Sports Nut

Cycling’s Biggest Dopes

A reader’s guide to the new Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis books.

From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France

Shortly after Lance Armstrong began winning Tours de France, I asked one of his close advisers what, exactly, had changed. How had an inconsistent star morphed into a rider who could dominate the three-week Tour from beginning to end? “He’s improved his aerobic system,” this person said, as if none of his competitors had ever thought to do that (by, say, training).

David Walsh is pretty sure he knows how Lance “improved his aerobic system.” His magnum opus, From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France,is at once fascinating, disturbing, and problematic. This is Walsh’s third joust at Armstrong, but the first to be published in English. Even after discounting Walsh’s obvious bias and sometimes weak sourcing (think Kitty Kelley meets Michael Moore), his evidence is disturbing. There’s no smoking gun—nobody stepping forward to say, yes, they saw Armstrong inject himself—but there is an awful lot of smoke.

Positively False

Floyd Landis’ new tome, which has the unfortunate title Positively False, suffers from the opposite problem. The book is stilted and almost lifeless—very much unlike its author, who’s very funny in person, as one might expect from a lapsed Mennonite whose favorite author is Jack Handey. Landis’ denials are feisty but less than fully convincing, though he makes some good points about the absurd rigidity of drug-control rules and the prejudicial and often clownish antics of Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Neither book fully makes its case, and only a true obsessive would read both. But each contains juicy nuggets of gossip, creepy revelations, and a few puzzling contradictions. Here are some highlights:

On Doping

Positively False,Page 195

It takes Landis well over 100 pages to broach the subject of drug use in cycling. Then, despite massive and continuing evidence to the contrary, he minimizes the effect of doping. “I can’t recall the first time I figured out what doping even was,” Landis writes. “Hanging out after races or in a hotel where teams were staying, I’d overhear, ‘Oh, he’s on EPO,’ or ‘It’s the testosterone.’ … Because of all the talk, I knew it must happen, but, as unbelievable as it may sound, I don’t actually know how many cyclists are doping. Why would I?”

From Lance to Landis, Page 37         

In Walsh’s view, cycling is a sport with a deeply ingrained, almost inescapable drug culture. “In the 1980s, amphetamines, testosterone, and corticosteroids were widely abused by cyclists. … Though it was treason to speak publicly about the doping culture, drugs were part of cyclists’ lives. … At all but the biggest races, drug testing was lax and teams were told in advance at which events their riders would be tested. … And, relatively speaking, those were the good days.”

The Shady Italian Doctor

From Lance to Landis, Page 174

In early 2001, Walsh discovered what he believed was Armstrong’s secret weapon. The Tour champion had been training with Dr. Michele Ferrari, a trainer considered one of the pioneers of blood doping and EPO use. Working with Ferrari was not something a smart rider bragged about. In a hastily arranged interview with Walsh, Armstrong was cagey about their association: “Have I been tested by him, gone and been there and consulted on certain things? Perhaps.” In fact, Armstrong had been seeing Ferrari regularly since 1995. This arrangement was so secretive that some of his own teammates didn’t even know about it.

Positively False,Page 57

“In the six weeks before the [2003] Tour, I went with Lance to St. Moritz, Switzerland, to train at high altitude and scope out some of the Alps mountain stages of the Tour,” Landis writes. “What I learned was that, when it came to desire and work ethic, Lance and I are a lot alike. We set a goal and then we do absolutely whatever it takes to figure out how to achieve it.” Landis even brags that “Lance’s training adviser” was pleased with his progress. He leaves out the adviser’s name: Dr. Michele Ferrari.

Don’t Mess With Greg LeMond

From Lance to Landis, Page 188

As the only other American to win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond had been an early supporter of Armstrong. But after Armstrong’s relationship with Ferrari became public, in 2001, LeMond turned critical. If Lance was really clean, he opined to a journalist, “it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If not, it is the greatest fraud.” Soon afterward, LeMond’s phone rang with an unhappy Armstrong on the other end, leveling his own accusations.

