Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: lance armstrong


This is a post I wrote exactly one year ago from now. I am not sure why I did not publish it then. It clearly inspired me to take up some more serious cycling in the following months. I will share it now that my bike is getting rusty again. Perhaps it will wake my spirit up to some new competitions.


In December I bought a card game that features thirty of the greatest cyclists of all time and gives them somehow objectionable ratings on different aspects of their character. Before returning home for Christmas I started playing the game with Dani and the question arose: what, exactly, is panache? We looked it up and found that it means elegance, courage, style, verve. I liked the adjective and started throwing it into random conversations, often as a joke.

Part II: Lance Armstrong – again

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time will know that there is one recurring topic here. And yes, here we go again: during the Christmas vacation I spent time watching a few more documentaries on my old obsession. Not only that: I watched interviews and short clips about some of the other characters of this epic – meant in the literal, ancient Greek sense of the word – tale. There is the simple man who fell from grace; the lesser man who betrayed, threatened, and begged; and there are a few wise men, who seem to be able to reckon what is right and what is wrong. There are many other fascinating characters – the evil doctor, the famous girlfriend, the evasive team director to mention just a few – but I am not going to talk about them now. This period of my life I have been fascinated by one wise man who appears in Lance Armstrong’s story. Until a month ago I did not know him well – at all. And the more I learnt, the more I liked this man. This is what I know now about him. His name is Greg LeMond.

Part III: Greg LeMond
(large parts of this section are taken from a variety of pages online, including wikipedia)

Greg LeMond was born in Lakewood and raised in Washoe Valley, which is a ranch country on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. LeMond was a standout amateur rider. He turned professional in 1981 and in 1983 he won the World Championship outright, becoming the first American rider to do so. LeMond rode his first Tour de France in 1984, finishing third in support of team leader Laurent Fignon.

The following year he was brought across to La Vie Claire to ride in support of team captain Bernard Hinault who was attempting to win his fifth Tour. In the race Hinault led through the early mountain stages, but suffered a crash and came into difficulty. At this point it was clear that LeMond was an elite rider capable of winning the Tour in his own right. The injured Hinault was vulnerable, and his competitors knew it. At stage 17, which included three major climbs in the Pyrenees, LeMond followed Stephen Roche in an attack, but was not given permission to help build on the gap over the field. The managers of his La Vie Claire team ordered LeMond to sit on his wheel, a tactic to use the rider in front as cover for wind resistance so the following rider uses less energy. At the end of the stage LeMond was frustrated to the point of tears. He later revealed that team management and his own coach Paul Köchli had misled him as to how far back Hinault had dropped during the stage.. Hinault won the 1985 Tour, with LeMond riding as a dutiful lieutenant finishing second, 1:42 behind. As a repayment for his sacrifice Hinault promised to help LeMond win the Tour the following year.

However, Hinault’s support seemed less certain the closer the race approached. LeMond had bad luck during the fist stages, having suffered punctured tires and bicycle changes and slipped to the second stage behind Hinault. By the end of Stage 12, Hinault had a five-minute lead over LeMond and the other top riders. By Stage 17 LeMond has managed to fill the gap, dropping Hinault in four consecutive stages and pulling on the yellow jersey of race leader. The following day in the Alps saw Hinault attack again early on the first climb, but he was pulled back. Attempting an escape on the descent, he was unable to separate himself from LeMond. As they ascended up the next col they continued to pull away from the field, and maintained the gap as they reached the base of the final climb, the vaunted Alpe d’Huez. They pressed on through the crowd, ascending the twenty-one switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez and reaching the summit together. LeMond put an arm around Hinault and gave him a smile and the stage win in a show of unity.

But the infighting was not over. Hinault attacked again on Stage 19 and had to be brought back by teammates Andy Hampsten and Steve Bauer. Commenting on the team situation prior to the final individual time trial at Stage 20, LeMond offered the following with a wry smile: “He’s attacked me from the beginning of the Tour De France. He’s never helped me once, and I don’t feel confident at all with him.” LeMond would keep the yellow jersey to the end of the race and win his first Tour, but he felt betrayed by Hinault and the La Vie Claire team leadership. LeMond later stated the 1986 Tour was the most difficult and stressful race of his career.

