Lance Armstrong's admission to having used performance enhancing drugs had become unavoidable in recent months. No matter how vociferously he denied doping, the evidence that his hero status had been illicitly obtained was overwhelming. By SPIEGEL Staff
Note to Readers: This is part II of a two-part story on Lance Armstrong and his history of using performance enhancing drugs. Please click here to read part I.
When the Tour de France began on July 8, 2001, an article appeared in the London Sunday Times in which Irish journalist David Walsh reported on Lance Armstrong's connections to the doping doctor Michele Ferrari, a sports doctor from Ferrara, who was nicknamed "Dottore EPO" in Italy. In it, Greg LeMond, a three-time American winner of the Tour de France, expressed his doubts that Armstrong was clean. "If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If he isn't, it would be the greatest fraud," he said. Armstrong responded by publicly berating Walsh as a "fucking troll." He called LeMond and threatened to expose him as a doper and said that he had witnesses who would support his story.
It was an early crack in the wall of secrecy with which Armstrong had surrounded himself and, most of all, his systematic use of performance enhancing drugs. It was a system that allowed him and his teammates at US Postal to remain at the top of the cycling world for years. But as an increasing number of professional riders were caught doping, Armstrong had to be increasingly careful. (Read part I of this story here.)
VI. ARMSTRONG'S ADVERSARY
Over the years, Armstrong's two worlds began to drift apart. In the one world, the attractive one, he rode from one victory to the next in the Tour de France, slowly becoming a legend. In 2003, he fought an epic duel with German rider Jan Ullrich. During one stage, Armstrong became entangled in a spectator's bag and crashed, but he won the Tour nonetheless. The images were powerful, making it difficult for those who openly spoke about suspicions that Armstrong doped. They showed a man who, despite the pain of pushing himself to the limit, was stronger than that pain. Could such a man really be an imposter?
Armstrong benefited from the lax doping tests. Furthermore, he participated in a limited number of races, focusing primarily on the Tour de France, which significantly reduced the number of tests he was exposed to. The UCI also largely spared the pro cyclists unannounced tests during training. The risk of being taken by surprise somewhere was close to zero.
His team also refined its warning system. During the Tour, two observers would sit at the windows in the hotel and would notify the team members when testers turned up. The riders also trusted their crafty team director Johan Bruyneel, who often knew hours or even days in advance when testers were going to appear. No one knew where Bruyneel was getting his tips.
If there was any trouble, if something did go wrong, the boss took care of it. In 2001, a blood test taken from Armstrong during the Tour de Suisse revealed suspicious results, a clear sign for doping analysts. But there was no official investigation. Soon afterwards, Armstrong donated $25,000 to the UCI, and later another $100,000, allegedly to support its efforts to fight doping. To ensure that no one would hit upon the idea that Armstrong was trying to bribe the officials, UCI honorary President Hein Verbruggen said in 2011: "Lance Armstrong has never used doping. Never, never, never. I say this not because I am a friend of his, because that is not true. I say it because I'm sure." Verbruggen has since denied having made the statement, though it was widely reported at the time.
The French book "L.A. Confidentiel: Les secrets de Lance Armstrong," co-authored by David Walsh, was published at the beginning of the 2004 Tour. It offered a look into the second world of Lance Armstrong -- the hidden one -- including details of how he cheated. The book includes a description of the scene at the hospital in Indianapolis. Armstrong suspected the Andreus, especially Betsy, of having been sources for the book. And indeed, Walsh had contacted the couple while doing his research, and Frankie had even told Armstrong about it. But now Armstrong began pressuring his former teammate. During the Tour, two managers from his staff met with Andreu and advised him to convince his wife to write a written statement denying what she knew.
The situation became complicated for Andreu. On the one hand, there were his old ties to Armstrong. On the other, he supported Betsy, who had no intention of signing any statement that amounted to a lie. Privately, Andreu chose his wife and the truth.
"Back then in the hospital, Lance was a friend who was fighting for his life," he says today. "I didn't want to use that against him."
But the moment was approaching in which he would have to openly take sides.
VII. TROUBLE AT THE ANDREUS
In August 2005, shortly after Armstrong's last Tour victory, the sports newspaper L'Equipe reported on suspicious test results from 1999. Traces of EPO had apparently been discovered in six of Armstrong's frozen blood samples when they were retested. After his record-breaking victory in 2004, Armstrong was entitled to a $10 million bonus. The US Postal team had insured half of the funds with a company called SCA Promotions, but now the company was refusing to pay out the money. SCA searched for any information that could help expose Armstrong's use of performance enhancing drugs and support its case in court.
