Monthly Archives: January 2015

‘Lance should get back Tour titles’

Lance Armstrong should get back his

seven Tour de France titles

and be forgiven, according to former US Postal Service Pro Team rider Scott Mercier.

American Mercier, 47, quit the sport in 1997 when he refused to join the team’s doping programme.

Armstrong signed for the team a year later and won six of his seven Tours with them. He was stripped of all of them in 2012 and has admitted doping.

“It’s time to consider letting Lance out of ‘time-out’,” Mercier said.

Armstrong, 43, who joined US Postal after recovering from cancer, was banned from sport for life by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) in August 2012 and later confessed to systematic doping and lying about it for years.

“He is a polarising figure and always will be, but I believe he can be a catalyst for good; not just for cycling, but especially for those who suffer from cancer,” Mercier said.

Having competed at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona alongside Armstrong, Mercier enjoyed a solid career on the North American circuit before joining the new US Postal team in 1997.

That meant moving to Europe, where it soon became clear that in order to compete the team would have to do what many of their rivals were doing: dope.

Mercier said no, retired and moved to Hawaii to run a restaurant with his father. He then moved to Colorado, became a financial advisor and started a family.

His name did not resurface in cycling circles until Usada opened its investigation into Armstrong and US Postal.

Usada chief executive Travis Tygart met Mercier, and later praised him for being one of a small number of professional riders at the time strong enough to refuse to cheat.

But Mercier believes Armstrong, and American riders in general, have been disproportionately blamed for the sins of an entire generation of professional cyclists.

He points out that compatriot

Floyd Landis lost his 2006 Tour title

for doping, but

Denmark’s Bjarne Riis kept his 1996 win,

despite his belated admission that he also cheated.

Lance Armstrong

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Armstrong on drugs, history and the future

Another example Mercier highlights is that of Tyler Hamilton, who lost his 2004 Olympic time trial title when he was caught doping, only for US Postal team-mate Viatcheslav Ekimov to inherit it.

The Russian, a three-time Olympic champion, now runs Katusha, one of cycling’s richest teams, and has always refused to comment on doping allegations.

Mercier said European and American riders had been treated differently over doping.

“This drug usage did not start with the Americans – it was part of the culture long before the Yankees invaded,” he said.

“The Europeans have gotten a far easier ride than our riders.

“It’s time to be honest, it may be painful, but I believe honesty and transparency are the best path forward.

“In my mind, Tyler is the gold medallist from 2004 and Lance Armstrong the winner of seven Tours of France.”

Mercier also disputes the view that Armstrong deserves harsher treatment because he made his team-mates dope.

“No-one forced me to leave, I left of my own free will,” he said, adding that Armstrong’s sponsors cannot claim to be “victims” either because “they got their money’s worth” in publicity.

On the issue of Armstrong’s legal problems with the US federal government, Mercier said: “Nearly every rider who donned a USPS kit was involved in some sort of doping, and yet only Lance defrauded the government? All those guys were paid real money.”

Armstrong and Mercier are now friends and often ride together when the disgraced Texan visits his holiday home in Colorado.

Armstrong mentioned Mercier in his recent BBC interview as an example of somebody who chose “integrity” over the career in professional cycling.

“I was never much of a Team Lance fan,” Mercier explained.

“I knew he was lying and his arrogance and boorish behaviour made me cringe.

“However, my issue with him was never about his performance. He was, quite simply, the best of his generation and is one of the fiercest competitors the world has ever seen.

“He says if there was anything he could change, it would be the way he treated people. I believe him. I’ve seen the way he treats people today and it’s with humility and grace.”

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Para-cycling to find out 2020 fate

Para-cycling will find out on Saturday whether it will be part of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic programme.

The final decision on sports for the Games will be made at an International Paralympic Committee governing board meeting in Abu Dhabi.

In October, 16 sports had their places confirmed and the IPC say a maximum of 23 sports will make up the programme.

Cycling’s governing body the UCI submitted its application for inclusion after the deadline.

As a result, it was not considered before the October decision but it will be part of this week’s selection process

Paralympic champion Jody Cundy was one of those who was publicly critical of the UCI’s delays.

