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My Thoughts on Lance Pre-Oprah

By Jennifer Sage On January 17, 2013 Under Misc, Outdoor Cycling, Tour de France

Tomorrow evening will be a big deal for cycling fans and cancer survivors around the world. Even the casual observer may tune in as Lance Armstrong confesses to the empathetic Oprah Winfrey and the world about taking performance-enhancing drugs after a lifetime of lying and cheating.

This is a photo I took at the top of the Col de Croix Fry in the Alpes in 2004, where I had taken a group with my bicycle tour company, Viva Travels. Lance won the stage, although he tried to “gift” it to Floyd Landis, who was unable to chase down the leader at the time, Andreas Kloden of Team Telekom. Leading him up the col is Landis; over his right shoulder is Jan Ulrich (with his typical panting look) and over his left shoulder is baby-faced Ivan Basso. All four are disgraced cyclists. All are cheats. But only one of them is the world’s most disgraced “hero” in the history of sport—all sport—since the dawn of time.

Back when Floyd first sent his letter to USADA admitting doping and implicating Lance, then when Tyler Hamilton confessed on 60 Minutes and further opened the can of Armstrong worms, then again when USADA released its Reasoned Decision, and finally this week when it was announced that Lance had confessed in an interview with Oprah, I received dozens of questions, e-mails, Facebook messages and chats, texts, and phone calls from friends, family, clients, and students asking me my opinion on the matter. I even got an e-mail this week from a neighbor where I grew up who I hadn’t heard from in a long time asking my opinion! If you follow me on Facebook, you’d know that I am not one to shy away from voicing my opinion on Lance. In fact, some Facebook “friends” have asked me to stop posting links about him (those would be the Lance apologists). But I won’t stop (they can stop reading them, or “unfriend” me if they want). This is something that is, and has been very important to me for a very long time. Cycling is my passion.

I’ll tell you why it matters to me. It’s easier here as a blog post than to answer all those queries.

To me, it’s not even the doping that bothers me as much anymore, it’s the depth of his lies and the extent that he would go to raise himself up higher, even if it meant (and it OFTEN did) stepping on others. The following is just a small sampling of his denials:

But who really cares about the EPO*? It’s his role as the Godfather of the omerta in cycling; it’s what he did to others to keep his reign. He was no different than a vicious, tyrannical ruler from the Middle Ages laying down the law of the land. It’s this. And this. And this. And this breaks my heart (skip to page 2, what Lance did to Bassons). Or this rider, whose life was practically ruined by Lance. Or this journalist who had the guts to ask questions back in 1999 but was then dragged through the mud by Lance for over a decade. And this guy who had to flee to New Zealand to get away from Lance.

And now the man who never forgave anybody wants us to forgive him? Really? Are you willing to forgive him? Not me.

This New Yorker article says it perhaps better than any I’ve read. It is exactly my sentiments.

Many believe Armstrong has a serious personality disorder. The following is the definition of a sociopath; read this and ask yourself, have you ever seen such a vivid description of Lance Armstrong?

Glibness and superficial charm, manipulative and cunning: do not recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. Appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victims as merely instruments to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.

Grandiose sense of self: Feels entitled to certain things as “their right.”

Pathological lying: Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.

Lack of remorse, shame, or guilt: A deep-seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

Shallow emotions: When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love, and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.

Incapacity for love; need for stimulation. Living on the edge.

Why do I care so much? Because of the depth of my support for him beginning in 1999 when I went to the Tour de France as a guide on a bike tour with Greg Lemond, where we watched Lance win his first Tour de France after beating testicular cancer. (My only photos of that tour are prints; one of these days I’ll have them converted to digital and will post them here, with some really interesting tidbits about Greg Lemond, who by the way is a very funny and fun-loving person.)

For eight years (I started doubting him in 2008) I wore multiple yellow bands on my arm. “Go Lance” was my e-mail sign-off. I bought the books and calendars and read everything I could on Lance and his achievements. I designed Spinning classes based on his amazing feats. I raised money for Livestrong.