The scene that had unfolded at the Indiana University Hospital nine years earlier was now of paramount importance. On Oct. 25, Betsy and Frankie Andreu were expected to testify under oath about what had happened.
They were willing to tell all, but then there was an argument within the family. Betsy's father, a man who had been bitterly poor before emigrating to the US from Yugoslavia, was adamant that his daughter should not sully the reputation of an American hero. Frankie's father was also concerned and asked them to find a way to get around testifying. The Andreus were shocked to realize that their parents were trying to encourage them to lie or keep quiet.
Three days before the hearing, Armstrong called and, in a friendly voice, made it clear to Frankie that no one else was going to confirm what had happened in the hospital in Indianapolis. He even traveled to Michigan on the day of the hearing. When they met, Armstrong was cheerful and non-threatening, and even showed them photos of his children, as if they were still the best of friends. The Andreus saw the awkward charm offensive as an attempt to win them over. But it didn't stop them from testifying about what they had heard in the hospital.
Armstrong himself was called to testify on Nov. 30. He sat in front of the camera, wearing a white shirt and with his arms crossed, self-confidently denying all accusations. He stated under oath that he had never received any performance-enhancing drugs from Ferrari and that he had never doped in his career. He no longer had anything nice to say about the Andreus. When asked about Betsy, he said: "She hates me."
The insurance company lost the case and Armstrong collected his bonus.
Life became difficult for the couple as Frankie was shunned in the cycling world. He lost jobs and money became tight. He and his wife coped with the situation in different ways. Betsy wanted to shout her anger about injustice in the world from the rooftops, while Frankie preferred to ignore the bad news, saying it wasn't worth it. But despite their fierce arguments, which sometimes led to their not speaking with each other for days, they managed to pull themselves together. Hardly anyone was on their side anymore. Betsy's father refused to speak with his daughter for years.
Suspicion GrowsIn a September 2006 interview, Frankie Andreu told the New York Times that he had taken EPO in the past, while still a member of Armstrong's team. He said it was time to clean up cycling. It was the year of the scandal surrounding Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, who had helped many top pros with blood doping.
Suddenly Armstrong's seven Tour victories were bookended by two doping scandals. The Festina affair almost destroyed the Tour in 1998, and now the Fuentes ring was being exposed. And between those two scandals, Lance Armstrong was supposed to have conquered the world's toughest cycling race without the use of banned substances?
By now, Richard Young, the USADA lawyer, had become heavily involved with cycling. Tyler Hamilton was banned in 2005 for homologous blood doping and the next season, Floyd Landis, a former member of the US Postal team like Hamilton, tested positive for testosterone at the Tour de France. When he was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title, Landis did everything he could to get it back.
The nine-day arbitration hearing in Malibu, California, was broadcast live on television. Young appeared in public as the representative of USADA, a tall, lanky man who resembles the actor Walter Matthau, with thick, dark hair and a knack for punch lines. The case was a gamble for USADA, which ran the risk of ruining its reputation -- and losing a lot of money. It was an uphill battle for Young, who had to argue against attorneys and expert witnesses who had cost Landis millions. Nevertheless, USADA won the case and Landis was barred from professional cycling for two years.
He eventually went bankrupt. His attempt to uphold the lie of the clean athlete ruined him.
VIII. OBAMA HAD NO TIME FOR ARMSTRONG
After retiring from professional cycling in late 2005, Armstrong devoted himself primarily to his cancer foundation. He collected donations, was paid six-figure speaking fees and his sponsors helped fill the foundation's coffers. Politicians appeared at his side, including President George W. Bush, with whom Armstrong went mountain biking. Armstrong ran the New York Marathon, pursued by cameras. He was engaged to rock star Sheryl Crow for five months, and he was on friendly terms with Bill Gates. He had become an A-list celebrity.
A conference on fighting cancer was scheduled for July 2008 in Austin, and Armstrong wanted then Senator Barack Obama as his star guest. But Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate at the time, was on his campaign tour through Europe and had no time for Armstrong's event. Armstrong was furious and called Obama's fellow Democrat, Senator John Kerry, threatening to turn the members of his foundation against Obama. He had become so overcome by hubris that he no longer took no for an answer.
Armstrong was especially adept at using new media to polish his image. He tweeted almost daily under his own name, but he also used the Spanish-sounding pseudonym Juan Pelota. Pelota means ball in Spanish, and Americans pronounce the name "Juan" like "one." The man who called himself "one ball" (a testicle had been removed during his cancer operation) was showing that he had a sense of self-irony.
