October 19, 2012 § 17 Comments
7-time Tour strippee Lance Armstrong stormed across the finish line in Austin, Texas tonight, showing flashes of the combativeness that made him the most feared competitor of his era, but doing little to dent the commanding lead taken in the previous mountain stage by USADA.
“The team was there for me when it mattered,” said an obviously knackered Armstrong. “And now…let’s have a helluva good time tonight!”
Surrounded by his teammates, most of whom have been at his side for each of his previously stripped Tour non-victories, the mood was defiant, even though the win in Austin took back only fifteen seconds from USADA’s overall advantage of more than ten minutes.
Teammate Gerry Goldstein, a criminal defense lawyer who has had his hands full of late, gave a blunt response to reporters after the stage who questioned how Goldstein could support someone whose charity was built on the back of history’s greatest sporting fraud. “I’m a big fan of what he has done. Overcoming cancer and doing what he did, who gives a fuck about anything else? That’s so much more important as a role model and a human being. Quit whining about it. This is the 21st Century. The ends justify the means.”
Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who donated a pair of cleats to the silent auction, said he wants to continue supporting Livestrong. “Obviously, some things have a left a little scar, but people think it’s still important to come out and support Livestrong,” Guthrie said. “Charles Manson left scars too, but you know what? He’s helped a lot of people through his Minister for Life Prison Ministry.”
Experts question whether there are enough stages left for an Armstrong comeback
“They’ve only got two big mountain stages left,” said veteran race strategist Betsy Andreu. “The UCI stage into Aigle, and the Livestrong stage. He’s got strong teammates for the Aigle stage in McQuaid and Vergruggen, but USADA’s beefed up its mountain team this year with that 1,000-page dossier, eyewitness testimony, and the three new riders from Lausanne, Padua, and Montreal.” [Ed. note: Andreu was referring to the three new team USADA signings of Jean-Paul Cas, Benedetto Roberti, and Emilio Wada.]
USADA refused to say the race was over, pointing to Armstrong’s history as a 7-time strippee. “He’s the favorite. We’ve done our best. The hay’s in the barn, as G$ would say. All we can do from here is race smart and hope our team does what it’s been hired to do.”
Armstrong saw it differently. “It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for me and my family, my friends and this foundation.”
When asked if this is the toughest race he’s ever ridden, Armstrong smiled wryly. “I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse. ‘Unaffected’ was probably not the best choice of words,” he added, referring to a tweet immediately after USADA attacked on the lower slopes of the Col d’Lifetimeban, which put the cycling star into difficulty without obvious recourse to his stalwart suitcase, which former teammates now claim contained something stronger than courage.
Livestrong stage could be pivotal
If Armstrong manages to regain time in Monday’s stage into Aigle, commentators believe that the race will boil down to the final mountaintop finish on Plateau d’ViveForte. “Even if he takes back five, six minutes, it will still be extremely difficult on the final stage,” says crisis management expert Bud Packington.
Adds Packington: “His key climbing allies have either crashed out or have gone home in the broom wagon for finishing outside the time limit. Nike, Trek, SRAM, Anheuser-Busch, all gone, and Oakley getting shelled with every acceleration. Who’s he got left? Robin Williams?”
Smedley Turkins, brand manager for Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, and Charlie Hustle, concurred. “Read his statement when he stepped down as chairman of Livestrong: ‘To spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.’
“What the fuck does that mean? It’s an admission that the controversy has affected Livestrong. Fine. What negative effects, and spare the foundation from what? The impact hasn’t been financial; donations have actually increased since he walked away from arbitration. It hasn’t been legal; no one’s suing Livestrong for fraud. Yet. What’s left? It’s the negative effect on the board from all the people who support and fund the organization who are saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We will not have the organization we cherish headed by a cheat.’ For now it’s a shrill voice, it’s a minority, and it’s only within the organization. But if he gets creamed at the stage going into Aigle, if McQuaid and Verbruggen crumple and fold, then that internal dissension will increase. He’ll risk going from chairman to board member to out the door. This was a prophylactic feint, and it’s a hint of things to come.”
It ain’t over ’til it’s over
“Don’t you believe it,” laughed George Hincapie when asked about Armstrong’s prospects for the remainder of the Tour. “He’s toughest when cornered. He’s got options galore.”
When pressed, Hincapie said this: “He’s going to confess. It won’t be a full confession, and it will be carefully worded by the leadout train. Herman will string it out in the last 3k, Fabiani will get him to the last kilometer, and Garvey or Ullman will deliver him to the final 200 meters. It will be a polished, nuanced admission that doesn’t even admit to much. You’ll see.”
Others were less sanguine. Joe Papp, CEO of Felons for Clean Sport, was tersely dismissive. “Never happen.”
Tardstick Ludington, loathesome Internet troll, was even more direct. “Wankmeister is a sociopath bully who lives in his parents’ basement,” he said in between electroshock treatments.
Before getting on the team bus, which was being pelted by angry Canadians who’d paid $35,000 apiece to be dropped and insulted by Armstrong on his annual “Jocksniffer Special” to Lake Louise, he evaluated his prospects thus: “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Then he climbed aboard the bus, with not so much as a smidgeon of egg on his face.
October 17, 2012 § 186 Comments
Lance is getting ready to confess. He’ll make the announcement in the next few days, or he’ll wait until the UCI strips him of his titles and announce it then.
I’m predicting the former.
Armstrong is the ultimate in realpolitik. He showed his hand when he walked away from the arbitration hearing, betting correctly that there was no way he would beat the testimony of his closest confidantes.
