Dr. Hutch: Lance Armstrong’s literal and metaphorical car crash

Hutch’s resistance to the whole sorry Armstrong saga reaches its limit

Oh, how manfully I have resisted the columnist bait laid out by Lance Armstrong recently. I decided that having written column after column decrying the attention the cycling media were giving him, I ought really to suit the action to the word.

I even managed to not write about his recent BBC interview, where he said that if he were back at the start, he’d dope all over again. There would have been an opportunity to point out how difficult it would be to reconcile that with the begging-his-son-for-forgiveness elements of his original Oprah interview. (“I’m so sorry I doped. If I had my career again, I’d dope that time as well.”)

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The first rule of Armstrong PR seems to be to keep providing different versions of the truth until, presumably by sheer luck, he might hit on one that everyone will like. But we now seem to have entered the car-crash phase of his career in a way that was just too literal to ignore.

It’s taken him longer to get to it than it took some of his former rivals. One of the iconic images of Marco Pantani’s decline was a 2000 photo of him shaking hands with a policeman, while in the background his Mercedes SUV is parked atop a very crumpled Citroën. Pantani has the unhappy air of a man who knows his fans will expect him to sign autographs, even in the most humiliating circumstances, as his life falls apart around him.

Crushing irony
And in 2002, perennial Tour de France runner-up Jan Ullrich drunkenly reversed his Porsche 911 over, of all the ironic bits of street furniture, a bike rack and several bikes. He blamed it on having a sore knee, but that was probably to distract from the embarrassing allegation at the time that he was giving a lift to Alexandre Vinokourov.

Now we learn that Armstrong accidentally skidded his SUV into some parked cars in a snowy Aspen late last year, before ripping a page straight out of the Chris Huhne ‘how to turn an embarrassment into a disaster’ manual, and scarpering around the corner to allow to his girlfriend to claim it was actually her who’d been driving.

Anna Hansen denied Armstrong had told her to get on out there and pervert the course of justice, but said it was “a joint decision”, which is pleasingly close to the philosophy of collective responsibility that everyone was so keen on at the old US Postal cycling team.

I liked the homeowner’s witness statement. He said that after the collision, “A woman, well-dressed, 30ish, blonde, came running around the corner in her high heels in six inches of packed snow, which was pretty impressive.” I admire the detachment of a man who can look up from his dented car and think, “That broad can really handle a pair of stilettos.”

I enjoyed the irony of the explanation Hansen offered for this bit of fabrication, which was that they didn’t want to drag the name of Armstrong through the newspapers. Given there were at least two witnesses to the fact Armstrong was driving, it wasn’t the very best thought-out plan. You might also argue that if preserving the good name of Armstrong was the aim, it was also a little on the late side.

The ineptness of the whole thing does leave me wondering if Armstrong is quite the devious mastermind that I have been assuming. The whole thing has an air of Niccolo Machiavelli explaining that the dog ate his homework.

But it’s been worth it for one thing, if for nothing else. When Hansen eventually explained that Lance was driving, the cop she was talking to said: “Lance who?” Which are words I’ve waited years to hear.

Dr. Hutch writes every week for Cycling Weekly magazine