of a Shopify storefront with hats and tees, and a signup for a century ride in Texas and a 50-miler in Aspen, both of which have already occurred. This is either the sign of someone who a) isn’t serious about anything, b) someone who doesn’t need the money, or c) someone who doesn’t have a fucking clue. I’m guessing a) and c). Your opinion may vary.

In any event, I’m available to advise Mr. Armstrong should he need direction regarding how to generate original content. And my first piece of advice will be: DON’T.

END

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Original content, along with a can of beans, is what’s for dinner. Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

Justice!!!

March 16, 2018 § 3 Comments

Justice continues to be meted out with a firm hand in the great sport of cycling. Cyril Fontayne, 43-year-old masters mechanical doper, was criminally convicted of misdemeanor attempted fraud and sentenced to sixty hours of community service. In addition to his criminal conviction and sentence, Fontayne was banned from competition for five years and ordered to pay fines and restitution of 89 euros.

Lance Armstrong: No fine, no criminal charges.

Alberto Contador: No fine, no criminal charges, allowed to come back and win the TdF.

Chris Froome: No fine, no criminal charges, no suspension. If found guilty of doping will still be allowed to keep all titles in between the time of the positive test and the finding of guilt, meaning if he wins the Tour and Giro in 2018, he will keep both titles if his case is not resolved before then.

Etc., etc., etc.

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Low Fidelity Podcast No. 5: Lance’s date with destiny

October 7, 2017 § 8 Comments

My fifth podcast …

Bleak House. Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The lawsuit that never ends …

https://southbaycycling.podbean.com/e/low-fidelity-podcast-5-lance-armstrongs-date-with-destiny/

That’s what Landis v. Tailwind Sports is like, an epic mountain of paper, hearings, and court filings that is now a veritable Mt. Everest. Filed in 2010, the case has finally reached maturity. Scheduled for trial in November, Armstrong made a last-ditch plea to the court to kick the can down the road until spring of 2018, which will possibly give cycling’s perennial bad boy a chance to settle.

Make no mistake, delay is the friend of the defense, and Lance has spent an estimated $15 million defending this assault on his personal fortune, which remains considerable.

How will it all shake out?

Tune in!

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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could. And I may have forgotten to mention that there is free food and beer for the first 350 guests, so get there early.

south_bay_cycling_awards_poster_2017_final

Twisted, sister

August 5, 2017 § 46 Comments

Doping is twisted. And I’ve never understood why I’ve been so conflicted about it. On the one hand, I don’t care what you do, what you put in your body, or how you live your life. Drugs are great and pound through our veins from the minute we get up until the minute we sleep, and then after we sleep, too.

Everyone dopes, and they dope to gain an advantage, they dope to fix shit, they dope to get high, they dope to get through the mid-day lunchtime food coma. They coffee dope, alcohol dope, etc. etc. and etc.

Bike racer doping has been near and dear to my heart for decades. I’ve known so many dopers. Raced so many dopers. Been friends with so many dopers. Inspired by them, learned from them, respected them.

But at the same time, the notion of doping to beat someone in a bike race has always turned my stomach. Dopers are lame. Like I said, it’s a twisted topic.

There aren’t many things that can make me give up a fun day of bicycling, especially a Saturday like today, when the roads are littered with so many glistening baby seal pelts begging to be clubbed. Especially, I wouldn’t give up a ride for a book. I don’t think I’ve ever forgone a ride for a read, although I’ve dropped countless books onto the floor in order to hustle out the door and pedal. I love to read but I love to bike more.

I can’t remember the exact chronology of all this, so I’ll make it up. There I was, blogging about doping or something and some dude I’d never heard of named Mark Johnson asked me if I wanted a free copy of his book on doping. “Sure,” I emailed back, knowing that after a couple of pages, if that much, I’d toss it in the Shitty Book Pile and move on. How did I know I’d toss it in the Shitty Book Pile?

Because it was a book about cycling called “Spitting in the Soup,” and books about cycling are always terrible. Cyclist enthusiasts can’t write, and this blog is rededicated to that proposition on a daily basis. Cyclists can’t write for the simple reason that people in general can’t write. It is hard, takes talent, practice, and a brain. Once in a rare while someone will drop down from heaven and write well, but the rest of us basically suck.

When Mark’s book arrived I noted that it had a very nice inscription. Free book + nice inscription + cool postcard of Sean Kelly = I won’t trash your book immediately, maybe. I shoved it atop the Unread Pile and kept plowing through Yasunari Kawabata’s “Yuki Guni,” a very boring re-read about some old dude and a geisha somewhere up in the Tohoku. The great thing about reading Japanese Nobel laureates is that even though I had to look up every third word, I got huge mileage flashing it in airports as people nudged each other and muttered under their breath.