In 2003 I started my own bicycle tour company and had a tour planned to the Tour de France, but the beginning of the war in Iraq led to a large amount of fear of travel and I had to cancel my tour following a slew of cancellations by my clients. But in 2004 nothing was going to hold us back! I had two sold-out tours and off we went, bejeweled with yellow bracelets, ready to wave our American flags and cheer on the greatest cyclist of all time, or so we thought. I took another tour in 2005 and 2007, and went to the Giro d’Italia in 2009. Every single year since 2003 I’ve sent many clients on self-guided bike tours to the Tour de France, many of them as big, or even bigger, Lance fans than me.

While my memories of the challenging and rewarding cycling, the wonderful people, and the beauty of the scenery on those trips cannot be erased, the feelings of being duped will also linger for a very long time. I would still have gone, and I plan to go again (this year) but I’m a changed person thanks to Lance. I’m far more dubious of athletes and of athletic achievements, and that is something that saddens me deeply. There is nothing like the feeling of complete and total support of another person’s amazing talent and achievements. I will always miss that aspect of myself; it’s like being unable to trust.

This story hasn’t ended, and it won’t end after the Oprah interview (or what the cycling community is calling Doprah). There is far, far too much to be uncovered. We will see shortly what happens with the Floyd Landis’s qui tam law suit (which the Department of Justice is poised to enter) and what will happen with Johan Bruyneel. We’ll also see who Lance plans to “out” (his former “friends” who now become his victims—as delineated in the definition of a sociopath) now that he’s promised to testify against them. This could include Johan Bruyneel, Thomas Weisel (the former owner of his teams), and even all the way up to the past and current president of the UCI. (The latter would be a very welcomed outcome of this debacle, because if it’s true that Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid secretly protected Lance and covered up his positive tests, then they did more to hurt the sport than anyone else.)

EDIT: There’s a new twist to this; stories are coming out that Verbruggen (former UCI head) might be linked to Thomas Weisel financially. It seems someone’s bread was getting buttered…

I haven’t really mentioned Livestrong and what Lance has done for cancer community. While I agree that Livestrong has helped and continues to help cancer patients, if I had been a survivor with Lance as my hero, I’d be feeling ten times more duped than I do now. It is now quite apparent that Lance used Livestrong as a shield, to deflect attention from his doping and to bolster his image. There are too many reports of Lance gaining financially from Livestrong, including receiving massive appearance fees when the event organizer had thought the money was going to the foundation and not Lance, or that he charged his use of his private jet back to Livestrong when traveling for the foundation.

I guess my entire image of Lance Armstrong comes down to two words: integrity and credibility (or lack thereof).

[*EDIT Clarification. I do care about the EPO and am anti-doping in all cases. It just is in my mind further down on the list compared to his other wrong doings. I have a very difficult time understanding when someone says “but they all did it so it was a level playing field.” No, it was never level.]

Let me share with you a few more photos of three different tours to the Tour de France. (All photos taken by me, my husband, or a client.)

My group at the 2004 Tour de France, on the Champs Elysées

Hanging out on the Champs Elysées waiting for the peloton to arrive (an all-day wait to save our spot). Notice the yellow jersey and yellow bracelets. I had had six bracelets, but gave a lot of them away.

Lance with Vinokourov in the Pyrénées in 2005. Photo taken by a bike tour client.

The Discovery Train makes its way up the Portet d’Aspet, 2005

At the top of the Col de Portet d’Aspet. Several of us got there really early to park the van (before dark) and spent the morning making signs to show our support. My other clients rode their bikes up and met us to watch the stage.

People were really, really into this man and his girlfriend Sheryl! In 2005, everywhere we went, you could hear All I Want to Do is Have Some Fun blaring on the speakers.

Lance leading the Discovery paceline at the Team Time Trial,
in Tours in the Loire Valley, 2005

Yes, we are Tour de France geeks with our free schwag from the publicity caravan.
Loire Valley 2005

With another group at the 2007 Tour de France at the top of the
Col de la Colombiere in the Alpes

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