The recent accusations made against Lance Armstrong by former fellow-riders Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis are, as Armstrong’s publicists say, nothing new. Now, however, there’s more vivid detail. Hamilton describes in detail how Armstrong meted out the drugs and detailed how they were to be taken, both insist that Armstrong did in fact test positive in the 2001 Tour de Suisse (a one-week run-up race just before the Tour). They argue that Lance and his directeur sportif [head coach] Johan Bruyneel visited the Swiss teat lab and quashed the evidence. Nothing new there either, though Landis got the year wrong the first time he made the accusation, saying it happened in a year Lance did not ride that race. The charges were very much in the spotlight a couple of weeks ago, however, because Hamilton made them on the CBS program “60 Minutes.” About the same time a nameless source leaked through the AP the information that Armstrong’s closest professional comrade, George Hincapie (who finished a heartbreaking fraction of a second behind the winner [who ironically rode for Armstrong’s team, Radio Shack] at the US Nationals on Memorial Day) had testified to a Grand Jury to witnessing and participating in Armstrong-led doping as well. This anonymous and uncorroborated information may have been manufactured, of course, because Grand Jury testimony is privileged information.
It is tempting to succumb to the “where there’s smoke there’s fire” theory in such matters. Landis and Hamilton are both very likeable lades, and they corroborate each other’s stories. They both lied for years, or now say they were lying, about their own drug use. So in a sense they embody the conundrum of the Cretan who declared “all Cretans are liars.” Was he telling the truth? But they were also tough dudes. Landis broke away from his own Mennonite traditions to race bikes. Some have said he’s the “only dishonest Mennonite in the world.” Hamilton, from Marblehead, MA, was Armstrong’s head domestique for his first three tour victories, the hard-as-nails guy who set the killing pace that sapped the strength of every other rider in the peloton before Lance attacked and rode to victory. He left only when US Postal picked up two Spanish riders from the low-budget Spanish Kelme team, Juan-Luis Rubiera and Roberto Heras. He then finished second in the 2002 Giro d’Italia with a broken collarbone, racing for CSC. And he raced almost all of the 2003 Tour with another broken collarbone, and even won a breakaway stage. Likeable grit.
But neither Hamilton nor Landis saw the alleged positive test quashing go down. For both it had to have been hearsay. The two other principals, the then-head of the UCI (International Cycling Union) and the head of the Swiss drug lab, both assert it never happened. And for all their personal gutsiness, Hamilton and Landis have both failed drug tests, Landis in very public and embarrassing fashion, right after he “won” the 2006 Tour with a massive solo ride on a late, hot stage; Hamilton just as an IMax movie about his tough exploits in 2003 and Olympic victory in 2004 was about to be completed. So we’re left again with inconclusive, undocumented, hearsay evidence. Not good enough for a court of law, though perhaps good enough for the American anti-doping people, and certainly for all French cycling fan, who have never forgiven Lance for completing the long-term humiliation of French cycling heroes (years since a Frenchman won the Tour de France: 25 and counting). Mon Dieu!
All that said, Lance is beginning to “feel” guilty to me. The “where there’s smoke . . .” theory has a lot to do with it. Too many accusations from too many sources, some credible. The Hincapie story, when and if proven true, would be the backbreaker. Or is that heartbreaker? There is no conceivable motivation for him to slander his old friend and “Captain.” But right now Lance is too locked in to his own story, good and solid since 1999, for him to break out. What would he say? How would he say it? So “his people” will try to cast every statement by others in a questionable light, and Lance will say nothing, or nothing new, for as long as humanly possible.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.