He announced his comeback as a professional cyclist in the fall, once more becoming subject to doping tests as a result. When a doping control officer with the French anti-doping agency came to his villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to collect urine, blood, fingernail and hair samples, Armstrong had him wait outside for 20 minutes. It was a violation of the rules, because Armstrong was required to remain under supervision once the testers arrived. But there were no consequences. Instead, UCI President Pat McQuaid criticized the French action, calling it "not very professional."
Armstrong came in third in the Tour that year. Many in cycling were pleased to have their superstar back. Doors were flung open for him everywhere he went. French President Nicolas Sarkozy received Armstrong at the Elysée Palace in July 2010. Soon afterwards, the budget of the National Anti-Doping Laboratory in Paris was cut in half. Its director Pierre Bordry, who had ordered strict testing of the pro cyclists during the Tour, resigned in frustration. Armstrong despised Bordry.
"Au revoir Pierre", he tweeted.
No one, it seemed, could touch him. But was that really true?
IX. THE HUNT FOR ARMSTRONG
US federal authorities investigated Armstrong and his former racing team for almost two years. They suspected the team of having misused taxpayer money for doping purposes, because the US Postal Service, the team sponsor for many years, is a US government agency. On Feb. 3, 2012, a district attorney in California terminated the investigation, but without stating any reasons.
It looked like a big win for Armstrong. "Our legal system has failed," Betsy Andreu said angrily. "That's what happens when someone can afford attorneys with connections at the very top of the Justice Department."
What no one knew at the time was that things were about to get tight for Armstrong. In May 2010, Floyd Landis admitted to having used banned substances throughout his career, adding that Armstrong had done the same. A year later, Tyler Hamilton confessed on television, saying that he had doped, and that he had also seen Lance using performance-enhancing drugs.
This was first-hand information from two new sources now incriminating Armstrong. USADA wanted to take action. It had held back during the government's investigation of Armstrong, so as not to get in the way of law enforcement. But now there was nothing to stop the agency anymore.
USADA issued a statement on the day the federal authorities' investigation was terminated. To protect clean cycling, the statement read, USADA would continue its work against doping and ask the authorities for information about the case. It sounded diplomatic, but it was essentially a declaration of war against Armstrong.
USADA had a plan, developed mainly by three men: CEO Travis Tygart, Bill Bock, the agency's general counsel and an expert on professional cycling, and attorney Richard Young as legal strategist. They knew whose testimony they wanted. Their list included the Andreus, Landis and Hamilton, but also new witnesses, such as former members of Armstrong's team who had thus far been silent: George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, Jonathan Vaughters and others.
They made rapid progress. Tygart and Bock conducted most of the interviews. Young ensured that no mistakes were made that could potentially destroy their case from a legal standpoint, and he also prepared the indictment. The USADA team asked federal authorities if they could review their files, but it was a decision that required a judge's approval, which would take time. Nevertheless, many witnesses told them that they had already spoken with the FBI. People had begun to talk, partly because they knew that the case was to be heard in an arbitration court, in which lying under oath is considered perjury, a crime punishable with a jail sentence. Going to prison for Lance, even for his former buddies, was taking loyalty a step too far.
On June 13, USADA announced that it intended to file a suit in an arbitration court. From then on, there was no going back for Armstrong's pursuers.
"We had enough evidence for a solid case," Young says now. "But Armstrong had unlimited financial funds and was willing to use them. We had to prepare ourselves for a hell of a fight with someone who has the reputation as a fighter. So, before you pull the trigger on such a case you take a deep breath -- oookayyy!"
Tygart received anonymous death threats, and Armstrong accused him of pursuing a "vendetta." In an 18-page letter from his attorneys, Armstrong also demanded that USADA drop the charges. A US congressman said that he suspected the agency of wasting taxpayer money with its investigations.
It seemed as though Armstrong was resorting to all of his connections. But it was too late.
Lawsuits on the HorizonOn Aug. 23, Armstrong capitulated and announced that he would not attend a hearing. He confessed to nothing, denied the allegations and said that he was being treated unfairly. But his system of deception, covered up for more than a decade, collapsed within weeks, breaking apart under the sheer weight of the evidence. More than 24 people had testified and his adversaries also had emails, account documents, expert reports and scientific data at their disposal. A total of 6,000 pages of documents were now available to billions of people on the Internet.
Armstrong, though, continued to insist that it was all "nonsense."
X. CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Richard Young's law firm is on the 14th floor of a building in Colorado Springs, offering a sweeping view of the Rocky Mountains. Young jumps up from his desk chair and takes us to a windowless, neon-lit room. The shelves are filled with binders and books, and there are two tables covered with documents and an easy chair wedged in-between. It's a library of the anti-doping struggle. Young smiles. He calls it the "war room."