But back to Mark’s Unread-But-Destined-For-The-Shitty-Pile book. I picked it up and started reading. It was pretty disappointing. For starters, he had a degree in English literature. I hate English lit majors because they actually know about writing. The only thing worse than reading a shitty book about cycling (which is all of them) is reading a really good book about cycling, because it makes me feel even more inferior and inept than I already do.

A few pages in and I couldn’t believe my good fortune, or was it my bad fortune? Good fortune at a stunningly well written book, bad fortune at realizing how much better it was than my own daily fare of verbal gruel. Then it got even better or even worse. Mark’s a fine writer, so yeah, fuck that dude. But he’s also someone who has thought deeply about doping, then poured an incredible amount of time and effort into researching this complex and twisted subject.

Unlike the Paul Kimmage method of writing, where the author takes a gentle and refined tool such as a sledgehammer and pounds the shit out of everything nearby until the finished product is ground up into fine meal, Mark started with the intellectual concepts that underlay the Olympic movement, amateurism, and the concept that underlies sport, competitive performance.

With an astounding array masterful brushstrokes that tie in the Industrial Revolution, British public schools, the Franco-Prussian War, the rise of the proletariat, and the metamorphosis of sport from leisure activity of the rich to spectator event for the poor, Mark sets up the conflict inherent in doping that perfectly reflects the conflict, until now unidentified in me, between an activity — bike racing — that is based on the contradictory notions of fair play and on doing anything it takes to win.

As the book progresses, Mark unleashes the full brunt of his amazingly catholic reading diet, cruising through Hitler’s impact on sports marketing to the pharmacology of amphetamines and steroids to the global politics of Cold War conflict to the Nixon-Ehrlichman War on Drugs to Reagan and the Contras to Peter Ueberroth and the Salt Lake City fraudsters to Orrin Hatch and the FDA to Amgen and EPO and the social context of drugs themselves, from Viagra in the bedroom to Adderall in the classroom to Mark McGwire to the arch-doping villain Lance himself.

If any book could make you pump both fists in the air and praise doping, this book would be it, although that’s hardly its premise or its moral. Rather, “Spitting in the Soup” is a trip down Introspection Lane. Why do we compete? Why do we have rules? How can we have spectacle in sport without extremity? How can we expect athletes to attack the system that creates, enriches, then sustains them?

And of all the introspective alleys that Mark takes you down, none is narrower or richer than reflecting on how we demonize the dopers even as we demand that they dope. Because this is what Lance and Jonathan and David and Floyd said all along–“We only gave you what you wanted.”

Whether that is what any one individual wanted is open to dispute. But “Spitting in the Soup” makes clear that from legislation to global politics to the nature of competition in general and cycling in particular, society as a whole really does want its athletes to dope. And as Mark makes brutally clear, doping is what we want for ourselves as well, higher, faster, stronger lives that let us set world records in our own heads and on Strava, and that let us perform better at work, in school, and between the sheets.

Thankfully, the book doesn’t end by giving up on the notion that life can be wonderful with fewer drugs rather than more. To the contrary, even if we can’t achieve moral purity, even if we have to doctor up our shit to get through the day, even if we can’t be like Mike or Usain or Greg or Chris without boatloads of drugs, that doesn’t mean that an endless injection of substances is a good substitute for effort, rules, and the journey involved in getting the best out of the meatbag we were born in.

Although I would have never thought that a book about doping could make a person as genuinely horrible as Lance Armstrong look sympathetic, “Spitting in the Soup” helps transform him from monster into an ordinary jerk who, in a world that demanded spectacle, gave it to us in spades. And it makes much more sympathetic people like Floyd Landis, Ben Johnson, Barry Bonds, and any number of other athletes hung out to dry as doping pariahs. Devoid of Lance’s shithead personality, they were nothing more or less than people who played by the rules, or rather by The Rule: Do what it takes to win, and don’t get caught.

Even as the fair play notion, the don’t cheat notion, the don’t use chemicals notion balances on a knife edge, Mark kicks it over the side by making the point that we have already entered a world where performance enhancement may one day be decided before you were born, when your parents and doctor carefully scripted your genes to ensure that you were better endowed than the fetus next door. Did you dope because you inherited a big VO2 max through a gene splice? Did you? Nor will these questions be subject to much ethical hemming and hawing by countries like China, which are on the cutting edge of gene doping research. Like their East German forebears, if the name of the game is winning, don’t talk to me about playing nice.

In a few short months Lance will get tried in federal court under the False Claims Act. A verdict for the government will ruin him financially, and if that happens many a doping crusader will rejoice. As “Spitting in the Soup” makes clear, the narrative of the superstar athlete is only complete when he falls from grace, because without fallen angels we’d have no need for saviors to take their place. Yet no matter how unappealing Lance is as a human being, and no matter how egregiously he flouted the rules and The Rule, this book makes an almost airtight case that the cheater, the faker, the liar, the hypocrite, and the doper … is you.