LeMond had planned to defend his title in the 1987 Tour de France with La Vie Claire, but he was unable to participate because he was shot during a session of turkey hunting. The facts went as follows. LeMond was resting before the Tour in a ranch co owned by his father in Lincoln, California, together with Rodney Barber and Patrick Blades, his uncle and brother-in-law. The trio had become separated when Blades, who heard movement behind him, turned and fired through a bush. The movement had come from LeMond, who was hit in his back and right side with a devastating blast of approximately 60 No. 2-sized pellets. LeMond’s injuries were life-threatening, but fortunately, a police helicopter was already airborne near the scene and transported LeMond on a 15-minute air medical flight to the Medical Center at University of California-Davis. LeMond was taken for emergency surgery. He had suffered a pneumothorax to his right lung and extensive bleeding, having lost some 65 percent of his blood volume. A physician informed LeMond later that he had been within 20 minutes of bleeding to death. The events effectively ended his 1987 and 1988 seasons.

After struggling in the 1989 Paris–Nice early-season race and failing to improve his condition, LeMond informed his wife Kathy that he intended to retire from professional cycling after the 1989 Tour de France. He had some flashes of form in the Giro d’Italia’s final 53 km (33 mi) individual time trial into Florence. LeMond placed a surpising second there, more than a minute ahead of overall winner Laurent Fignon. However, at the start of the Tour de France LeMond was not considered a contender for the general classification. His own most optimistic hope was to finish his final Tour in the top 20. Without the weight of expectation and other pressures of being a Tour favorite, LeMond surprised observers with a strong ride in the 7.8 km (4.8 mi) prologue in Luxembourg, finishing fourth out of 198 riders. Buoyed by the result, LeMond continued to ride well over the opening flat stages, winning the 73 km (45 mi) stage 5 individual time trial, and gaining the yellow jersey of race leader for the first time in three years.  LeMond remained at the front of the race in the Pyrénées, but lost the lead to his former teammate and rival Laurent Fignon on stage 10 in Superbagnères. After a fierce fight on the mountains, with the yellow jersey quickly passing from one to the other, Fignon held a 50-second advantage over LeMond going into the 21st and final stage, a rare 24.5 km (15.2 mi) individual time trial from Versailles to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Fignon had won the Tour twice before, in 1983 and 1984, and was a very capable time trialist. It seemed improbable that LeMond could take 50 seconds off Fignon over the short course. Le Monde rode the time trial with a rear disc wheel, a cut-down Giro aero helmet and the same Scott clip-on aero bars which had helped him to the Stage 5 time trial win. Instructing his support car not to give him his split times, LeMond rode flat-out and finished at a record pace to beat Fignon by 8 seconds and claim his second Tour de France victory. The final margin of victory of eight seconds was the closest in the Tour’s history.

LeMond’s return to the pinnacle of cycling was confirmed on August 27, when he won the 259 km (161 mi) World Championships road race in Chambéry, France, defeating Fignon again and edging Dimitri Konyshev and Sean Kelly on the line. The next year Le Mond won the Tour de France again, though in a less spectacular fashion than 1989. But then his conditions deteriorated. LeMond acknowledged that the increasing prevalence of doping contributed to his lack of competitiveness. Said LeMond: “Something had changed in cycling. The speeds were faster and riders that I had easily out performed were now dropping me”. Nonetheless, LeMond said there was something more, related to his body not functioning as it would have before. “I figure I had three months that went right for me after the hunting accident,” three months in which he won the two Tours and a world road race championship. “The rest were just pure suffering, struggling, fatigue, always tired.”

After retiring from cycling, LeMond founded LeMond Bicycles, invested in real estate, and opened a restaurant. He received intense criticism in 2001 when he publicly expressed doubts about the legitimacy of Lance Armstrong’s Tour success after learning of his relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari. His outspokenness placed him in the center of the anti-doping controversy. Trek, the longtime manufacturer and distributor of LeMond Racing Cycles, had threatened to end the relationship at the behest of Armstrong. He described the two years following the forced apology as the worst in his life, marked by self-destructive behavior that ultimately led him to disclose his sexual abuse to his wife and seek help.

In 2007 Floyd Landis called him in August to ask why the former Tour champ had been so publicly vocal in the days after it was reported that Landis’s A sample from stage 17 of the Tour had tested positive for synthetic testosterone. LeMond made numerous TV appearances in the aftermath, and spoke in general terms about why he thought Landis should come clean if he had in fact doped at the 2006 Tour de France. “At first, I didn’t believe it was him,” said LeMond during direct questioning from USADA attorney Matt Barnett. “I was shocked he was calling me only because I thought it was a prank phone call. I confirmed it was really him and he asked why I would be making these public comments.” LeMond explained that he told Landis that if he did have a positive that it was a devastating thing for the sport. “I was very clear that I didn’t judge that he did or didn’t because the B sample wasn’t positive at the time,” LeMond continued, adding that he told Landis that he could “single handedly salvage the sport” by “[coming] clean.”Landis, according to LeMond, responded, “What good would it do?” then added that if he did “it would destroy a lot of my friends and hurt a lot of people.” LeMond went on to reveal that he told Landis that keeping dark secrets can ruin one’s life, then relayed his own story of being sexually abused as a child, a story LeMond said he had shared with only a few people and never talked about publicly until Thursday. “I was sexually abused before I got into cycling it nearly destroyed me,” LeMond said, adding he told Landis that he should come clean because, “This will come back to haunt you when you are 40 or 50…this will destroy you.

