Friday, April 23, 2010

UPDATED: LeMond was clean; maybe Ullrich could have been, too?

"...I do find LeMond's recollection of the doping going on at the time, and his purported naivete, to be selective and a bit embellished via the passing of time. Guys all around him were on speed, horse steroids, etc., and he (of perfect French) maintains a sort of "I had no idea what they were talking about, I was just a simple kid from Nevada" type of answer when pressed.

Nonetheless, his performance truly degraded once EPO got a foothold, and he seemingly missed that train and subsequently retired, as the sport boosted past. That era slammed shut like a collapsed vein..."


Writing here, my intent isn't to put words into the mouth of Greg LeMond, so to speak, but rather, to share my understanding of LeMond's knowledge of what was going on around him at various points in my career, based on quotes attributed to him in print and from our own discussions...these are personal opinions and beliefs - not absolute truth.

That said, I believe that LeMond's awareness of doping is far more nuanced than that of a "simple kid from Nevada." Perhaps at the beginning of his career he had limited knowledge of the full menu of PED's in-use at the time, but in the final years he was certainly aware of what was being done. In fact, it formed the basis for his decision to retire - the realization that, regardless of the degree to which he thought his own condition was hampered by effects of the hunting accident (something he'd give less emphasis to a decade after leaving the sport), there was undoubtedly sophisticated, dangerous doping going on all-around him, and it allowed previously anonymous riders - like Chiappucci - to become pseudo-thoroughbreds.


I don't think I'm breaking any confidence in saying that in the present day, LeMond exhibits a clear retrospective understanding of what was happening around him during the 91-94 years.

For the record, I think Armstrong was an equally gifted and driven rider - though one of different (one-day) qualities. Just as he was a teenage triathlete phenom, beating the best pros of the era when he was just a punk from Texas, LeMond was a miracle of nature crafted by some higher power to be the best natural stage racer of the times. I don't have a copy of LeMond's "Complete Book of Bicycling" or I'd be able to quote the incident exactly, but as a teenager sick with the flu or something, I believe he was the equal of the US's best elite rider of the time, John Howard.

Actually, according to Men's Journal, "In a tough race up Mount Tamalpais, outside San Francisco, 15-year-old Greg placed second only to the great George Mount, who’d finished sixth a few months earlier in the 1976 Olympics."

Class.

The rider you are when you're 19 or 20, is the rider you'll be when you're 28, 29, 30...thus, someone destined to win the Tour at the peak of their career will be competitive in - or at least show his aptitude for - that event and ones like it, from earliest days. So, again, we see LeMond win the Dauphine in '83, then third in the Tour in '84, second in '85, and finally first in '86 (aged 25). Likewise, Fignon, born in 1960, wins the Tour in 1983 and '84, and took 7th in '87, the next year he'd finished the race.

Contrast that with Armstrong, who - while capable of winning a stage in 1993 during his first crack at the Tour - was anonymous as a GC hopeful. Armstrong's own teammate, Phil Anderson (himself no slouch as a pro - 5th in the '82 Tour at age 24 and 5th again in '85), is on record saying, "He was a one-day rider. I thought he could never, ever, win the Tour de France. Even he wouldn't have thought he could have won the Tour. He couldn't climb and he couldn't time trial, two things you have to do to win the Tour."

It's not like it takes rocket science to figure out who is going to be good at the world's toughest multi-day bike race...contenders can spot future competitors and threats based on their own experiences and observations.

Why do you think that so many people were incredulous at the thought of Bjarne Riis being the dominant Tour rider in '96 after having been completely ordinary in '89 and '91, when he was 95th and 107th overall, respectively? Oh snap! On May 25, 2007, Riis issued a press release stating that he had made "mistakes" in the past, upon which he elaborated in a press conference, where he confessed to taking EPO, growth hormone and cortisone for five years, from 1993 to 1998, including during his victory in the 1996 Tour de France. Without EPO, Bjarne = capable professional but anonymous GT rider, barely cracking the top-100 in the Tour in '89 while LeMond was plying his trade as the greatest GT rider of the modern era, and a meager 107th in '91 - as Greg still delivered a top-10 overall (7th). Ahhh, but with EPO, the Great Dane finished 5th in 1993, 14th in 1994, and 3rd in 1995, before being 'Champion' in 1996.

