Always more … Always further in the cheat … One could think that Lance Armstrong, deposed from his seven Tours de France (1999 to 2005) due to blood doping (EPO and transfusion), had said everything about his illicit practices, and in particular during his televised confession to Oprah Winfrey in January 2013. It was not.
In a two-part documentary broadcast on the American channel ESPN and entitled “Lance”, the Texan spoke again. And he reveals that he started doping “probably at the age of 21”, in his first season with the pros in 1992, a year before his world title in Oslo. According to him, it was then a small doping with cortisone.
He claims that he went on to take EPO, a much more powerful and effective “fuel”. “EPO was a whole new level. The performance benefits were so great that the sport went from low-end doping, which has always existed, to crazy doping. It was the decision we had to make, ”he says. He also reveals that he started working with the sulphurous doctor Michele Ferrari during the winter of 1995.
Drucker doesn’t want to overwhelm him
Despite these new confessions, some still refuse to overwhelm him. Like Michel Drucker, a bike lover. “It’s so easy to run into cyclists,” said the television man. Historically, there has been doping. One day, the singer Guy Béart, who idolized Jacques Anquetil, met him. Jacques told him that it was impossible to run as much just in clear water, as everyone knew but that the first who admitted confessed would pay it. On the way home, Guy Béart composed his famous song The first one who tells the truth, he must be executed. “
For Drucker, Armstrong deserves another treatment. “I will never take my admiration away from him!” This guy was close to death, had metastases to the brain due to his testicular cancer in 1996. He weighed only 35 kg on his hospital bed. But he got up. Humanly, he has a strength that few men have. “
However, the new American truths annoy the environment. “I don’t give a damn about his face,” pings Bernard Hinault, five successes in the Tour, and who has never digested that the Texan wants to put it in the same category of “We were all doped”. The Badger always has sharp claws. “This guy will always say everything and its opposite. He only thinks of cash. If he does his documentary, it is necessarily for business. Leave me alone with him! “
“He has a need to exist”
Exasperation and disgust are the same for Greg LeMond, three victories in the Great Loop: “I have not watched this documentary, I do not want to and have no reason to do so. I don’t want to spend my energy anymore talking about this man’s saga. “
Others do not wish to dwell. Like Richard Virenque, who lives in the Caribbean while waiting for the Covid-19 pandemic to end in mainland France. “Frankly, if I talk about Armstrong now, I’m going to be sent back to a past that no longer interests me. “Violently pinned by his former team captain who said” my life could be worse, I could be Floyd Landis and get up every morning being shit “, the ousted winner of the Tour 2007 replied soberly:” Personally, I have no more animosity towards him. I hope he will find peace with himself. “
Cyrille Guimard, the former coach of the France team, was the short-lived boss of Armstrong when the latter had signed with Cofidis in 1997, at the very moment when he was suffering from his testicular cancer. Informed of the new confessions, Guimard preferred to smile. “If I say that I fall from the cupboard, lock me in an asylum, let loose the one who won the Tour as sports director of Hinault and Fignon. From that time, there were almost only cheaters and liars. In the mid-1990s, almost 90% of the peloton was at EPO. The best teams were not the ones with the best runners but the best doctors… ”
For Guimard, the media return of Armstrong is explained by the desire to rewrite its own history. “Thugs tend to victimize themselves over time. He has a need to exist. It’s very American to say: OK I admit everything and now I’m a better person. Forgiveness sometimes helps business. “
In hollow, the output of Armstrong can also be read as the description of a platoon where everyone was cheating. With an obvious conclusion: on equal terms, the Texan was still the strongest …
“He never came close to death. It’s a complete pipe ”
A theory that does not shock Doctor Jean-Pierre de Mondenard, French sports doctor author of works on doping. “His pseudo-confessions are a non-event,” he believes. Armstrong is a thug because he built a legend about his testicular cancer. He never came close to death. It’s full pipe. However, he was the best of his time. “
For Mondenard, the outrageous domination of the leader of the US Postal has human and non-medical explanations. “He had the cash and therefore hired guys who would have been leaders in other teams and who protected him during almost all stages. Ineos, the Froome and Bernal team does not act otherwise. “
Armstrong would also have thrived in a too soft environment where he imposed his law. “There were only weak people around him,” said the doctor. As Hein Verbruggen (Editor’s note: president of the international federation between 1991 and 2005) who was fascinated by its history and dreamed through it of developing cycling in the USA. Or Jean-Marie Leblanc (Editor’s note: patron of the Tour de France between 1989 and 2006) who never cracked down on Armstrong’s dictatorial behavior in the peloton. “
A thesis shared by Cyrille Guimard. “Mentally, he was a true champion,” he adds. Where Jan Ullrich, his intrinsically stronger 2000s rival, made the trade at 30%, went to the nightclub and had 5 kg to lose before each Tour, Armstrong worked at 200%. “
Sometimes supernatural power
But did the ex-seven-time winner of the Tour really tell the truth, all “his” truth? Some still doubt it today. “He was a mediocre rider, with an average position on his bike, pings a former follower. Even taking the same products as the others, it couldn’t be better. It’s impossible. Review its rise from Sestriere in 1999, there is necessarily something. “
On this stage where Armstrong built his first success, he displayed impressive pedaling power. Is the contribution of EPO sufficient to explain this supernatural force? “There are 50 or 70 watts (Editor’s note: the power measurement unit on a bicycle) that are inexplicable, ”said Greg LeMond later on about this step.
For two years, a hypothesis has been circulating. What if the American had benefited from the help of an engine in 1999, activated at key moments in the mountain stages? It sounds crazy because no one in 1999 had heard of this technology. “It didn’t exist in my time,” said Armstrong a few years ago when faced with this suspicion.
In a book published in 2018, “Driving faster than death “, Grasset editions, the journalist Philippe Brunel (of L’Equipe) had revealed that in September 1998 the Hungarian Istvan Varjas had already developed this technology. A few months later, an anonymous buyer paid him $ 2 million to become the owner of the patent and to ensure the silence of its designer for ten years.
An engine also used in 2009 when he returned?
“After, I juxtapose the facts, I proceed by collages, by collision of images,” declared Philippe Brunel to the Parisian at the end of his book. Nothing else. I let the reader have his own opinion. These are just disturbing coincidences. No evidence. We are entitled to ask the question: How far did Armstrong lie? That’s it that’s all. But I do not accuse him. I correlate events. “
For some, the American, who had enlisted two bodyguards to permanently watch over his bikes, had found martingale: a technology then unknown, leaving no trace, unlike doping that can be detected even for years late. “I’m not an idiot and I suspect that the engine was present at one point in the peloton, says Guimard. When Armstrong returned to the Tour in 2009, yes, he had the engine. That’s why he comes back (Editor’s note: he will finish 3rd). “
Little appreciated in France, the Texan also pays to have presented himself until the end as the Cleaner of the peloton. Its public release, after its 7th Tour on July 24, 2005 still hurts the ears. “I will say to those who do not believe in cycling, cynics and skeptics: I’m sorry for you. Sorry that you don’t believe in miracles. In the Tour de France, there are no secrets, it is hard work that makes it possible to win it. “
Fifteen years later, Guimard smiles at this cheek. “It’s dictator syndrome. When you have the best runners and the best products, you develop a feeling of omnipotence and you build a false story. De Mondenard concludes: “You have to know that performance drugs have side effects. They can make you paranoid and liars. We are often the product of what we inject … ”