The drama continued on the eve of LeMond’s testimony, when LeMond received a phone call from a mysterious caller, who identified himself only as “Uncle Ron.” LeMond said he was perplexed at first, but that changed to concern when the caller made direct references to the conversation about sexual abuse that he had with Landis last August.“He said ‘Hi Greg, this is your uncle. This is your uncle Ron and I’m going to be there tomorrow,’” LeMond recalled. “I said, ‘Who is this?’ He said, ‘I’m going to be there and we can talk about how we used to hide your weenie.’ I got the picture right away that there are very few people who know about that. I figured this was intimidation.” The three-time Tour champ said the caller then hung up, and when LeMond redialed he got a voicemail message identifying the call recipient as “Will.” LeMond said he tried calling back three more times, finally getting an answer from someone who identified himself only as “Bill.” The conversation was inconclusive, so LeMond hung up and then called the police. A subsequent check of the number saved on LeMond’s mobile phone showed that it belonged to Landis’s business manager Will Geoghegan. Undeterred, LeMond took the stand and testified, before admitting to the world that he had been molested.

That initial sense of freedom

Everybody has her/his own obsession. Some people are obsessed with power; others are obsessed with death; others are obsessed with money. i am obsessed with Lance Armstrong, because he represents all of the above. This is going to be my eighth post about him in less than four years, so much so that I am starting to think that I should create a Lance sub-category on this blog.

This time I am writing Lance because of a new movie, The Program, which is out in the cinemas now. Oddly, however, I am going to write about another, slightly older movie on the topic. If you read The Guardian‘s review, you will be told that Stephen Frears’s feature “pedals hard enough but comes second to Alex Gibney’s 2013 documentary on the subject“. I have watched the Gibney’s documentary a few months ago and after watching this new movie I watched it again – and again. I would include it among the best documentaries I ever stumbled upon, but this might have something to do with my own obsession for the subject.

Regardless of that, however, there are some bits of the movie I could highly reccommed. Not only to fellow cycling fans – my dad, Giallu, Niccolò, Alvise – but to everybody with a taste for sweet things in life, really. Even those for are not into cycling at all might appreciate the poetry that is occasionally provided in it, even that coming from an evil mind like Lance’s – the title of this post is a tribute to this part of the movie. More generally, however, I managed to find at least three reasons why The Armstrong Lie (the title is probably the only thing of the movie that comes short of creativity) is a great piece of cinema:

  1. the soundtrack – there are some bits of the movie that are among the sweetest and most exciting things I have seen in the last few years. For instance, the one-minute sequence with the peloton riding under pouring rain at the Tour of California as a melancholic Long Way Home adds the sense of misery the whole situation. Or the two-minute attack of Alberto Contador accompanied by Letra del Viento that gains pace as Contador’s domination of Armstrong becomes clearer and neater.
  2. the behind-the-scenes – it is almost unbelievable how big of an access to what we usually do not see Alex Gibney was provided with. Thanks to that, we can now see Lance Armstrong in some private moments – at home, taking anti-drugs tests; or just after a race, discussing the state of art of the completion he is taking part in – but we can also watch some other characters in their full exposure – the director of Armstrong’s team, Johan Bruyneel, swearing at Contador as he indirectly attacks teammate Armstrong.
  3. the self-critique of the narrator – Gibney explains how he, as I did, had a genuine despise for Armstrong’s approach to sports and was long convinced of his use of banned substances. But as the movie proceeds, he reckons a growing attachment to the old-pro, due to his immense charisma and dominating personality.

As I already wrote a few times before, the Armstrong story is not simply about a champion or a cheat. It is about good, evil, power, death, betrayal, and it is so fascinating that I will probably keep writing about it for quite some time.

Addendum: a charming character who appears in The Armstrong Lie is his former teammate (check out the funny picture at the beginning of this article) and current manager of the Cannondale-Garmin professional cycling team Jonathan Vaughters. The guy is one of the smartest riders around, has a witty sense of humour, and is a dandy. A few years ago he wrote a compelling article on the use of doping for The New York Times.