In an EPO/blood-transfusion-free-world, you're born capable of winning the Tour, or you're not. L.A. was not. But he was born to be a great pro. Just not a GT contender. Maybe his ego couldn't suffer knowing that he would never match LeMond in the "World's Most Important Bike Race." Who knows. Who cares? While Roche and Delgado both doped, neither needed the kind of program followed by riders like Riis, and probably also by Pantani, Armstrong, and even Indurain - riders who were not naturally capable of winning GT's, but who, with the right medical program, could realize an extra 5-10% of sustainable power output that was enough to give a margin of victory over a three-week race (augmented by the decreased recovery periods supposedly seen in EPO-boosted athletes).

What's that? Am I saying that I believe it highly likely that Indurain doped? Yes, I believe he most likely did, though that is merely my opinion and I have no direct knowledge of any illicit activities on the part of the man from Pamplona. But, his Tour pedigree is as suspicious as Riis's, and its elevation dovetails with the introduction of EPO into the European peloton:

1985: Withdrew, 4th stage
1986: Withdrew, 8th stage
1987: 97th
1988: 47th
1989: 17th
1990: 10th
1990: 1st


Banesto's own Thomas Davy testified under oath that during his tenure with the squad (1995-6), there was an organized doping program that included EPO. "In Banesto," he said, "There was a system of doping with medical  supervision." Clearly that is not a charge or accusation against Indurain, but it's hard-to-ignore circumstantial evidence.

Paradoxically, Jan Ullrich, confirmed as a client of Operation Puerto's Dr. Fuentes through the DNA matching of nine bags of stored blood, may have been a LeMond-like natural talent, but he had the misfortune (from the perspective of one who might value the opportunity to compete, and win, in professional cycling without having to manipulate one's own blood) to enter the pro ranks at the height of the EPO epidemic, and to debut in the Tour in 1996 at the side of an incredibly-successful doper, while later having to compete against the most successful doping cyclist of all-time: L.A.

[Funny aside: I didn't know that The Onion weighed-in on Ullrich's trust issues with blood.]

At 1993, at age 19, Ullrich won the World Championship as an amateur (you should watch the finish here - I'd never seen the footage before, either...probably the best quote by a commentator that I've ever heard: "He's got a teammate up in front so why the hell should he work at all?!" - regarding a Latvian in the break with Ullrich and several others).



Jan was 3rd in the time trial at World's in '94 behind Chris Boardman and the thoroughly anonymous Andrea Chiurato of Italy.

In 1995, while still only a 21 year-old, Ullrich became the elite German national time trial champion. That's elite, not U23...

From 1996 onward, well, it's all history (and innuendo, accusation, claim, counter-claim, denial, blah blah blah...)

LeMond = clean, dope-free, natural talent and class

L.A. = naturally talented professional cyclist and apparent sociopath, so motivated to win the Tour de France and enshrine himself in the pantheon of cycling greats at the expense of his competitors - and compatriots - that he purportedly threatened to generate false accusations of EPO-use against Greg LeMond in order to stanch his criticism of the Texan's association with Dr. Michele Ferrari - accused by Filippo Simeoni of managing his doping program.


I'll give L.A. credit for protecting himself by linking the fortunes of so many individuals and organizations to his own fate, thereby creating a determined network of defenders. I think it highly likely possible, however, that someone in his inner circle will break the omertà eventually, however, and he'll may be a big enough name not to be marginalized. Who this courageous individual might be, I dare not do not know and will not speculate, but he is may be out there, waiting.

UPDATED (4/26): 

9 comments:

  1. I think this is a spot on analysis. Nice job.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anon, thanks for the feedback!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Since (for sure) you probably know about it more than most of us, I have to agree with your thoughts. That being said, I dont think anyone other than Johan had direct access/knowledge. Thats why Flandis couldnt say anything because he got nothing in his hands and "knowledge" is not enough for a legal battle.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Jancouver.

    Firstly, thanks for the comments. Secondly, by access/knowledge do you mean physical proof, like the Leogrande photographs? Thirdly, I just re-read what I wrote and I didn't see a line in which I predict who I think will be the next ex-teammate of the Lance to admit to performance enhancement using prohibited means or substances, following Steven Swart and Frankie Andreu. (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/12/sports/othersports/12cycling.html - see my next comment for full text of article)

    But back to the present - let me clarify for all readers that I don't have any reason to think that any one of the riders who raced w/ the Texan is more likely than another to admit to his own doping, and by extension, implicate L.A. Granted, there is a limited set of names one could choose from, but please don't infer that I am encouraging or predicting that someone specific is going to own-up to what he did. For all I know, Christian Vande Velde could be the next Frankie Andreu.

