Saturday, July 14, 2007

"L'Express" interview from July, 12th, 2007

The French magazin L'Express of July 12th, 2007, has a quite long interview, with a few funny pictures, of Greg LeMond about doping. Nothing really new there: he's coming back on his relationship with Armstrong and the Landis affair... Here and there he is exposing a few things I didn't hear before, for instance about the atmosphere in the peloton and in his team around 1991-1993.

I translated the full thing, as best as I could (and I'm far from being a professional translator), trying to make
it really close to the french version but still readable. I have my doubts about how the interview was actually conducted. It must have been done in english, so already one translation altered the original thing. Some parts sound a bit "artificial" in the french version.

People who already dislike Greg will for sure be shocked by his words. He has some quite harsh words about both Armstrong and Landis, but also about Vinokurov. And of course about Dr. Ferrari. I think his tone is even more straightforward than I ever heard before.

The article in french can be read here.
L'article en français peut être trouvé ici.

Greg LeMond

"Doped riders are like drug-addicts"

This man is a pioneer: the first American to win the Tour de France at a time (1986) when cycling was ignoring globalization. That year, Greg LeMond wins over his teammate Bernard Hinault, and the picture of the two champions crossing together, hand in hand, the finish line at l'Alpe d'Huez, was shown worldwide. LeMond won again the Tour in 1989 and 1990, before leaving a peloton where EPO was beginning its carnage. Today this wealthy 46-year-old businessman does not recognize anymore the sport that made him a king. The victories of his compatriots, Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis, tarnished with allegations of doping, leave him with a bitter taste in his mouth. As far as the anti-doping war goes, "the revolution is still to accomplish" for him.

E: The Tour de France just started in an atmosphere of suspicion. What do you think about it?
GL: When you see that Alexander Vinokurov, one of the favorites, announce that he works with Dr Ferrari (italian doctor with a very suspicious reputation, allegedly at the origin of EPO in the peloton), it is unbelievable! Vinokurov talks about him as the best physical preparator in the world. But there is no secret. As far as training or diet go, revolutionary methods do not exist. This doctor is known only for one thing: doping. The UCI should say: "if you work with that man, you cannot compete in the Tour de France."

E: You won your third and last Tour in 1990. The following year, you finish 7th, far behind the spanish Miguel Indurain. Was EPO already spread in the peloton?

GL: Looking back to it, I think that everything changed that year. I was riding with the Z-Team, and maybe in all my career I never had such a level of fitness. A few days before the start, I did the same test as I always did before my preceeding victories: two and a half hours of riding behind a derny (motocycle shielding the cyclist from the wind while training) along a canal in Belgium. I was never over 80km/h before, and then, I rode at 85km/h, with a heart rate of 180 beats/minute! The first day, I finished 2nd of the prologue, I called my wife and said: "Get the Champagne ready! There's no competitors..." And it was true. The only dangerous guy, theoretically, was Chiappuci, a "domestique". During the first stage I broke away and took the yellow jersey. It got bad on the fifth day, around Reims. To avoid falls, I usually try to be in the first ten of the peloton. But here, I had a really hard time to stay in front. The guys were riding like motocycles! I called my wife: "Actually, maybe I'm not in so good shape."

E: You didn't understand what was going on?

No, I didn't. I did only later. Years later. When the first admissions came, the first deaths... During the Tour 1991, in the time-trial in Alencon, I thought I was winning by 5 minutes. I was flying! But Indurain beat me by 8 seconds. I thought then that it was my old problem of allergy that was impeding me. Later, in the stage Quimperle-Saint Herblain, the peloton rode at a record average speed close to 50km/h. I was close to Charly Mottet, an experimented cyclist, and we looked at each other about 30km from the finish and said: "Waw... what is going on?". Over all those years, we searched for explanations to our debacles in over-training and revolutionary methods. It was turning us crazy. I remember that during the Giro d'Italia, the coach of the Z-Team, Roger Legeay, decided that we needed to be put on a diet: no fat, no olive oil, no dessert. After two weeks, the whole team abandoned. We only had skin on our bones.

E: You never doped?

GL: No. And I didn't always understand what I was told. I am American, not french or belgian. For long I didn't get the subtilities of the language. When I was asked if I was "medically taken care of properly", I was answering that I wasn't sick. When asked if I was well "prepared", I was showing my training schedules books. It's probably in 1988, after my hunting accident, that I was the closest in touch to doping. I signed with the dutch team PDM and they had decided to try "things" on their riders. Their doctor was asserting that I needed to be physiologically "re-equilibrated" because I had lost a lot of blood the preceeding year. Luckily that year I hardly raced. On the other hand, Gert Jan Theunisse, one of the leaders of the team, was banned from the Tour de France after being tested positive to testosterone.

