“You guys can decide if he [Cookson] has done a good job … plenty of people would argue he’s laid down on a lot of things.
He is not impressed with the UCI Brian Cookson
Whether it’s expedited TUEs [therapeutic use exemptions], Astana, Cookson is not very good at taking people down.” Seasoned Armstrong watchers will appreciate the distancing devices – “plenty of people” and “you guys can decide”. Armstrong’s real motivation here is not whether Cookson has done a better job than his predecessors Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, both lambasted in the CIRC report for their close relations with the Texan, but rather that Cookson publicly voiced his opposition to Armstrong riding the Tour de France route a day before the race with the cancer campaigner and former footballer Geoff Thomas. This is back to the Armstrong of old, denigrating those who criticise him or dare to stand in his way. One would like to think he had become a more humble person but on this evidence he has not.
He feels nothing has changed in cycling since he was there
Armstrong states: “I absolutely don’t think [cycling] is in a better place.” Perhaps he does not remember how cycling was when he was in his pomp, and just after. Cycling is far from being pure – and may never be – and there are still doubts that should be voiced, but certain things have clearly changed. Needles are outlawed. A host of top riders post-Armstrong have been caught and banned. The biological passport has given cycling a human face. There has been a massive and very public culture change in the way many teams engage with the doping issue. The UCI has put unprecedented pressure on one of the biggest teams, Astana, over doping. Indeed, you could now argue that the question for a rider is not “why not dope?” but “why take on the trouble?” Armstrong has at least been consistent on this: he says what he did was necessary and the sport cannot be redeemed. Until he publicly gets his head around the fact that cycling has moved on – and has done so without him – everything he says should be given the Mandy Rice-Davies response: “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”
He wants reintegration into the cancer community
With Armstrong and Livestrong, as time went on, it was always hard to define the area where his devotion to the cancer community melded into the propaganda that built him into an American hero and the same problem exists around the ride with Thomas. The worth of the cause cannot be denied but the extent to which Armstrong is using it to rebuild his profile and as a platform to campaign for his reintegration into the sport has to be questioned.
He is fearing financial ruin as the $100m lawsuit drags on
The true financial victims of the Armstrong era – of cycling’s blood doping culture of the 1990s and 2000s as a whole – were the riders who made the decision not to dope, or not to do so as intensely as their peers, and whose careers suffered immeasurably as a result. One rider from back then – who was clean himself but got by through winning what he could – pointed to a team-mate who opted not to dope and ended up as a taxi driver. In that context, as Armstrong vents his concerns from a holiday home in Colorado, sympathy should be tempered.
He is adamant that he won seven Tours
“If I didn’t win them, then who did? If you ask all the people who [rode], they will tell you who won. That’s the most important part.” Here Armstrong has a point of a kind, but it’s not one that has anything to do with him personally. It arises simply because of the confusion that exists in the record books. There is no adequate explanation why Bjarne Riis – who confessed to doping with EPO en route to victory in the 1996 Tour – is listed as a Tour winner, while Floyd Landis and Armstrong have been expunged. What the confusion does is permit Armstrong to claim he has been victimised, which suits the script he is attempting to write for himself: everyone did it; I have been singled out for unfair treatment. But not everyone did dope in cycling between 1998 and 2010, and of the many who did dope, not all did so with the intensity and public aggression that marked Armstrong. Doping is a shades of grey issue, but Armstrong has never done nuance.
“I’m that guy everybody wants to pretend never lived. But it happened, everything happened. We know what happened. Now it’s swung so far the other way … who’s that character in Harry Potter they can’t talk about? Voldemort? It’s like that on every level. If you watch the Tour on American TV, if you read about it, it’s as if you can’t mention him.” We are back to Armstrong’s need to portray himself as a victim, which goes back to his explanation for his doping: everyone did it, I had no option. Amusingly, Armstrong was actually nicknamed the “Dark Lord” among journalists at one point because his control freakery meant that, as per JK Rowling, “The Dark Lord always knows.” One key point about Voldemort is that he never quite understands the human qualities that set Harry Potter apart. Perhaps we should now add: “The Dark Lord never learns.”
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