    All that said, there is a quote from "Lance Armstrong's War: One Man's Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France"-author Daniel Coyle, in response to a question from Booknoise.net that is worth pondering right now:

    Booknoise: What’s Armstrong’s relationship with his team?

    Coyle: If there’s anybody he watches closer than his rivals, it’s his teammates. Especially since Armstrong is part-owner of Tailwind Sports, the for-profit company that manages the team—he is literally paying their salaries. Like a good boss, Armstrong is a great motivator and rewards those who do good work. But as his teammates know all too well, if they don’t do their job, they’re out. Dead Man’s Rules, they call it. Friendship comes second—and they all know it. As his ex-teammate Floyd Landis says, everyone is a scared of Lance. If you’re not, you haven’t been paying attention.

    --source: http://www.booknoise.net/armstrong/qanda.html

    I don't know if FL said that or not, but no one should fear speaking the truth, if the alternative is living a life in which a significant component of your identity is built around a lie. Just look to Betsy Andreu for an example of someone who shrugged-off the worst L.A. could throw at her and told the truth because it was simply the right thing to do (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5508863). And Erik Zabel and Bjarne Riis are both examples of (now-retired) athletes who admitted to unethical behavior in pursuit of fraudulent results without being drummed out of cycling.

    ReplyDelete
  5. 2 Ex-Teammates of Cycling Star Admit Drug Use
    By JULIET MACUR
    Two of Lance Armstrong’s eight teammates from the 1999 Tour de France have admitted for the first time that they used the banned endurance-boosting drug EPO in preparing for the race that year, when they helped Armstrong capture the first of his record seven titles.
    Their disclosures, in interviews with The New York Times, are rare examples of candor in a sport protected by a powerful code of silence. The confessions come as cycling is reeling from doping scandals, including Floyd Landis’s fall in July from Tour champion to suspected cheat.
    One of the two teammates who admitted using EPO while on Armstrong’s United States Postal Service team is Frankie Andreu, a 39-year-old retired team captain who had been part of Armstrong’s inner circle for more than a decade. In an interview at his home in Dearborn, Mich., Andreu said that he took EPO for only a few races and that he was acknowledging his use now because he thought doping was damaging his sport. Continued doping and denial by riders may scare away fans and sponsors for good, he said.
    “There are two levels of guys,” Andreu said. “You got the guys that cheat and guys that are just trying to survive.”
    The other rider who said he used EPO spoke on condition of anonymity because he said he did not want to jeopardize his job in cycling...

    ReplyDelete
  6. If Frankie Andreu coming clean didn't bring suspicion down on Armstrong, Landis admitting to cheating - when most of the world already understands that he did - isn't going to do anything. Besides, I don't think he has any motivation to spit in the soup. Lance would just say he was a washed-up loser anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You wrote that Roche and Delgado both doped. I imagine that it's very likely that this is true, however, you state it is as fact rather than speculation. I'm just wondering if either has actually admitted this, tested positive or is it mere speculation?

    ReplyDelete
  8. As a 40 years competitive cyclist, at age 18 in Princeton,NJ for the junior worlds tryout for the US team, this 16 year old kid rode away from us to win the 1st trials race. Being a marked man in the next qualifier, he did it AGAIN! And he was too young to go to Europe to represent our country. I asked his name and noone there on the east coast haqd ever heard of him. I never forgot who he was and what he did. I Knew he was destined for greatness as the best 18 year old in the US got their butts kicked by a shy 16 year old from Nevada. To this day I still call him a friend.
    Ronnie the Rocket

    ReplyDelete
  9. "as a teenager sick with the flu or something, I believe he was the equal of the US's best elite rider of the time, John Howard."

    I don't know about the sickness, but GL lost the 1978 Tour of Fresno GC to Howard only because he was spun out in strong tailwind using his junior gears on the return leg of the TT.

    ReplyDelete

Pappillon welcomes your comments and encourages your participation. However, in commenting, you agree that you will not:1) Post material that infringes on the rights of any third party, including intellectual property, privacy or publicity rights. 2) Post material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, threatening, harassing, abusive, slanderous, hateful, or embarrassing to any other person or entity as determined by Pappillon in its sole discretion. 3) Impersonate another person.