Open Letter

07.31.14

I Pushed the Lance Armstrong Lie: An Open Letter to Greg LeMond

After years of being overshadowed by Armstrong, cyclist Greg LeMond is the only American to have fairly won the Tour de France. I apologize for being complicit in the lies against him.

Dear Greg.

Lance won’t say it but I will. I apologize.

I believed in Lance’s lie. My wife had a very deadly form of cancer, and his story was a powerful elixir that helped us get through it. We called Annie “Lance Armstrong in a skirt.”

And then for 10 years I served on the board of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, later the Livestrong Foundation, which did—and still does—truly great and innovative work for those living with and through cancer.

But through all of those years, I was complicit in pushing the myth. And all I really knew about you was what I heard through Lance, Inc. I don’t have to tell you it was not flattering.

Well, now that the lie has been exposed, I’ve taken the time I should have taken long ago to learn more about you.

I watched ESPN’s terrific 30 For 30 documentary about you and French cyclist Bernard Hinault, Slaying the Badger. It is a remarkable account of how you ultimately won the Tour de France, but had to suffer huge indignities heaped upon you by your teammates and coaches, whose loyalties continue to lay with Hinault, who was a popular Tour winner and captain of the team, even after you had demonstrated you were clearly the stronger rider.

It is tradition in the Tour that the strongest rider is supported by the rest of the team. In 1985, you emerged as the stronger rider, but were held back to let Hinault win. So you really deserved to have won four tours.

After you won your first Tour in 1986, you miraculously survived a hunting accident that to this day has left more than 50 pellets of lead riddled throughout your body. Despite that near-death experience, two years later you won your second Tour in the closest and most miraculous finish ever, and then the next year a third. After that your strength began to fall off, but now we know that was likely exacerbated and accelerated by poisoning from the lead in your body.

And we now know that while others were artificially enhancing their strength, you refused. In fact, take away the doping, the hunting accident, and the race you gave up for Hinault, you probably would have won more Tours than any rider ever, legally or illegally.

For years your bright light was darkened by a blizzard of lies, cheating and innuendo.

I know now you suffered from sexual abuse as a child, and that you started a foundation to help others deal with the horrors of such an experience.

I met you briefly in Mexico about a year ago. We were at the same conference. You and your wife, Kathy, and a son, I believe, sat in the front row during some remarks I delivered. I had an “uh oh” moment when I saw you. But you came up to me afterward and were very gracious and kind. You did say you wanted to talk. As there was a dinner for the conference that night, I suggested we meet then.

Unfortunately, one of your children had a medical emergency and you were called away. But Kathy did show up, and for a couple of hours leaned on me pretty good. But not unfairly.

I didn’t get to talk to you that night. I hope maybe someday I will. But in the meantime, here is what I want to say to you.

You are the undisputed greatest American bike rider ever, and among the greatest cyclists of all time. But more than that, you are a Hall of Fame Survivor. First ballot. You suffered through pain, lies, humiliation, bankruptcy, embarrassment, serious injury, health problems, and more.

For years your bright light was darkened by a blizzard of lies, cheating and innuendo.

And despite all this, from all the objective accounts that I’ve now read about you, unlike Lance, you are honest, humble and kind.

For all this, and more, I say to all the people suffering with and through cancer, or any other disease or fight, if you want a role model for inspiration, you should look to a true hero, Greg LeMond.

Thanks, Greg.

Belatedly,
Mark McKinnon