After reuniting with his former US Postal Service teammates, Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie and Dylan Casey, to race in the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo mountain bike race last weekend, Lance Armstrong hosted an 80 minute podcast on his Forward show to reflect on past decisions and how they ultimately came to shape the future for him and his former Blue Train teammates.
Armstrong began his podcast by discussing the recent decision by a US district judge to move his case forward to the trial stage.
Armstrong has been embattle with his former US Postal Service teammate, Floyd Landis, in a whistleblower case that alleges the seven-time Tour de France winner orchestrated a widespread and systematic “doping” program that enlisted every member of the team’s participation.
The US Government later enjoined in Landis’ suit in an attempt to recoup monies paid out to Armstrong and his team in violation of an anti-doping agreement.
If a jury finds in favor of Landis and the US Government, Armstrong and his former race organization, Tailwind Sports, could be on the hook for $100 million.
“I was a little surprised with how widely spread the news was. That’s fine but I wanted to address a few things,” Armstrong said.
“First of all, we believe in this case from our perspective. We believe the Postal Service greatly benefitted. While the situation certainly is not perfect, I’ll be the first to admit that, we do not believe that they can go back and undo all the good that was done all of those years ago.
“I think the most important thing I want to say to y’all and to anybody who works for the Postal Service, is that I absolutely loved representing your company. I loved wearing that jersey, I loved riding around Europe, riding down the Champs Elysees, hearing our national anthem with that jersey on. It could have been any other team. It could have been a foreign team. It could have been another American team. But it was a real pleasure to represent that organisation, and I think we did great things.
“So, while I know many out there feel as if I need to be punished, severely, which is fine and your opinion, I understand that. My life hasn’t been without punishment. Some of it has been public, some of it not, but there’s been many other cases that have to be resolved, that have certainly changed the look and feel of our life, I mean myself and my family. On this one, we believe the law and the merit is on our side, so we will see it through. If you’re supportive, then thank you. If you’re not, then just know this: I get it. I understand. That’s fair.”
Armstrong continued the podcast, by answering other questions from listeners and social media.
For example, he was asked by one listener, if he could go back in time, would he still have “doped” during his career ? Armstrong, along with Casey, Vande Velde and Hincapie all shared their thoughts.
“It’s a fair question, but at 45 yeas old, do you want to go back and evaluate what you did at 22 and 25? It’s tough, so where I always end up on this is that to me, the wish that I had, was that I came into a different generation, a different era, a different environment,” Armstrong said.
“We didn’t think we were heading over to what we were heading over to. There’s been a lot of regret about the whole situation but we do not lack the regret that we stepped into the environment. Yes, we made the mistakes that we all well know but if I could change one thing, I’d say, ‘Boys, here’s our bottle of water, here’s a bag of bread, lets go.’ I’m me, and I’m biased, but I don’t think the results change, so yeah, I certainly would love … I’m not trying to opine on the current state of cycling, because I don’t know it. But of course, on a truly level playing field, I’d love to toe that line.”
Dylan Casey, who quit professional cycling after a short career to work in Silicon Valley, said his professional career taught him how to persevere.
“Sometimes I try to answer the question. Sometimes I think it’s impossible to answer it just because of what I know now,” he said.
“My story is so different because I got into cycling so late. And three years later, when I decided to do it later, I found myself on the start line of the Tour of Flanders. I didn’t even know what that race was. I just had no idea what I was getting into. Regardless of the mistakes I made, that I learned to persevere through just about anything. That’s the thing that has stick with me. So it’s difficult to say what I would or wouldn’t do. But coming away with that ability has been priceless.”
Hincapie, who generally takes a tacit approach to discussing his thoughts on the past, seemed to open up a bit more than usual during the podcast.
“I definitely agree that it was tough being thrown into that generation of cycling,” he said.
“Fortunately and unfortunately for many reasons, I was a professional cyclist for 20 years, so I can arguably say I was in a couple of different generations. But I will say with 100 per cent certainty, that I was very lucky to be part of and ridden with the best cyclists in the history of the sport in those 20 years. I mean Lance, Contador, Cadel Evans, Mark Cavendish. I saw it all.
“We talk about what happened 20 years ago, Yes, cycling was really f*cked up then. But I truly believe we saw a lot of changes, and I truly believe I was able to ride the best of the best. I do believe the sport has changed a lot since what happened 20 years ago and is definitely in a better place than it was 20 years ago. I know I made mistakes but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I know I was part of a f*cked-up generation, but at the same time, I met my wife at the 2003 Tour de France.”
Vande Velde, who now works in media, seems to have accepted the verdict of public opinion.
“I agree with what people have said.”
“I was part of Project 96 and that’s how I got a pro contract with US Postal. I like looking back even to silly things like pictures of us not wearing helmets as we rode down the Galibier at 500km/h, to also all the shit that did go down. But also as George eluded to: righting the wrongs a little bit, all the way through to 2013 and leaving (the sport) in a better place than where it was.”
Armstrong ended the podcast with greater reflection on the past and how it has served to shape the future of the sport.
He also admitted that deciding to make a comeback “opened up the whole pandora’s box.”
“I could look at the situation and ask, ‘What was the tipping point? What effected the change?'” he said. “Was it Floyd Landis testing positive in ’06? People were like ‘Wow, shit just got real.’ Losing his Tour title. Or the whereabouts program got more and more advanced and more and more funding and therefore the out-of-competition testing was better, the biological passport evolved. It got harder and harder to rig the system, and so those two came together and that effected change,” Armstrong said.
Additionally, Armstrong asserted that “doping” can never be viewed as a “black or white” issue, and feels that he and his team were unfairly singled out for punishment during an era where “doping” proliferated the sport.
“For 10 years the narrative was: We have the best technology, we train the hardest, we do the most reconnaissance, we’re the most organised, we have the smartest tactics, we have the best director, we watch our diet, all those things. Everything was on the table,” he explained.
“It’s not even a frustrating thing for me, it’s a painful thing for me, that when my story goes down in 2012, and USADA makes the move that it makes, the entire world shifts and says: This asshole, he told us it was the training and the diet, and the team and the reconnaissance. The whole world shifted and said, ‘It was none of that. It was the doping.’ So if I had magic wand and change just on thing, yes, they all happened but that tenth thing, doesn’t happen if the first nine don’t.
“We all did the work, so I felt there was a shift from a white-hat story to a black-hat story and neither were true. It’s a grey-hat story. The one thing I’d hate to think is that we forget all the hard work that we all did.”
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