E: What was your state of mind when you left the peloton in 1994?

GL: It wasn't my world anymore. Roger Legeay, who was my coach for all those years, is telling that I had only one expression in my mouth at that time: "I am tired". One of my teammates had a discussion in 1993 with a spanish rider from the team Once. He came back like crazy and yelled at Legeay: "Here is what the others are taking, testosterone, EPO, growth hormones... So if you want us to get results, stop threatening us of cutting off our pay by two and hire a doctor!" The following year, Casado left for an italian team, Jolly Componibili. I met him on the roads of the Tour of Switzerland. He was laughing. He explained to me that two laboratory buses were following his team all the time and that he finished the Tour of Spain without any pain. He kindly teased me and went away. Three weeks later I decided to quit cycling. The next year, Philippe Casado died of a heart attack. He was 30.

E: Ten years after the end of your career, you took firm positions against doping, and put yourself in a position against your compatriot Lance Armstrong (seven times winner of the Tour de France). How was your relationship with him until then?

GL: In 1998 he called me and invited me for dinner. I think that at a point he must have thought that our stories were similar. I came back to the top after my hunting accident. He wanted to come back after cancer. That evening Lance told me that he wanted to win the Tour de France. I thought: "It's impossible. He never finished in the top 30 before..." He looked like he wanted to be my friend, but he also looked annoyed to be compared to me. He didn't look comfortable. He's someone who lives with a rage inside of him. I don't think he is a happy man. But in 1999 and his first success in the Tour, I believed in his great comeback. After the Festina affair (Richard Virenque team was banned from the Tour 1998 for doping), I thought that the peloton had been cleaned. I didn't have contact with Armstrong anymore, but I was happy to see an American at the top of cycling. And I had my bike business: an American winning the Tour, it was all good for business!

E: In 2004, in the book "L.A. Confidentiel", you ended up putting in question the honesty of his victories.

GL: All I said about Lance at that point is that I was disappointed that he was working with Dr. Ferrari. Being seen with that guy, that was insane! After the book was published, Lance called me. He threatened to find ten people who would assert I took EPO to win in 1989. I answered that I did win the Tour before EPO appeared, and that my victories were not a miracle, but obtained after two years of suffering and work. There's no mystery: I know my respiratory capacity and his. He has the one of a Fiat, I had the one of a Testarossa! From then on I started receiving threats from people around him. I was told to take back what I said, to apologize... Armstrong's agent and lawyer, Bill Stapleton, even made false apologies published in USA Today under my name. In October 2005, I was called to testify at the trial between Armstrong and an insurance company, which was refusing to pay him because of doping allegations. There I only said again what I said about Dr. Ferrari.

E: Now you are in a conflict with another compatriot, Floyd Landis, winner of the Tour 2006...
GL: It felt like the story with Armstrong was happening all over again. I was really surprised because I thought that Floyd, by opposition to Lance, was a "good guy". When I learnt that he had been tested positive on the Tour 2006, I declared: "If he cheated, it's terrible. But in that case, he should say the truth and save this sport". A few days later, on August 6th, Floyd called me. We had a long conversation, very human, almost friendly. I told him that he could free himself from a so heavy secret and try to start back on new basis. To encourage him to break the wall of silence, I told him a very personal story: I was the victim of sexual abuse. I wanted to make him see that at certain points you need the courage to talk. We agreed that this conversation should stay between us. But after that, to defend himself against doping accusations, Floyd Landis made a lot of comments on a website. He wrote about me: "I'd rather ask Satan for advice than calling Greg LeMond". He also wrote really low things about me, things like: "If I told you what Greg confided to me...". He was insinuating that I was a bad person, that I admitted to him that I did something terrible... I was flabbergasted when I read that.

E: Since then, your relationship kept on deteriorating...
GL: Last May, I was called as a witness at the trial between the USA Anti-doping Agency and Landis. I wasn't sure that I wanted to go, but thinking back of how he tried to damage my reputation, I told myself: "I'm going". The day before the hearing, I got an anonymous call (LeMond found out the same evening that it was a call by Will Geoghan, Landis' manager and friend, and that Landis was with him when the call took place). The man was trying to intimidate me. He was refering to the sexual abuse I suffered. But Geoghan was making up a new story, talking about an uncle that would have molested me. Actually it was a friend of the family... (his voice is breaking). I instantlly thought that this affair was going to be thrown on the public place. It was sickening. I hung up. I called back the number that was written on my cellphone screen five minutes later. Landis' manager first pretended to not understand, to not know who Floyd was... It was crazy. The next day I explained in court what happened. I had the proof that Landis and people surrounding him were able to do anything. I got convinced he was guilty. He is a liar: I don't think he can be consider as a Tour de France winner.

