In Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, The Tour de France and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever, investigative journalists Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell reveal the full extent of professional cycling’s culture of cheating, corruption, and doping.
The biggest revelation from Wheelmen broke last week: Sheryl Crow witnessing then-boyfriend Lance Armstrong doping. However, Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell uncovered plenty more shocking details about the full extent of Armstrong’s drug use as well as the many people and institutions that helped him.
Kristin Richard Coordinated Doping
Armstrong never hid his doping from the (many) women in his life. His first wife, Kristin Richard, distributed cortisone tablets to the USPS Cycling team and stored Lance’s EPO in their refrigerator. If Armstrong told her to throw out the “butter,” that meant the French Police were coming, and the illegal drugs needed to disappear. When she and Armstrong divorced, she signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of a $15 million settlement.
The Bad Boy of Cycling
Lance Armstrong was a notorious lothario; his teammates dubbed him FedEx, because the company’s slogan “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” described his outsized appetite for podium girls, female fans, and cycling groupies—even during his marriage. His teammate Floyd Landis—a Mennonite so straitlaced he disliked wearing spandex—remembers one night out during training camp where Armstrong ended the night in a private room of a strip club with two naked dancers and a pile of “what looked like cocaine.”
Greg Lemond vs. Lance Armstrong
Greg LeMond has always had a contentious relationship with Armstrong, whom he believed was doping from the very beginning. Armstrong, in turn, would always resist comparisons to the three-time champion, and once called him a “fat ass.” When LeMond expressed disappointment that Armstong was working with the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari, Armstrong threatened to ruin LeMond’s reputation. Jeff Garvey, a longtime friend of both men, resigned as president of the Lance Armstrong Foundation because attacks on the character of the retired cyclist were such routine part of the corporate culture.
UCI and a Culture of Cheating
Armstrong’s rampant cheating was facilitated by the very body that was supposed to be policing him: Union Cycliste Internationale. Kathy Lemond testified that in 1999, Armstrong’s sponsor Nike paid off UCI president Hein Verbruggen to cover up a positive test. Armstrong then tested positive for the banned substance EPO two years later, but again bribed UCI into silence. This was a matter of routine in a sport with a culture of collusion and cheating. Armstrong once gave a competing cycling team $50,000 to ensure he would win a race and net nearly $1 million in winnings. During the 2006 Tour, he offered a $20,000 bounty to any rider who could ensure that Floyd Landis—now racing for a rival team—would not win.
The USPS Team and PEDS
Armstrong was the de facto leader of the USPS cycling team, and he was often tyrannical and abusive. He would not allow his other teammates access to the best equipment, but was insistent that every cyclist dope. He had trainer Pedro Ceylaya fired because he was too stingy with drugs, saying of Ceylaya, “he wants to take your temperature to give you even a caffeine pill.” Armstrong was also paranoid about his teammates revealing his use of banned substances; he once said to his roommate Jonathan Vaughters, “now that you are doing EPO too, you can’t go write a book about it.”
Floyd Landis was a superlative natural talent, even more so than Armstrong ever was. However, he grew increasingly disillusioned with a sport that encouraged cheating and treated any rider that wasn’t Lance Armstrong as disposable. The USPS team once forced Landis to fly to Europe within 24-hours of a hip surgery. When he landed, his leg had turned black from blood pooling, but Landis still raced in the Tour of Belgium a week later. In the middle of the 2005 Tour de France, Landis nearly died following one of the USPS’s illegal blood transfusions; he had to be secretly rushed to an emergency room.