A BULLY’S DOWNFALL
Victims of Armstrong’s strong-arm tactics feel relief, vindication in wake of USADA report
Doping might sometimes be a victimless crime, but not in the case of Lance Armstrong, whose drug abuse and illicit blood transfusions created a phony empire of wealth, adulation and power that had to be protected at all costs.
The Armstrong myth was so lucrative that suppressing the truth came to require an endless behind-the-scenes campaign to bully and intimidate people into silence. Some of it bordered on gangsterism. Some of it was dressed up in the respectable wardrobe of elite law firms. But mostly it was just hot air — a fact that by 2010 had become clear enough to Floyd Landis that he stepped up and burst the bubble, blowing the whistle on the whole big fraud.
In 2008, when the Daily News started reporting in earnest on the growing evidence that Armstrong had cheated, we found that paranoia struck deep in the cycling world. It’s a small industry, and Armstrong was a transcendent figure, so powerful inside his sport that people feared for their livelihoods and reputations if they crossed him.
Four years later, it’s easier for the wider world to see why. The evidence published this month by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency shows that Armstrong and his cronies possessed a cynical assuredness that their yellow wristbands entitled them to smash anyone who threatened their corrupt regime.
But it’s also already becoming harder for the world to see how lonely and painful it was for people in cycling to stand up and resist Armstrong’s Machiavellian tactics. Now it’s trendy to be an accuser — it’s the stuff of bestsellers, not defamation complaints. But if you took on that role during the peak of Armstrong’s Tour de France dominance you might be vilified, accused of being jealous, drunk, unpatriotic, mentally disturbed.
A lot of times Armstrong himself didn’t have to lift a finger. Enough people were invested in his lies that they became foot soldiers in his deceptions. We published on our website a voicemail where an Armstrong friend — a representative of one of his most loyal sponsors — tells one of his accusers, Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former Armstrong teammate, that she hopes “somebody breaks a baseball bat over (her) head.” We published transcripts of a deposition in which Armstrong’s exwife isn’t allowed to answer questions about Armstrong and doping because Armstrong’s lawyer won’t allow her to. Those were among
well over 100 stories the Daily News published in the past four and a half years directly or tangentially related to Armstrong and doping. The point wasn’t to determine who really deserved to wear a yellow spandex T-shirt on the Champs-Elysées; it was about getting people’s stories out in the open in the marketplace of information that Armstrong seemed to so thoroughly regulate.
Slowly, those who Armstrong bullied and intimidated began to be heard. The consistent, credible claims of Frankie and Betsy Andreu and Greg and Kathy LeMond, the dogged reporting of jour-nalist like David Walsh and the French newspaper L’Equipe’s Damien Ressiot, Floyd Landis’ whistle blowing emails in 2010, a federal grand jury probe and a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency i nvestigation — all gave others cover to tell the truth.
These are some of their stories.
GREG AND KATHY LEMOND
By the summer of 2001, Dr. Michele Ferrari, described in the USADA report as the architect of the U.S. Postal Service team’s doping program, was becoming a problem for Lance Armstrong.
The Sunday Times of London published a story by David Walsh that year about Armstrong’s ties to Ferrari, who was about to go on trial in Italy for sporting fraud because he had allegedly provided performance-enhancing drugs to athletes. Comments by three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond — who said he was “disappointed” with Armstrong for associating with the controversial doctor — especially galled Armstrong, according to an affidavit by Frankie Andreu included in USADA’s report.
“I recall Lance saying words to the effect of, ‘Who does Greg think he is, talking about Ferrari? I’m going to take him down,’ ” Andreu says in the affidavit. “During this conversation, Lance never denied or disputed performance-enhancing drugs but criticized LeMond for criticizing him.”
That summer, LeMond has said, Armstrong told him during a telephone conversation that he could find 10 people who would vow that LeMond — recognized as the only American to win the Tour de France, now that Armstrong and Floyd Landis have
been stripped of their ti titles because of doping — had used EPO. He received calls from associates who warned him not to further cross Armstrong.
Even more frightening, frighteni LeMond’s wife Kathy has said, was A Armstrong’s offer to pay $300,000 to on one of her husband’s former teammates teamma to claim that he had seen LeM LeMond use the oxygenboosting dru drug. The teammate declined the o offer.
“It show shows how desperate Lance was was,” Kathy LeMond says. “It is a huge example of what a bul bully Lance Armstrong is. He cros crosses lines no others will cross.”
