Lance Armstrong was the most engaging pro cyclist of recent times. Such was his appeal that, like Muhammad Ali, he transcended his sport and became an international superstar. An intelligent, charismatic man with a lot to say. There are few top sports people who look you straight in the eye and hold your gaze when talking to you. He’d even do it when answering the most banal question.
Armstrong never shied away from a question either. In fact he seemed to enjoy a battle in a press conference — just look at the YouTube clip of him verbally attacking Paul Kimmage at the 2009 Tour of California. As in this case he was sometimes too confrontational and aggressive in his replies, but other times his charm, mixed with a little intimidation, meant he could get away with it.
But we need to cut the ties that bind and stop listening to him.
Investigations can listen to him if they think it will help (though they need to take everything he says with a fistful of salt), but everyone else has to learn to turn the other cheek.
But is that even possible? Putting him on the cover of Cycling Weekly magazine during and after his career always resulted in increased copy sales (yes, that’s why we did it for so many years!), and any web story we publish gets massive hits. Just look at the Monday’s story, which has now been shared more than 8,000 times on social media . He still has box office appeal.
So if even we can’t stop writing about him (Armstrong first blacklisted Cycle Sport and Cycling Weekly in 2002 after Cycle Sport published a piece by David Walsh when few others had any appetite for an anti-Armstrong story), how can you, dear reader, avoid it?
And yes, I do realise the very fact I’m writing an article about Armstrong in which I suggest you don’t read articles about Armstrong is utterly absurd.
If we can’t avoid Armstrong then our next option is to not believe what he says, because he always has an agenda. For him that agenda comes before a truthful answer.
Whenever Armstrong appears in the press, be it with Oprah or the BBC, he has a reason to do it and a plan of attack. The timing of the interview and his answers will be calculated and rehearsed. Armstrong was, and still is, a class A manipulator. Every time we listen, every time we read, we’re allowing him to do it.
His powers have waned since being outed, but there’s no doubt he’s up to the same old tricks. With court cases looming he needs to get his message out there, put doubt in people’s mind and attack his opponents.
But that’s fair enough, some might say. He’s got his side of the story after all.
But any story that he puts across is there to serve a purpose, which is why it is impossible to believe him. Look at his quotes linking his Tour de France wins with the expansion of cycling and the increased sales of Trek bikes. He’s laying the seed in people’s minds that he is partly responsible for the cycling boom. The aim? To counter the Whistleblower case that is based on him discrediting the US Postal Service. ‘Discredit? I grew the sport! They profited from me!’ is the message.
What about his claim that he’d probably dope again? What purpose does that serve? It’s all part of his (false) claim that doping was a part of the sport and that everyone was doing it.
This, as any intelligent person will know, is complete nonsense. Yes, most of his rivals in the top ten at the Tour were doping, but what about places 11 to 20? Those riders who struggled to get in to the top 50? Those riders who never made their team’s final selection for the Tour de France? Those riders who never got a pro contract because dopers were taking so many places?
There was an awful lot of it going on during the 1990s but not everyone was doing it. Lots of riders made the decision to say no. Those riders were cheated out of a career and will never know how good they could have been.
But he’s apologised, some will still say. That must mean something? Well, no, not really. Not if you take a look at the latest story from the New York Daily News.
Armstrong is talking about forgiveness, moving on, and perhaps one day again competing — at some level, in some sport — but at the same time he’s fighting the Whistleblower case tooth and nail.
Now his legal team has sent subpoenas to the people that a few months ago he was visiting in person in order to say sorry. The subpoenas are first and foremost to unearth evidence gathered by the (Jeff Novitzky) Food and Drug Administration case and USADA.
But it could also see the people he apologised to dragged back in to the court room and cross examined. The aim for Armstrong’s defence team is to exploit the tiniest crack in an argument to throw out the whole case. As before, he won’t worry about who he tramples on in the process. So how sorry is he really?
It’s classic Armstrong tactics. Threatening, bullying while at the same time manipulating. He hasn’t changed a bit. But sadly neither has the appeal of his name in a headline.