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Armstrong: “Don’t be a dick.”

December 11, 2015 § 14 Comments

Somewhat bored retired pro cyclist Lance Armstrong sat down with CitSB today to follow up on an interview he gave with the Movember Men’s Health Podcast yesterday, in which he talked about the importance of treating people well.

CitSB: So you’ve had some time to think about your bad behavior, it sounds like?

LA: Yeah. And I’ve learned some lessons.

CitSB: Like what?

LA: First and foremost, you know, don’t be a dick.

CitSB: Would you care to elaborate?

LA: Sure. It’s a bad idea to treat people like pieces of stinking shit. You know, to abuse them, harass them, scream at them, attack them, belittle them, make fun of them, hold them in contempt, treat them like lesser life forms, physically frighten them, call them liars when they’re telling the truth, ostracize them, fire them, get them fired, sue them, force them to defend meritless litigation, strip them of their dignity, grind them into the dirt as if they’re worthless pieces of subhuman shit, humiliate them in public, libel them in print, spread lies about them to hundreds of millions of people through social media, impugn their character, ruin their lives, destroy their family peace and happiness, crush their sense of self worth, leave them feeling isolated and hated, expose them to ridicule, maliciously defame them with the intent to wreck the foundations of their existence, orchestrate campaigns to devastate them emotionally, retain legal professionals to castigate and intimidate them, corner them in bars and threaten them, hire PR mouthpieces to spread rumors, call them up and terrorize them, berate them, curse them, kick them when they’re down, and, you know, just kind of generally not be a nice guy.

CitSB: Wow, that’s pretty insightful. And what was it that made you realize all this?

LA: Gosh, I’m about to be bankrupted and at age 40-something it looks like I may have to, you know, work for a living. Get a job, that kind of thing.

CitSB: Whoa. I’ve heard that’s a bummer.

LA: Me, too. But I’ll endure. I’m a survivor.

CitSB: Any last words you’d like to leave us with?

LA: Yeah. Trump. Donald Trump.

CitSB: What about him?

LA: Not trying to tell him how to live his life, but you know, if you go around squat-shitting on enough people’s heads, eventually you’re gonna shit on a Betsy. And you know the big karma wheel grinds slowly …

CitSB: … but it grinds exceedingly fine.

LA: Exactly.

CitSB: Thanks for the interview.

LA: Don’t mention it. You hiring?

END

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In George’s words

November 2, 2015 § 27 Comments

Craig Hummer’s book, The Loyal Lieutenant, does a great job of revealing the character of George Hincapie. The book is filled with quotes by Lance Armstrong, Jonathan Vaughters, Frankie Andreu, Christian Vande Velde, Michael Barry, and Jim Ochowitz to name a few.

So what kind of guy was silent, loyal, smiling George?

“When we as a group made that decision to play ball, George and I, along with the others on the team, crossed over that threshold together.” Lance Armstrong, who wrote the Foreword to the book.

“I honestly felt I would never have to deal with my drug use.” George Hincapie.

“Milan-San Remo ended up being the final straw where [a number of us] decided we’d do it.” Lance Armstrong.

“I couldn’t compete on a level playing field without some assistance.” George Hincapie.

“I felt it was my only choice.” George Hincapie.

“I didn’t reach these decisions without careful consideration.” George Hincapie.

“I could tell from his tone and his protestations, that he’d already taken the infamous step, and that moment produced an epiphany for me. I had to do the same.” George Hincapie.

“Back then, those seemed like the only choices.” George Hincapie.

“I don’t have a choice. We have to do it to survive. Everybody’s doing it now. I don’t have a choice.” Frankie Andreu.

“I felt a little guilty.” George Hincapie.

“The thought of cheating never crossed my mind.” George Hincapie.

“I couldn’t make eye contact as I told them it wasn’t mine.” George Hincapie.

“I nervously asked for the drug.” George Hincapie.

“I exited the bathroom a changed man. I felt completely at peace.” George Hincapie.

“I also felt proud that I’d committed to the next level.” George Hincapie.

“I always tried to take the bare minimum.” George Hincapie.

“Where other teams had been good at simply cheating, we strived to be better at being professional in all aspects as required to win the Tour.” George Hincapie.

“I didn’t take any EPO that Tour because I started with a high hematocrit, or red blood cell count (my mother suffers from polycythemia vera).” George Hincapie.

“What also made Jonathan different, however, was that he was actively searching for new and better ways to dope.” George Hincapie.

“From a self-preservation standpoint, I felt it was important to know if there were any side effects.” Jonathan Vaughters.

“The biggest result of the 1999 Tour was that we started the gradual process of teaching a new generation of Americans about the sport, what it entailed, and what it took to make Lance the best.” George Hincapie.

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