LeMon LeMond reportedly issued an apolog apology for his comments about Armstrong Arm and Ferrari a month a after Walsh’s article was publi published, but his wife told The N News last week that the apology was written and relleased leased by T Trek Bicycle, the company that had manufactured LeMond bicycles since the 1990s but was also a premier Armstron Armstrong sponsor. LeMond has allege alleged that Armstrong pressured Trek president John Burke to m muzzle him. LeMond sued Trek in 2008 for breachof-contract of-contract, and Trek countersued. The litigation was ultimately settled settl out of court. Kathy LeMond says her famil family is gratified that USA USADA has vindicated Gr Greg with its exhaustiv tive report detailing Ar Armstrong’s sophistica cated doping scheme, but they are disappointed that th so many people who k knew the truth remaine mained silent while Armstrong and his camp retaliated ag against her husband. “These people who came forwardd forward and acknowledged acknowled that they doped are gettting getting this forgive forgiveness for telling the truth, bbut but it is easy to tel tell the truth now,” she says. “WWhere “Where were the they when Lance was threateening threatening Greg?
She calls Frankie And Andreu “extraordinary” becausse because he acknowledged acknowled he used drugs years aggo ago and refused to t toe Armstrong’s line. “I am very vvery impressed wi with Frankie and Betsy,” shee she says. “They are ballsy b people.”
“Theere “There is no joy in thi this for us,” adds Kathy LeMonnd. LeMond. “It is sad that this sport has been taken tto to this low of a lev level. There were hundreds oof of people who turn turned a blind eye.”
BETSY AND FRANKIE ANDREU
Betsy Betssy Andreu woke up to a pair of disturbing turbingg voicemails in the spring of 2008. The messages messagges were from St Stephanie McIlvain, a close e friend of Armstrong’s Armst who worked for one e of his sponsors, the Oakley eyewear company.
Abusive Abuusive and histrionic, histri tapes of the voicemails voicemmails were the cu culmination of years of threats thhreats and intimidation intimid tactics Armstrong stronng had used again against the Andreus.
“I “II hope somebody b breaks a baseball bat over overr your head,” McIlvain McI tells Andreu in the first message. “I also hope that one day daay you have adver adversity in your life and you yoou have some type of tragedy that will definitely definiteely make an impact impa on you.”
The following day McIlvain M left another message for Andreu, apologizing for the first voicemail and blaming it on two bottles of wine — but making it clear the long friendship between the two women was over.
“I wish you the best of luck, but I don’t know,” McIlvain says in the second message. “You’re trying to destroy one person’s life. And the whole (gist) of it you’re trying to destroy a lot of people’s life.”
The tapes, published by The News in 2010, became part of the aborted federal investigation into Armstrong. Andreu said she shared the tapes to illustrate what she and her husband were facing for testifying against Armstrong in a 2005 arbitration case.
“I wanted to show what kind of treatment we were getting,” Andreu told The News. “When I got those phone calls, I was worried on one hand and disgusted on the other.”
There had been a time when they were all friends: Armstrong and Frankie Andreu had become close when they were both on the Motorola cycling team during the 1990s, while Armstrong’s then-spouse, Kristin, frequently shopped and dined with Betsy.
That friendship began to unravel in October of 1996 when Frankie and Betsy, then engaged, traveled to Armstrong’s Indianapolis hospital room to provide comfort and support after the cylist was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
During that hospital visit, the Andreus say they overheard Armstrong tell doctors that he has used performance-enhancing drugs, including testosterone, human growth hormone and EPO. It was the first time that Betsy learned that Armstrong and his teammates had used banned substances, and she was deeply disturbed by the news, worried that the drug use had fueled Armstrong’s cancer.
“I’m not f****** marrying you if you’re doing that s***,” she told Frankie, the man she was scheduled to marry two months later, according to an affidavit she provided to USADA. “That’s how he got his cancer.”
Frankie vowed he would not use performance-enhancing drugs, and the couple married on Dec. 31, 1996. But under pressure from Armstrong — who urged him to “get serious” about the sport — Frankie used EPO in preparation for the 1999 Tour de France. When Betsy found a thermos containing EPO in the refrigerator of their home in Nice, she urged Frankie to quit Armstrong’s team.