“When you hand in your homework late it isn’t great, but this is handing in your homework late on the biggest stage of all and it is pretty embarrassing for an international governing body,”

he told BBC Sport at the time.

“Hopefully it gives them a kick up the bum.”

Para-taekwondo star Amy Truesdale, who is hoping her sport can makes its Games debut in Tokyo, says there will be tears one way or the other.


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Para-Taekwondo star Truesdale hopes for Paralympic inclusion

The Chester fighter is already a world and European champion and wants the chance to add Paralympic gold to her collection.

“After competing for so many years at a high level the next big step for me would be Paralympic gold and I would love that chance,” she told BBC Sport.

“It would mean the world to me. I’ve done the sport all my life and it would mean I could be a full-time athlete.

“If the decision doesn’t go our way it will be disappointing but I will carry on competing and hopefully we can try again for a future Games.”

The London 2012 schedule featured 4302 athletes and 20 sports while the Rio programme could see an increase in athletes with the inclusion of Para-Canoe and Para-Triathlon.

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Lance: From fraud to forgiveness?

They meet at his shop every week, buy his kit and drink his coffee, but most of the guys who have rolled up for the oldest group ride in Austin do not want to utter his name.

We are in the Juan Pelota Cafe, which is at one end of

Mellow Johnny’s 

bike shop. That is “Mellow Johnny” as in the French for yellow jersey, “maillot jaune”; and “Juan Pelota” as in “one” and the Spanish for “ball”. Guess who?

“Have you read ‘Seven Deadly Sins’?” Andrew, a member of the

Violet Crown 

cycling crew, asks me, referring to the Irish journalist

David Walsh’s 

most recent Lance Armstrong expose.

“For me, he went from being complicated to evil.”

I am tempted to ask if Andrew has read New York Times writer

Juliet Macur’s 

‘Cycle of Lies’, too, as that has Armstrong starting evil and ending up deeper in hell than Satan, but we have got plenty of time to talk about the man who owns the shop we are standing in, what’s the rush?

Minutes later, as advertised, our

Sunday saunter 

has clipped in and we are pedalling off to somewhere approximately 25 miles away, the unseasonable sunshine warming our backs.

And then a funny thing happens. It turns out everybody does want to talk about ‘Lance’ after all.

A couple of the guys used to race against him as a junior – “he was cocky but he could back it up” – and most of them had seen him out training on these roads – “he’d ride along for a while, chatting, and then say ‘thanks for the tow’ and shoot off”.

They did not seem that upset about the doping – “they all did it…America loves a winner…who can say they wouldn’t have done the same?” – but the “other stuff” was a problem.

Perhaps not an irredeemable one, though.

A week before, Austin had staged the

US National Cyclo-cross Championships. 

It should have been a celebration of the self-confident city’s vibrant cycling culture, but when the final Sunday was nearly cancelled amid a row over possible damage to some old oak trees it ended up like an episode of

Parks and Recreation. 

Armstrong was not present – he has not touched a bike since early November and tends to avoid gatherings these days, he can do without the “Hey, it’s Lance! Wait, is that cool?” expressions on people’s faces – but he knew this was important to the city he moved to as an ambitious teen, the city whose rise to national prominence he had once been synonymous with. So he made some calls.

Within hours the race was back on (his was not the only call), but on Monday. This meant a lot of people needed a room. Thankfully, Hotel Lance was open and within minutes of

the tweet 

going out, half a dozen competitors and their families were sorted for the night, free of charge.

It was a small gesture but it resonated with Violet Crown’s members, and over the next three and-a-half hours a more nuanced picture of Armstrong emerged.

Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani

Armstrong’s Tour de France battles with Italian maverick Marco Pantani divided cycling fans but attracted huge television audiences – both were cheating, though

Nobody in the group, some of whom have been doing this for 30 years, tried to tell me he is a misunderstood saint, stitched up by jealous foreigners and sanctimonious officials, but then nobody told me he is an out-and-out bounder, either.

So when Armstrong agreed to meet the BBC to discuss a first television interview since

Oprah Winfrey

two years ago, I wondered which version of the paradoxical pedaller I would get.