E: How does the american audience see the affairs concerning Armstrong and Landis?

GL: American people don't want to believe that they doped. People don't want to know, especially about Lance. His cancer makes him untouchable. Today several sportsmen are in the middle of a network of evidence. They are not caught shooting a gun, but with the smoking gun still in their hand. It's not enough. People put too much admiration and hope in their heroes. They can't admit the slightest doubts. Telling them that their champion cheated is like attacking them directly.

E: Which means do you suggest against doping?

GL: Most importantly tests should be conducted by laboratories that are totally independent of sport federations. Some simple measures could also be taken: first, develop a reliable test to detect growth hormones, one of the main products used. Then, lower the allowed blood cells count, which is 50% today. This pushes those who have a count below that to take EPO to reach just that limit... Finally, why not conduct retroactive controls, going 10 years back (the idea is to use recent methods to analyze old samples from preceeding years)? In case of doping, the victory or the title would be taken back.

E: It goes with the risk to have to cross the names of the ten last winners of the main races!
GL: If it's what it takes, then let's do it! Either the race remains without a winner, or you go down in the classification to find the first clean rider... If those tests existed, some sportsmen would think on longer terms. Today if you're not caught right away, it's okay. Doped riders have the mentality of drug addicts. They don't think anymore about the consequences of their acts. If you knew, right from the beginning of your career, that you could be caught ten years later, you'd have another view on competition.


Michael said...

LeMond sounds like a bitter man.

fabrice said...

Vraiment merci Claire pour ton blog. Sans toi, je serais passé à côté de l'interview dans l'Express.
C'est vraiment rageant que l'EPO ait privé Greg d'une fin de carrière honorable. Mais c'est quand même formidable de repenser à ce qu'il était capable de faire sur un vélo. Surtout quand on sait qu'il restera le dernier vainqueur du Tour 100 pour 100 propre de ces 20 dernières années. Si on y repense, tous ses rivaux ont subi au moins un contrôle positif : Fignon, Delgado, Chiapucci, Indurain, Bugno ...

BustinBilly said...

Thanks for the translation. I'm a big fan of Greg's as well. The crap that Landis and his manager put him through was despicable. Hopefully it's helped him find peace with himself.

Claire D. said...

Michael: Yeah, LeMond sounds bitter. I bet he is bitter, he says it himself. That's a bad thing? I'm bitter too... that the sport I loved has become so corrupted, that I lost interest in an event that used to be so exciting for me, that journalists and the UCI kept their head in the sand for so long. In my opinion, not being bitter is staying blind.

Fabrice: Merci pour tes commentaires ! Je crois comme toi que Greg est l'un des derniers coureurs propres, et c'est un fait qu'il est le dernier vainqueur du Tour qui n'a jamais été testé positif à quoi que ce soit, qui n'a jamais eu à fournir de certificats médicaux pour se justifier de quoi que ce soit (à ce sujet, j'aimerais qu'il soit possible de dénoncer et poursuivre les médecins qui fournissent des certificats médicaux antidatés... Je ne crois pas du tout à l'excuse "oui, j'ai pris ça, ooops.. j'ai oublié de le mentionner..."). Je soupçonne même que Greg se "sous-soignait" pour être sûr de n'avoir jamais l'ombre d'un contrôle positif (il souffrait d'allergies terribles vers le printemps et on l'a vu souvent avec les lèvres gonflées et les yeux explosés...)

Je ne sais pas si c'est vraiment l'EPO qui a privé Greg d'une bonne fin de carrière... Il avait quand même perdu ses moyens à partir de 1992-1993.
Mais le Tour 1991, sans l'arrivée de l'EPO, c'est vrai qu'on peut se demander si il n'aurait pas pu le gagner. J'ai beaucoup à dire sur ce Tour, qui reste un grand Tour pour Greg, où il a montré un panache extraordinaire. Je vais sûrement faire un post ici juste sur ce Tour bientôt !

bustinbilly: You're very welcome!

soloyan said...

Tout à fait d'accord avec ton analyse, Claire...Il y aurait beaucoup à dire sur le tour 91. En 92, il fait son meilleur début de saison depuis...86 (22ème Milan San Remo, 9ème Paris Roubaix en aidant Duclos, victoire au Dupont Tour, 4ème Tour de Suisse) mais arrivé en juillet : il ne passe plus la montagne !
Peut-être les premiers effets de sa myopathie ?