It really isn’t about the bike

“Wheelmen” is available as for today, October 15th. In Italian, the title is “Il Texano dagli occhi di ghiaccio”, “The cold-eyed Texan”. It is a biography of Lance Armstrong, one of those persons who deeply fascinates me. He is a contemporary mythological character, a Nietzschan hero, a living tragedy. In his story you can find everything: brashness, arrogance, dedication, death, survival, redemption, holiness, competitiveness, glory, domination, betrayal, collapse, hell again. For many, he has been the enlightening symbol of how you can transform yourself in a global sporting icon and the living image of fight against cancer. What will remain of it, at the end, is a disturbed, amoral, cynical personality who took no prisoners to protect his devastating lifestyle.

lance armstrong, wheelmen

Armstrong’s hagiographical book “It’s Not About the Bike” was written after cancer and the first victories in the Tour. This new biography is the final tragic destruction of his public image. It really isn’t about the bike. It is about life, and what happens when enigmatic genius breaks loose from the strictures of morality.

It’s not about the bike

What I think of Lance Armstrong today is exactly the same as what I thought time ago. He is a patronizing man, of of the strongest personalities I have ever seen, and he certainly expresses the worst part of the American way of life. But he is also a fascinating character and I would recommend everybody to read his books.

Oh, shit that’s not good – again

Here’s what I already wrote about Lance Armstrong. Tonight and tomorrow, from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET/PT, I will try to watch his interview with Oprah Winfrey online here. Or maybe I will just go to sleep and watch the interview tomorrow on Italian TV.

Oh, shit that’’s not good

Last night I read the 202-page USADA’s report on Lance Armstrong’s drug use. I collected the most impressive excerpts.

In 1998 Jonny Weltz was the team director and Pedro Celaya the principal team doctor for the U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team. Riders on the team were using performance enhancing substances including EPO, testosterone, human growth hormone and cortisone as confirmed by team employee Emma O’’Reilly, and riders Frankie Andreu, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie and Jonathan Vaughters. The staff was clearly part of the doping operation. Frequently these drugs were administered by Dr. Celaya. Jonathan Vaughters recalls that Dr. Celaya would openly pass out EPO to team members. Emma O’’Reilly recalls being asked to transport testosterone by a fellow team employee. Armstrong also required O’’Reilly to dispose of used syringes following the Tour of the Netherlands. One of the most memorable events that year was the Festina Doping Scandal at the Tour de France. The Festina incident set the typically calm and affable Dr. Celaya on edge, and on the day of the second time trial, in a panic over a possible police raid, Dr. Celaya flushed tens of thousands of dollars of performance enhancing drugs down the toilet of the team’’s camper during the race.

pp. 16 – 17

One evening while Vaugthers was in Armstrong’’s room borrowing Armstrong’’s laptop Armstrong injected himself in front of Vaughters with a syringe used for EPO injections, saying ““[n]ow that you are doing EPO too, you can’’t go write a book about it.”” From that point forward Armstrong was open with Vaughters about Armstrong’’s use of EPO.

pp. 17 – 18

The 1999 Tour de France was conducted from July 3-25. Hoping to put behind the Festina doping scandal of 1998, Tour organizers had dubbed the 1999 version, the ““Tour of Renewal.”” Before the Tour there was to be a public weigh in attended by the media. Frankie Andreu noticed bruising on Armstrong’’s upper arm caused by a syringe. He pointed it out to Lance who exclaimed, ““Oh, shit that’’s not good.”” Emma O’’Reilly was able to procure some makeup that was used to cover up the bruise, and Armstrong participated in the weigh in with no one else noticing the bruising.

p. 31

John Bruyneel came to Tyler Hamilton following the 2000 Dauphiné Libéré won by Hamilton. Bruyneel explained the need for a new doping strategy. He said that five hundred cc’’s of blood would be withdrawn from each of the riders to be reinfused the following month during the Tour de France.The blood extraction was to be performed in Valencia, Spain, the hometown of Dr. del Moral and Pepe Marti. As a consequence, shortly after the Dauphiné, Armstrong, Hamilton and Livingston boarded a private jet in Nice to fly to Valencia. Upon arriving in Valencia the riders were driven to a hotel where the blood extraction would be performed. Bruyneel, Michele Ferrari, Dr. del Moral and Pepe Marti were all present for the extraction process, while Ferrari and del Moral supervised the extraction process. The riders were told that Marti and del Moral would be responsible for reinfusing the blood during the Tour.