Come on over, he said; there are direct flights between London and Austin, he pointed out; but “for everybody’s sakes this isn’t an interview”, he warned.

The flight was interesting. Alex Gibney’s

“The Armstrong Lie” 

on one channel; on another, the episode of


when Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s vice-president almost signs her name next to Lance Armstrong’s on an IT company’s graffiti wall (“we’re having that one chemically expunged”).

But when my taxi pulled up outside his house at 8am he was stood in the doorway, bare feet, in short-sleeved shirt and shorts, big smile, mug of coffee in his hand, Halloween decorations framing the door. Deflectors up, I went in.

Two hours later, we were outside his house in the road, him still barefoot, planning the rest of my day in Austin. A few neighbours strolled by, greeting him as they did. It was a very nice neighbourhood.

US President George W. Bush and Lance Armstrong

There was a time when many Americans wondered if Lance Armstrong would like to stand behind this lectern on a more full-time basis

We had both got what we wanted: the Beeb had its interview (without conditions) and he had shown me he was not a black hole of malignant energy.

Had I been played? Seduced by his famous charm, disarmed by his children, thrown off balance by his ability to laugh at himself?

Probably, but that went both ways. Did I really believe this interview could be a step towards rehabilitation? Maybe, but most of all I thought it would be a blockbuster.

The trail went cold after that meeting. As others have discovered, he compartmentalises his life better than a Boxtroll, so we were put aside until the right time.

For weeks we were left like his loyal band of followers, tracking his runs on


, deciphering his tweets.

Interviews with

Golf Digest  



came out (was he stringing us along?), and then an email arrived on Christmas Day: Le Boss says let’s do it.

Most of you will have seen or heard bits of our sports editor Dan Roan’s interview with Armstrong now, and it seems most of you have had your views of him (Lance, not Dan) reconfirmed.

Inevitably, most of the reaction has focused on the headline

“I would do it again”

. He knew that would happen (he had market-tested it recently in audiences with students at


and property developers in


), so do not feel sorry for a misquoted victim of the nasty media.

Lance Armstrong

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Armstrong on drugs, history and the future

But should we admit he has a point?

Everybody likes to think they are noble enough to find their way out of moral mazes, which is a surprise when you consider the evidence. As Armstrong put it, he does not know many who decided to forego the dream and keep their integrity.

Sure, there were some; but as French rider

Christophe Bassons,

one of the few good men, pointed out this week, he cannot remember many either.

These might be uncomfortable truths but Armstrong did not invent doping, they really were almost all at it, it did not stop after he quit, and the

United States Anti-Doping Agency  

probably was guilty of hyperbole when it called US Postal’s doping antics the “most sophisticated and professionalised” in history. They were undoubtedly “successful”, though.

He is also on firm ground when he highlights the inconsistency of stripping his titles, whilst umpteen other dopers keep theirs, some of whom have lied just as hard and long as him.

Does this mean they should be returned? Well, he believes “history” will sort that out, and in the meantime he still has his “memories”.

I suspect history will decide it has better things to do. Whether he has the titles, nobody has them, or a queue is formed behind the only podium-finisher from his era not to be caught cheating, Spain’s

Fernando Escartin

, it does not matter. They are all tainted.

But what should Armstrong do with the rest of his life? Some want to put him in prison. House arrest will suffice for others.

This is where I believe he makes another reasonable point.

As you will see if you watch our documentary

“Lance Armstrong: The Road Ahead”

over the coming days on BBC News and World News, or BBC1 on Sunday, we visited the cancer charity formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

When its founder went toxic two years ago, it dropped his name, sent his framed jerseys back and told him to stay away, something he describes as

“the deepest cut”.

The Livestrong wristband

Armstrong’s cancer foundation teamed up with Nike to sell 90 million yellow wristbands. giving birth to a fashion statement that continues today


, like its erstwhile patron, is not doing too badly on the face of it. It has lovely headquarters, in a cool part of town, and has just handed the University of Texas £30m to develop better cancer care.

But its revenues have fallen dramatically, Armstrong’s corporate sponsors have slipped away and it is currently without a chief executive.

It seems to have lost its confidence and identity. Our requests for interviews were politely but firmly declined, as was the idea that we might film links in Livestrong’s reception.