It was difficult to get an appointment with him. Young's schedule only lightened up after the UCI endorsed the USADA decision in October and Armstrong was retroactively removed from the record books back to 1998. Young, the man who ushered the world's biggest doping scandal through the official bodies of the cycling world, leans his head back, lowers his eyelids and speaks in a measured tone.
What is going to happen to Armstrong now? "I don't know. He can probably expect several civil lawsuits. Maybe he will find out that it is easier being a part of the solution rather than remaining part of the problem."
It remains to be seen if Armstrong will choose to "walk through that door," as Armstrong said. His interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which he admits to having doped, will air over two days on Thursday and Friday. Depending on how he chooses to face up to his doping past, it could be his last opportunity to regain a measure of credibility, no matter how small.
Whatever he does, he is likely to face plenty of legal trouble, starting with potential civil suits. Many race organizers could sue for the return of prize money, while sponsors could invoke anti-doping clauses in their contracts. The insurance company SCA is expected to announce a lawsuit soon in an attempt to recover the millions it paid Armstrong
And then there are Armstrong's own statements, in which he denied having admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in the Indianapolis hospital -- and in fact denied ever having used banned substances. Those statements, made under oath, could put him behind bars. The same thing happened to Marion Jones. The former top US sprinter lied about using performance-enhancing drugs before a grand jury and subsequently spent half a year in prison for perjury.
The FBI investigation, abandoned last February for inexplicable reasons, may also be resumed. According to media reports, the Justice Department in Washington is examining whether to take up the case. After dealing with Armstrong, USADA will turn its attention to Johan Bruyneel, the former director of the US Postal team. Italian prosecutors in Padua are investigating sports doctor Michele Ferrari. According to US investigators, Armstrong transferred a total of $1,029,754.31 to Ferrari's accounts.
One wonders what else might come to light. There is a long list of people who must fear Armstrong's confession.
XI. YEARNING FOR PEACE
Tyler Hamilton is among those eager to hear exactly how far Armstrong's admission will go. Hamilton used banned substances throughout most of his career, was caught twice and was stripped of an Olympic gold medal. Shortly after doing his own tell-all TV interview in the spring of 2011, he ran into Armstrong in a restaurant in Aspen, Colorado. According to Hamilton, Armstrong threatened to "make his life a living hell," while the restaurant owner barred him from her restaurant for life.
And what did Hamilton do? He apologized to Armstrong and the restaurant owner. Then he moved away from Colorado.
He describes the restaurant scene in his new book, "The Secret Race." When he met with a reporter to write the book, they got together in hotels where Hamilton had received performance-enhancing drugs in the past. For the meetings, the reporter would check in and then send Hamilton the room number in a text message, encoded as part of a made-up address to prevent anyone from discovering their whereabouts. Hamilton was practically paranoid.
Long an accomplice in the conspiracy, he ended up being a key witness, and now he hopes to find a path between guilt and atonement, a path leading to a future without Lance, Lance and more Lance.
In the kitchen of her house in Dearborn, Betsy Andreu is making sandwiches for lunch at the Catholic school her three children attend. The houses in the neighborhood are lit up with Christmas lights. Betsy says that her father apologized to her last Christmas and that they have reconciled, more than six years after their quarrel.
Her world is gradually falling back into place. Frankie Andreu no longer gets dirty looks or is shunned wherever he appears in professional cycling. In fact, people now reach out to shake his hand.
He and Betsy are sitting at the table, talking about the years they have behind them. Time flies by in the course of their conversation.
Frankie: "Somehow we got through it."
Betsy: "Don't you think it brought us closer together?"
Frankie: "Well, it didn't break us apart. We would have a more affectionate relationship with each other as a family if none of this had happened."
Betsy: "Wait a minute! You're saying that you're not as affectionate as you could be -- because of Lance?"
Frankie: "Don't turn my words around. The stress, the arguments, the days when we weren't speaking to each other -- none of that would have existed."
Betsy: "But my stubbornness and determination paid off in the end. We kept our inner peace. How else could we look other people in the eye?"
Frankie: "Well, she does wear her heart on her sleeve, which is a positive trait. We're not a couple that always walks around holding hands. It's more fun that way."
They both laugh, loudly and for a long time.
BY DETLEF HACKE, MARC HUJER, UDO LUDWIG, ANDREAS MEYHOFF, FRIEDER PFEIFFER and MICHAEL WULZINGER
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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