The Andreus and the Armstrongs remained friends, at least until 2003, when Irish journalist David Walsh, the author of groundbreaking books and articles about Armstrong’s doping, contacted the Andreus seeking information about Armstrong and the Indiana hospital incident. Word got back to Armstrong.
The tension between Armstrong and the Andreus exploded after 2006, when the couple was forced to testify in a contract dispute between Armstrong and a company called SCA Promotions, which had withheld a multi-million-dollar bonus from Armstrong over allegations of doping. Both Andreus say they testified that they had heard Armstrong tell his physicians that he had used performance-enhancing drugs.
Armstrong, in his own SCA deposition, denied he had made the admission. But when asked why the Andreus would make up the story, his sworn testimony was vague. Betsy lied, he said, because “she hates me.” Frankie sided with his wife, the cyclist added, because he was “trying to back up his old lady.”
Armstrong’s camp later claimed that the Andreus were bitter because Frankie’s contract with the Postal Service was not renewed after the 2000 season, although the USADA report concludes that Armstrong had urged Frankie in an email to return to the team in 2001. Andreu served as the assistant team director that year and in 2002, and the couples continued to travel together in Europe after Frankie retired from racing.
“This evidence provides a strong indication that Armstrong intentionally vilified a longtime friend and his friend’s wife merely to protect himself,” USADA concluded.
The break with Armstrong turned out to be a bad career move for Frankie. “From having been in professional cycling for so long I was well aware of many incidents where
those who spoke about doping too much were ostracized and found it difficult to retain a job in the sport,” he says in his USADA affidavit. He goes on to say that he has been told “that my public disputes with Lance Armstrong have made it more difficult for others in the cycling industry to work with me because they fear reprisal from Lance and his associates. I have never sought to bring Lance down or cause him harm. I have only sought to tell the truth.”
Betsy says she’s proud of her husband for standing up to the man who led what USADA calls the most sophisticated doping scheme in sports history.
“This has been a great lesson for our kids,” says Betsy, the mother of three children. “The truth matters. Don’t give in to bullies. Don’t do something wrong, even if everyone else is doing it. The choices you make have consequences.”
The glowing customer reviews on The Body Clinic’s website include one from former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton, in which the British native extols Body Clinic massage therapist Emma O’Reilly.
The praise is a far cry from the blistering reviews of O’Reilly by one of her former clients — Lance Armstrong. In 1996, long before she began to make a quiet living at The Body Clinic, located about 10 miles from Manchester, England, O’Reilly was hired as a “soigneur” for the U.S. Postal cycling team.
According to the USADA report, O’Reilly was well-respected by the cyclists, a benefit that afforded her a front seat into the sport’s doping culture. She testified about Armstrong’s doping in 1998 and 1999. According to the USADA report, O’Reilly helped Armstrong cover up bruising from an injection before the 1999 Tour de France, the first of Armstrong’s record seven consecutive titles. During that same Tour, Armstrong tested positive for corticosteroids.
O’Reilly, according to the USADA report, was in the room when Armstrong and other team officials developed a plan to circumvent the positive test: a team doctor, Luis Garcia del Moral, would backdate a prescription for cortisone cream and Armstrong would claim it was used to treat saddle sores.
Afterward, Armstrong told O’Reilly, “Now, Emma, you know enough to bring me down.”
Her responsibilities expanded to include transporting drugs for cyclists and getting rid of the evidence, according to her affidavit.
Dismayed by the doping culture in the sport, O’Reilly resigned from her U.S. Postal job in 2000. It wasn’t until 2003, when she was paid to help with the book, “L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong,” written by Walsh and Pierre Ballester and published in 2004, that she began to experience the wrath of Armstrong. He sued O’Reilly for libel in the wake of the book’s publication and attacked her credibility.
“Once my involvement in the (book) project became known, Lance wasted no time attacking me and my reputation,” O’Reilly said in her affidavit. “Lance also tried to discredit me by publicly referring to me as a prostitute and an alcoholic. The lawsuits against me were dropped or settled in 2006, but the damage Lance caused to my reputation still remains.”
O’Reilly has received an outpouring of support via Twitter in the last two weeks, something that has bolstered her outlook on her future. “I would like to say a massive heartfelt thanks to all of you who have tweeted your support to me I’ve been so touched & heartened by you all,” she tweeted Thursday.