Armstrong, meanwhile, is on the other side of town desperate to help.

As outlined in

Esquire’s Armstrong profile 

last summer, the chastened campaigner continues to do good work in the cancer community.

I do not know if that work was accidentally-on-purpose leaked but I can say he was trying to persuade a frightened teenager to go ahead with treatment on the morning of our interview, and we would not have known that unless we directly asked his agent about it.

There will be some of you screaming now that Livestrong, the chugging with politicians and celebrities, and the entire cancer-survivor backstory was part of the con, a shield to justify the fraud in France.

But Armstrong really did survive life-threatening cancer and decide to do something positive afterwards. The result was £300m raised for a foundation that has helped three million people.

That happened 


Is it possible that some good can still come of the failed enterprise that was Lance: The Great American Hero?

His days of winning elite bike or triathlon races are almost certainly gone, and there should be no Hope Rides/Runs/Whatever Again hoopla in his future. But who benefits by stopping him from running

“a slow marathon”  

or perhaps even helping cycling’s move to the mainstream again?

Clearly, there needs to be some quid pro quo. Armstrong is quick to highlight the apologies that have been accepted, but less forthcoming on those he still has

not tried hard enough to appease


One idea might be to actually help the fight against doping today, instead of rationalising the dilemmas of yesterday.

Armstrong was the villain of a piece in

USA Today  

last week about the

Taylor Hooton Foundation 

, a Texas-based organisation set up by a father who lost a teenage son to suicide after he got caught up in steroids at school.

The foundation now uses Armstrong’s story to warn children about the perils of performance-enhancing drugs.

“Everyone we talk to knows Lance,” Don Hooton told the paper. “There’s never, ever, a positive reaction to him.”

But what if Armstrong gave those talks? Might the reaction change and the impact be greater?

He will never again be the face of a major sponsor, be talked of as a future senator, or jet around the world performing miracles with the likes of

Bill Clinton  



, but there are enough people on Sunday morning rides and cancer wards still willing to give him another chance.

Perhaps the best of the library of books that Armstrong’s modern morality tale inspired is


by Wall Street Journal reporters

Reed Albergotti  


Vanessa O’Connell. 

The 43-year-old does not read books (he prefers newspapers), which is a shame because Wheelmen’s final paragraph sums his situation up perfectly:

“He really does hold the keys to his own redemption. Whether he will use them, for the sake of both his soul and the soul of the sport he once loved so much, remains to be seen.

He is a man of great strength, determination, and resilience, and we truly hope that he will use those qualities to make a moral comeback as complete as the physical comeback he effected from the cancer that nearly killed him. Time will tell.”

“Lance Armstrong: The Road Ahead” will be first broadcast on

BBC News

at 2030 (all times GMT) on Thursday, 29 January, and then repeated five times over the weekend, including at 2330 on Sunday, 1 February, on BBC One in England, and 0030 on Monday, 2 February, in Scotland. It will also be broadcast on

BBC World News

on Friday, 30 January, at 0430 and 0930, and on Saturday, 31 January, at 0730.

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Armstrong is a scapegoat

Banned cyclist Lance Armstrong has been harshly treated, according to former head of world cycling Pat McQuaid.

Armstrong, 43, was given a life ban from all sport and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping.

McQuaid, former president of world governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI), said he had “a certain sympathy” with the American.


told BBC Radio 5 live:

“He was very much made a scapegoat, there was a witch hunt after Armstrong.”

The Irishman was UCI president from 2006 to 2013 before

being replaced by Brian Cookson.

McQuaid was speaking following a

BBC interview with Armstrong

in which the cyclist criticised current incumbent Cookson for his handling of the

Astana doping affair.

When a United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) report

published in October 2012

labelled Armstrong a “serial” cheat, McQuaid – still in his UCI role –

said the Texan had “no place in cycling”.

But McQuaid now says Armstrong was treated differently from other cyclists who were also doping.

He explained: “That’s the way it was. Usada wanted a big name.

“They weren’t really interested in the smaller riders and also they made deals with the smaller riders in order to get the information they needed on the big guys.

