Note to Readers: This is part I of a two-part story on Lance Armstrong and his history of using performance enhancing drugs. Please click here for part II.
Lance Armstrong was a lot of things in his life: a loudmouth, a superhero, terminally ill, cured, a role model, a bogeyman, a tyrant, a demigod, an asshole, an anti-cancer lobbyist, an egomaniac, a savior and a fraud. Usually he was all of these things at the same time, a man who seemed like a good person but was in fact closer to bad.
For Betsy and Frankie Andreu, he was a curse that threatened to destroy their lives. Frankie, a professional cyclist, rode at Armstrong's side for seven years, and they were "best buddies," as he says. Then doping destroyed their friendship and turned them into enemies.
On a November day, the Andreus are sitting at the dining table in their eat-in kitchen in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit. Both are speaking energetically, and the more indignant they become over what they have been through, the louder they get. Betsy, 46, has black hair and is wearing gray sweatpants and a purple top. She has her hands wrapped around a large mug of coffee. Frankie, also 46, wearing a baseball cap, is slouched down in his chair and has his stocking feet on the table and his hands in the pockets of his cargo pants.
A few weeks prior, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories and permanently banned from professional cycling. For the Andreus, this means that the period in which they had to justify their actions has now been declared over.
How are they doing now? "We are much more relaxed," says Betsy. She is practically shouting at this point. It isn't easy to shift to a softer tone when you have felt embroiled in guerilla warfare for so long.
Lying not an Option
The Andreus' house was ground zero for the civil resistance movement against Armstrong, a hub for information and contacts, exchanged through emails, phone calls and face-to-face meetings. The couple didn't choose this role. Seven years ago, they stated under oath that Armstrong, after one of his cancer surgeries, had confessed to doctors that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. Everything would have gone more smoothly for them had they not done so. But they didn't see lying, especially under oath, as an option.
After that, they fought against Armstrong's efforts to publicly slander them. They fought for the truth, against isolation, for an unclouded family life with their three children, and for their marriage, which suffered during the ordeal.
In 2012, the situation shifted within just a few short months, and this year it has taken yet another unexpected turn. The world now knows what was true and what was deception. Armstrong took performance-enhancing drugs and cheated. After a long period of silence, during which he refused to give interviews and probably spent most of his time in his house in Austin, Texas, hidden behind sandstone walls and wrought-iron gates, Armstrong has given an interview to Oprah Winfrey which will air on Thursday. In it, he finally admits to having doped.
The admission is a far cry from the recent stubbornness he had exhibited in the face of accusations that he had doped. In November, Armstrong tweeted a photo of himself lying on the sofa, with his seven yellow jerseys on the wall above him, individually framed and illuminated by spotlights. It was a defiant greeting from an impostor.
The story of Lance Armstrong, 41, including his rise and fall, sounds like a fairy tale. It's the story of a man who almost died, and who conquered his disease and went on to achieve, in the Tour de France, what no cyclist, not even one who was perfectly healthy, had ever done before. His success seemed so breathtaking that even many with no ties to cycling came to greatly admire Armstrong.
Last Summer's Implosion
He was a hero for all of America. He grew up poor and was beaten by his stepfather. He was a high-school dropout and yet managed to rise to great heights, entering the limelight next to important people in politics, business and show business. Armstrong was fascinating, and not just to fellow cyclists in his native Texas. He was seen as an icon from coast to coast.
But within this fairy tale, the hero has turned out to be the villain. Armstrong developed and surrounded himself with a doping system that worked perfectly for years and was almost impossible to expose. It was operated and held together by Armstrong, his racing team and his doctors, and it also appears that officials and politicians helped to conceal the fraud. Positive tests were covered up while adversaries were intimidated, pressured and swept out of the way. The system could thus remain intact for a long time.
But it imploded last summer when a number of accomplices revealed what they knew to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). When Armstrong's pursuers had collected enough evidence to hunt him down, they realized that what they had discovered was big enough to qualify as a "conspiracy."
Today a large number of statements and documents serve as evidence of the tools and methods that were used to condition Armstrong and his team. Eleven former team members have described the system in detail. Their sworn affidavits and those of other witnesses form the basis of the indictment against Armstrong and give USADA reason to believe that it has a strong case against him.
The hero has fallen, but the story of the biggest doping scandal the world has ever seen continues. Armstrong is in free-fall, and just how far he could plunge before hitting bottom is anyone's guess. He could face extensive lawsuits, and he could very well lose a lot of money, possibly his entire fortune of more than $100 million (75 million) -- and maybe even spend time in prison.
Armstrong's story is one full of those who were attracted to and those who were repelled by him, people like Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate who initially worshipped Armstrong and accepted doping as a fact of life, but who eventually came clean when the grand delusion could no longer be upheld.
The remains of the crumbled Armstrong universe include the Andreus, as well as USADA attorney Richard Young, a member of the small team of investigators who caught Armstrong. "We just did our job," says Young.
I. HOSPITAL CONFESSION
Armstrong was 25 when, on Oct. 2, 1996, he was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. The disease had spread from a testicle to other parts of his body, metastasizing in the lungs and the brain. His career as a professional cyclist seemed to have come to an abrupt end and his only goal at this point was to stay alive.
He had two operations. Tumors were removed from his head, and Armstrong was scheduled to undergo chemotherapy. His close friends had gathered around him, including Frankie Andreu. The two men had been cycling together on the Motorola team for the previous four years. On Oct. 27, Andreu and his fiancée, Betsy Kramar, travelled to Indianapolis, where Armstrong had been admitted to the Indiana University Hospital.
Betsy and Frankie were in the room with Armstrong, along with four other people, when two men in white lab coats walked in. Betsy told Frankie that they should leave so that Armstrong could have some privacy with the doctors. Frankie replied: "Why? Lance said we can stay."
So they stayed. It was a decision that would change their lives.
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