Like an expert chess player losing pieces as strategically as possible to slow in the inexorable march to checkmate, Lance first lost the cycling world, then the triathlon and running worlds, then the sponsored spokesman world, and finally the queen on his chessboard, the chairmanship of Livestrong.
When Nike announced that Lance had misled them for over a decade, and that it believed he cheated to win, the game unofficially ended. Trek, HoneyStinger, Anheuser-Busch, Radio Shack all bravely reversed course after defending him to the bitter end. The only pawn left to mop up is Oakley. They’ll walk when he confesses or when the UCI strips or when they’re the last sponsor standing, whichever comes first.
The text of his confession
What’s most predictable is the text of his confession. He will admit to breaking the rules. He will admit to using performance enhancing drugs. He will apologize for having misled fans.
However, like Leipheimer and Hincapie, drug addicts whose entire careers were built on cheating, he will never admit that his actions were morally reprehensible. He will insist that he had no other choice. He will justify it with the oldest line of all: “If you weren’t there, you’ll never really understand it.”
He will never apologize for tearing down those who opposed him or who rightly tagged him as a drug cheat. He will never say he’s sorry for the damage he did to Emma O’Reilly, Betsy Andreu, Paul Kimmage, David Walsh, Greg Lemond, Tyler, Floyd, or any of the others he tarred as disgruntled liars, media hacks, serial perjurers, prostitutes, and worst of all, as ugly fat people.
There will absolutely be mention of his family, and of the difficulty he had in speaking about it with them. And there will be a brash, unrepentant sortie into the guns of his accusers with a bold statement about his real life’s work–curing cancer and helping those affected by it–and how nothing will ever stand in his way of fighting to achieve these things until his dying breath.
He will thank those who stood by him, without naming names due to their upcoming arbitration hearings and/or possibility of criminal proceedings in their home countries.
He will mention the doping culture in which he developed as a racer, without calling it a drug-crazed free-for-all that, at his apogee, he directed and ruthlessly managed for extraordinary personal and professional gain.
He will, if he’s the Lance of old, possibly issue a call to arms to clean up the sport once and for all, and name himself leader in the fight.
And if the captain’s Tecate is plentiful enough, he may even ask that those who so strenuously oppose doping take a hard look at all professional sports, and see if it’s any different from cycling.
He will reflect proudly on his victories.
He will make reference to the fact that without the drugs he would have won anyway.
And then he will tell everyone to get out of his way so that he can go fight some more cancer.
The end game
Lance’s dilemma is unique, because being branded a doper exposes him to significant litigation and because it chokes off the revenue from his nonathletic endeavors, which are vastly more important than his sporting income.
He knows all of this, and by now he’s simply reviewing the numbers. Mark Fabiani and Tim Herman have told him point-blank that it’s over, that no one who matters believes him anymore, and that soon, the people who matter least of all–the cancer patients, hobby triathletes, and Livestrong Kool-Aid freaks–won’t believe him, either.
“How much is my exposure to SCA?”
“Potentially ten million, without punitive damages. But there’s no guarantee you’ll lose at arbitration, and most importantly, that exposure is there whether you confess or not.”
“Payback to sponsors for breach of contract, fraud?”
“They won’t want the bad publicity of having blindly supported a drug cheat. Minimal risk, but, as with SCA, that exposure exists whether or not you confess.”
“Same. They’d have huge statute of limitations problems and would be open to equitable defenses like laches and unclean hands.”
“You’ll make less since you’re no longer the chairman. But you can still charge the foundation for appearances and the usual stuff. However, there’ll be less of it the longer you hold off on the confession. Nike’s statement that they’re dumping you but keeping Livestrong may be the way forward for a lot of people on the board, and you need to stop that before it starts. You do not want the organization to conclude that it doesn’t have to have Lance to thrive. The longer you deny, the more uncomfortable the foundation will become as people begin asking THE question: ‘What’s the board’s position on his drug use, and why is a career cheater sitting on the board?'”
“Bottom line: What’s my financial risk to confessing now versus confessing after the UCI strips me versus not confessing at all?”
“Confess now, earn a little goodwill, take the heat off your supporters who are having to defend you against popular opinion, facts, and common sense. Active damage control and repositioning can begin immediately. Levi and George are still getting love even within the cycling community and are being called ‘brave’ and ‘courageous.’ Confess after the UCI strips and you’ll look like a shotgun groom. Don’t confess at all and you’ll look like a sociopath. Your value will go to near-zero. You’ll be marginalized, then pushed off the board. And that last part may happen anyway.”
How can you be so sure, Wankmeister?
I’m sure because the only two alternatives don’t fit the facts or the history. The first alternative is that he will never admit the truth because he’s a sociopath in denial. This looks like a good fit at first until you understand that he’s trying to minimize damage. A sociopath such as Bruyneel or Ferrari would have fought the charges in arbitration.
The second alternative is that he’ll never confess because he’s principled. We saw how that played out when he copped to USADA’s claims by abandoning his right to arbitration.
Most importantly, doping in cycling at such an advanced level raises questions about other sports, and the involvement of Nike and the whispers regarding its having acted as the conduit to pay off the UCI’s cover-up of Lance’s positive test in the 1999 Tour mean that real journalists–the kind who rarely cover cycling–may take the same kind of vigorous approach to football, soccer, and track and field that Paul Kimmage took to Lance’s shenanigans.
In short, the most expedient thing for him to do is to stop the bleeding and reassure the world that this kind of stuff only happens in cycling.
And nowhere else.
You got that?