pp. 38 – 39

The 2001 Tour du Suisse (Tour of Switzerland) was conducted from June 19 –– 28, 2001 and was won by Lance Armstrong. Armstrong told both Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis that he had tested positive for EPO at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland and stated or implied that he had been able to make the EPO test result go away.Armstrong’’s conversation with Hamilton was in 2001, and he told Hamilton ““his people had been in touch with UCI, they were going to have a meeting and everything was going to be ok.””Armstrong’’s conversation with Landis was in 2002, and Landis recalled Armstrong saying that, ““he and Mr. Bruyneel flew to the UCI headquarters and made a financial agreement to keep the positive test hidden.” Consistent with the testimony of both Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Landis, Pat McQuaid, the current president of UCI, has acknowledged that during 2002, Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel visited the UCI headquarters in Aigle in May 2002 and offered at least $100,000 to help the development of cycling.

p. 51

Zabriskie had recently shown success in the early season Four Days of Dunkirk, a four day stage race in which he had finished in a surprising fifth place.The result, accomplished from May 7-11, placed him in front of some well known racers at the time, men like Richard Virenque, Nicolas Jalabert and Laurent Brochard. Zabriskie had been warmly congratulated by the assistant team director and perhaps sensed that Bruyneel might have important plans for him.Bruyneel was respected by Zabriskie whose father had died a few years before, his life shortened by drug addiction.Zabriskie had sought refuge in cycling.Long hard training rides were cathartic and provided an escape from the difficult home life associated with a parent with an addiction.He had vowed never to give in to the temptation to use, never to end up like his father, furtively using drugs to feed his dependency and eroding his physical health.The group met at or near a café, and the conversation proceeded in English. Bruyneel got right to the point.He and del Moral had brought two injectable products for Zabriskie and Barry, something known as ““recovery”” and the banned oxygen booster, erythropoietin (known as ““EPO””).Zabriskie was shocked. This was the beginning of David’’s third year on the team and he had not realized he would be required to dope.He realized, of course, that some cyclists in the peloton and likely some teammates fueled their success with banned substances.However, until now he had been largely shielded from the reality of drug use on the U.S. Postal Service Team. Zabriskie began to ask questions.He was fearful of the health implications of using EPO, and he had a slew of questions: would he be able to have children? would it cause any physical changes? Would he grow larger ears?The questions continued. Bruyneel responded, ““everyone is doing it.”” Bruyneel assured that if EPO was dangerous no professional cyclists would be having kids. David was cornered.He had embraced cycling to escape a life seared by drugs and now he felt that he could not say no and stay in his mentor’’s good graces.He looked to Barry for support but he did not find it. Barry’’s mind was made up.Barry had decided to use EPO, and he reinforced Bruyneel’’s opinions that EPO use was required for success in the peloton. The group retired to Barry’’s apartment where both David and Barry were injected with EPO by Dr. del Moral.Thus began a new stage in David Zabriskie’’s cycling career –– the doping stage. Cycling was no longer David’’s refuge from drugs. When he went back to his room that night he cried.

pp. 112 – 114

As set forth in the affidavit of Tyler Hamilton, after Mr. Hamilton had testified about Mr. Armstrong’’s doping and after Mr. Hamilton’’s cooperation with federal law enforcement officials had been publicly reported, on June 11, 2011, Mr. Hamilton was physically accosted by Mr. Armstrong in an Aspen, Colorado restaurant.Mr. Hamilton has testified that in connection with this altercation Mr. Armstrong said, ““When you’’re on the witness stand, we are going to fucking tear you apart. You are going to look like a fucking idiot.””Hamilton further testified that Armstrong said, ““I’’m going to make your life a living . . . fucking . . . hell.””Mr. Armstrong’’s statements and actions plainly constitute an act of attempted witness intimidation.

p. 150

Get real

Media are going nuts for the report that proves that Lance Armstrong implemented “the most sophisticated doping program in recent sports history”. Italian journalists now call Armstrong the single biggest liar in the history of sport.

I was a baby when Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France in 1999. I knew straight away he was using doping. It did not take a genius. This guy was going twice as fast as the other riders. In seven years at the Tour de France he never had a single crisis. Anyone who rode a road bike in his life knows this is not human. Everybody in the world of professional cycling must have known, or at least suspected since the very beginning that this guy from Texas was as doped as a horse could possibly be.

And you even pretend to look shocked now? Get real and shut up. If there was a time to speak, it was 13 years ago. By then, very few journalists dared attacking the winning horse. It is too easy doing now when the horse is bleeding.