“I can have a certain sympathy because I don’t think in sport, people in those situations, I think they should be treated equally.”

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Astana should be banned

Lance Armstrong believes Brian Cookson has not delivered on his campaign promises since taking over at the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Cookson, the ex-head of British Cycling, beat Ireland’s Pat McQuaid in

a bitter election

in late 2013.

But Armstrong is unimpressed with what he has seen of the president so far.

“If McQuaid had made the same decisions Cookson has made in his first year, he would have been lynched,” said the disgraced cyclist.

“Do we like what we have got so far?”

Armstrong cited the decisions to “rush” through Team Sky’s request for Chris Froome to get emergency

steroid treatment

for asthma after the Tour de Romandie’s prologue and Cookson’s handling of

the Astana affair

as failures to signal a new direction at the top of the sport.

Lance Armstrong

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Armstrong on drugs, history and the future

Astana, the team for which Armstrong rode during his second comeback in 2009, have been mired in controversy ever since

five riders

in their system failed drugs tests in a matter of months last year.

Many observers expected the UCI to revoke the team’s WorldTour licence but after weeks of speculation the Kazakhstan-based outfit were given another chance in December.

Run by Alexander Vinokourov, a contemporary of Armstrong’s, Astana remain on probation and their anti-doping practices are being independently vetted, but the episode was widely seen as a challenge that Cookson ducked.

And with Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali riding for Astana, the sport had once again left itself vulnerable to ridicule.

Speaking to the BBC in his first TV interview for two years, Armstrong said “everybody thinks” Astana should have been thrown out, but he accepted that Cookson’s hands might have been tied by the UCI’s rules.

He was less understanding, though, on the 63-year-old’s failure to force the likes of Vinokourov, Tinkoff-Saxo’s Bjarne Riis and other controversial team managers still in the sport, to cooperate with the panel set up by the UCI to investigate the sport’s murky past.

Armstrong has talked to the

Cycling Independent Reform Commission

(Circ) twice and is now waiting to see if his efforts will be rewarded with a recommendation that his lifetime ban from sport should be reduced.

That ban was given out by the

United States Anti-Doping Agency

(Usada) in 2012 when Armstrong failed to cooperate with its investigation into the teams with whom he won his seven Tour de France titles. He was also stripped of those victories.

Any decision on reducing the ban rests with Usada, which might mean Armstrong is left disappointed, but he is angry that his peers have not been compelled to talk to Circ.

“If I’m Brian Cookson, I would make it a deal point that you have to come in and talk,” he said.

“So if Riis doesn’t talk to you, or Vinokourov doesn’t, there should be consequences. I don’t know those to be examples, but I can imagine.

“If you don’t come in to talk, you don’t just get passed.”

When asked for a reaction, Riis’s team Tinkoff-Saxo said he has never refused to meet Circ and it wanted to respect the confidentiality of the process, while the UCI said it would wait until Circ’s report is finished before commenting.

The three-man panel is expected to complete its year-long investigation by the end of next month, with the UCI publishing it by the middle of March.

Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins

Chris Froome won the Tour de France in 2013, 12 months after Team Sky colleague Sir Bradley Wiggins

While Armstrong is underwhelmed by Britain’s takeover at the UCI, he is far more conciliatory to the British riders who have followed him as Tour champions, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, particularly in relation to

the doping questions

they have had to face in his wake.

“I’m sorry, and I completely agree that because of the timing of things, it is down to me,” he said.

“[Usada’s reasoned decision] comes out after the Tour in 2012, so it’s logical that in 2013 there’s going to be a lot of questions. Especially in a year when Chris Froome performs exceptionally.

“Look, Froome won the Tour in 2013, that’s 14 years after 1999. If in 1999 I was asked questions about the 1985 winner of the Tour de France, I’d be like ‘What are you talking about? Why are you asking me about the mid-80s?’

“But the story was so relevant to people. When this went down, people were left with the impression, in 2012, that I was hanging blood bags six months earlier. That’s not the case.

“So I feel bad for those guys, they shouldn’t have been put in that position. I’m not sure why they were put in a position to answer 15-year-old questions, but it’s unfortunate for all of us, especially for them.”

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