Armstrong: Oh, come on now. You’re telling me you never did EPO? LeMond: Why would you say I did EPO?Armstrong: Come on, everyone’s done EPO.LeMond: Why do you think I did it? Armstrong: Well, your comeback in ‘89 [from a hunting accident] was so spectacular. Mine was a miracle, yours was a miracle. You couldn’t have been as strong as you were in ‘89 without taking EPO. LeMond: Are you threatening me? Armstrong: If you want to throw stones, I will throw stones. …I could find ten people who will say you did EPO. Ten people who would come forward.

Armstrong’s threat proved limp, and LeMond would become a key source for Walsh.

Positively False, Page 302

After Landis tested positive during the 2006 Tour, he phoned LeMond for advice. In an attempt to persuade Landis to “come clean,” the former cycling champ confided that he’d been sexually abused as a child. Landis demurred, and the conversation turned LeMond into a witness for the prosecution. The night before LeMond was to testify at Landis’ May arbitration hearing, Landis’ manager drunkenly crank-called LeMond, threatening to expose the abuse. The ploy backfired: Landis had to fire his manager, and the episode discredited him in the middle of his trial.

Mitigating Fact

Positively False,Page 211

Two days after Landis’ best friend committed suicide, a drug-testing agent showed up on his doorstep at 6:50 a.m., demanding a urine sample. Never mind that Landis had already tested positive and was not likely to compete again that season.

From Lance to Landis,Page 75

Years of in-competition drug tests—including one conducted by the same French lab that found Floyd Landis positive—somehow failed to discover Armstrong’s testicular cancer, which produces a hormone called beta-HCG that also happens to be a banned (and easily detected) steroid. One could hardly accuse the drug testers of laziness. The same lab decided in 2005 to test some of Armstrong’s 1999 urine samples, finding traces of EPO in six of them. (That news, of course, was leaked straight to the press.)

Lance Armstrong, World’s Greatest Boss

Positively False,Page 67

It’s traditional for a Tour winner to share the wealth with his teammates, but Armstrong was far more generous than most. After his first Tour with the U.S. Postal Service team in 2003, Landis attended a private party with Armstrong, the rest of the team, and their wives. “He sent a bunch of Mercedes around to pick us up, and we went to a special room he had rented,” Landis writes. “He had a bunch of envelopes in his hand, and eventually he made his way to me. ‘Here’s your Lance bonus,’ he said. … Inside was the biggest check we had ever seen.” Landis’ previous team had folded without paying him, so this extra $90,000 was a godsend.

From Lance to Landis, Page 135

Emma O’Reilly, Armstrong’s masseuse and assistant during his first few Tours, happened to mention how much she admired a Rolex worn by the wife of a retired rider. After the Tour, Armstrong summoned O’Reilly to the Ritz Carlton and presented her with a brand new Rolex.

Lance Armstrong, World’s Worst Boss

Positively False,Page 87

During his second year with the Postal team, Landis began agitating for a time-trial bike to use in training. He got put in his place, instead. “My complaints got back to Lance. … For most of the spring, he gave me the cold shoulder. … Just a few weeks before the Tour … the team was having a meeting and talking about equipment when Lance said, ‘Then we got Floyd over here who thinks he’s a world champion and deserves a jet.’ He was joking. But after months of not getting the bike and him not helping me, the comment pushed me too far. … I went off about how we were a cycling team trying to win the Tour. ‘How can you possibly be accusing me of asking for too much when I’m asking for a single bicycle?’ ” Apparently it was too much: Landis’ contract with Postal was not renewed.

From Lance to Landis,Page 308

Walsh claims that Armstrong would go so far as to sabotage his own teammates. In an instant-message exchange (which one rider has recanted in an affidavit as being merely secondhand gossip), two former Postal riders talk about how Armstrong and team director Johan Bruyneel “dumped Floyd’s rest day blood refill down the toilet in front of him in last yrs tour to make him ride bad.” The two riders go on to marvel that Landis finished as well as he did “with no extra blood.”