According to the USADA report, the number of former teammates who were discouraged not to testify or intimidated went well beyond Frankie Andreu. They included George Hincapie, who rode with Armstrong in all seven of his Tour de France victories and who was asked by Armstrong to remain in Europe to avoid or delay testifying. Instead, Hincapie told of two incidents when Armstrong provided him with EPO; Filippo Simeoni, told by Armstrong at the Tour de France in 2004, “You made a mistake when you testified about (Armstrong’s former doctor Michele) Ferrari. . I can destroy you.” Armstrong then made a “zip the lips” sign caught on video; Jonathan Vaughters, whose text messages to Frankie Andreu about doping on the U.S. Postal team became an exhibit in the SCA case, and whose career was threatened; Floyd Landis, accused of being a liar and unstable once he testified about Armstrong’s doping; and Tyler Hamilton, whose book “The Secret Race,” detailing the hidden world of doping, was released this summer and who was physically accosted in 2011 by Armstrong in an Aspen restaurant after he began cooperating with law enforcement.
According to Hamilton’s testimony, Armstrong told him, “When you’re on the witness stand, we are going to f------ tear you apart. You are going to look like a f------ idiot. I’m going to make your life a living . . . f------ hell.”
Levi Leipheimer felt the hammer, too. Shortly after he testified before a grand jury in October of 2010 about his own doping as well as Armstrong’s, Leipheimer was seated next to the Texan and seven-time Tour de France champion at a dinner.
According to the USADA report, Armstrong texted Leipheimer’s wife, Odessa Gunn, with the ominous message, “run don’t walk.”
The USADA report says that Armstrong had not communicated with Gunn “for several years,” and that she felt the text was “threatening.”
Leipheimer said he felt ostracized when he was a member of the RadioShack cycling team — which Armstrong had helped found — during the 2011 season. Leipheimer, a former teammate of Armstrong’s on U.S. Postal, said he heard comments from team employees that included, “I never forget. One day I will pay back,” and that the team’s director, Johan Bruyneel, said RadioShack would not re-sign Leipheimer because “he testified to the grand jury in the Lance Armstrong investigation.”
If you’re finding it difficult to sympathize with those — including many reporters — who cowed before the threats of Armstrong’s army of white-shoe lawyers and high-end agents and publicists, consider that Armstrong was probably the most litigious athlete in the history of sports.
He set a precedent for other athletes who would go on to use gorilla tactics to attempt to intimidate the media or silence accusers.
As the Daily News wrote in 2008, Armstrong unleashed a shotgun blast of litigation at virtually everyone involved with “L.A. Confidential: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong.” Just as the book was hitting shelves in Europe, Armstrong sued the authors, the publisher, the sources (including Emma O’Reilly), a magazine that ran an excerpt and the Sunday Times of London, the British newspaper that ran a preview of the book. Armstrong announced the suit at a splashy Maryland press conference on June 15, 2004, then quietly dropped it in 2005, withdrawing his claims before a trial could begin, a tactic similar to the ones athletes Roger Clemens and Shane Mosley would later use against their own accusers.
“In France, we say it had l’effet d’annonce,” Paris attorney Thibault de Montbrial, who defended the book’s publisher and authors, told The News. “He makes the announcement, but when the emotion goes away, no one realizes that he didn’t go to court.”
Armstrong’s message was heard: his army of lawyers effectively scared away American publishers from translating the French-language book.
“In a sense, it was an effective play,” Walsh said then. “The American publishers were frightened. Why would you take on a book that you knew was being sued in France?”
Armstrong had also filed a bevy of suits in France and even initiated a special emergency hearing with a French court in Paris, where he tried to get a disclaimer inserted into the book calling its allegations defamatory. The judge sided with the publishers, hitting Armstrong with a small fine for abusing the French legal system.
“Our lawyer told the judge it would be the death of investigative journalism,” Walsh said. “It would have been very convenient for all the rogues of the world to ignore uncomfortable questions and then just silence their accusers afterwards.”
Armstrong withdrew all of his French defamation cases shortly before they were to go to trial in the fall of 2005.
Now, the Sunday Times is considering fighting back. Following the release of the USADA report, the paper said it is “considering taking action to recover money spent on a libel case Armstrong brought and to pursue him for fraud.”
If Armstrong finds himself worried about how the other defendants in his many lawsuits are viewing the USADA report, it would certainly be understandable. Perhaps he’s afraid they’ll sue.
FRANKIE ANDREU LEVI LEIPHEIMER
GREG & KATHY LEMOND
FLOYD LANDIS TYLER HAMILTON