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Zip the lips: After hours of TV, too many Armstrong questions remain

  • By Matthew Beaudin
  • Published Jan. 19, 2013
  • Updated Oct. 30, 2014 at 1:35 PM EST
After a week of mainstream media attention and almost three hours with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong emerges known more for his silence than his openness. Photo: Martin Bureau | AFP

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — For as much as he said, he didn’t say much at all.

Lance Armstrong this week fessed up to doping during his seven Tour de France wins, but it’s the things he didn’t say, the things he may have lied about still, that may haunt him yet. It will be remembered as the moment a dirty cyclist finally came clean, but that wasn’t anything new, anyway — the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had vanquished Armstrong the cycling hero months ago.

It was reported in the run-up to the interview that Armstrong considered outing friends and giving up the Union Cycliste Internationale. He did no such thing, and offered little meaningful assistance to a sport that’s suffering from an image problem, in large part due to the culture over which he presided, and helped further with aggressive pursuit of anyone even hinting at talking.

Over nearly three hours and two evenings, the fallen Tour de France star said more in a few words (all yeses, admitting to doping, and doping in every Tour win) than he had in a decade, but he left many scratching their heads, particularly at the notion that his comeback in 2009, during which he finished third at the Tour de France, was ridden on bread and water when blood data said otherwise.

“The last time I crossed that line was 2005,” Armstrong told Winfrey. On night two of a two-part interview, Armstrong said that in conversations with his former wife, Kristin, she made him promise not to use performance enhancing drugs if he were to return to the peloton.

“She said to me, ‘you can do it, under one condition: That you never cross that line again.’ And I said, ‘you got a deal.’ And I never would have betrayed that with her,” he said. “It’s a serious — it was a serious ask, it was a serious commitment.”

That commitment, however, has been refuted by math. In the 2009 Tour, Armstrong’s samples showed fewer red blood cells over a three-week stage race than would normally occur, indicating he was injecting supplemental blood.

Scientists noted that Armstrong’s blood has a less than one a million chance of naturally appearing in such a fashion. Nearly 40 samples were taken over the course of Armstrong’s comeback, providing a baseline for a biological passport.

“The sport was very clean,” Armstrong told Winfrey, citing the very biological passport that ensnared him. “I didn’t expect to get third. I expected to win, like I always expected. And at the end, I said to myself, ‘I just got beat by two guys who were better.’”

If he’s lying, the question is why. There’s little at stake for Armstrong in this arena, as his Tour titles are already gone, and it appears the statute of limitations has run, even from his comeback years. But he may not be protected from whatever he’s worried about, if he isn’t telling the truth.

“I think it’s fair game. Just because he doesn’t admit to something happening doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. If anyone sues him, or whatever, I think that’s a subject for exploration,” said Mark Stichel, a Baltimore-based attorney who has litigated civil cases in state and federal courts throughout the U.S.

Armstrong also didn’t touch the now-infamous incident in a hospital room in 1996.

According to Betsy and Frankie Andreu, who were present in the hospital with Armstrong, a doctor entered the room and asked Armstrong whether he was taking any drugs. The Andreus claimed — when asked under oath — that Armstrong told the doctor that he was in fact using several performance enhancing drugs, including the banned blood booster EPO.

Armstrong has always vehemently denied that the conversation had ever taken place.

When asked by Winfrey during Thursday’s broadcast whether he still denied it, Armstrong only said that he would not talk about it. Winfrey then moved on to her next question.

“As far as, I guess first the non-admission of the 1996 hospital incident … My initial thought was that he and the Andreus had come to a deal, and part of the deal is not talking about it,” Stichel said. But after hearing Betsy explode on CNN over the issue?

“I’d be pretty surprised if there were any deals out there,” Stichel said. “Clearly he is reluctant to say something. My gut just tells me that he was coached by his lawyers on that point, because clearly he was not going to talk.”

There were plenty of issues that were never addressed — at least in the edited version of the interview. For example, Armstrong never explained how he bested the testing systems, aside from a general discussion of the lack of out-of-competition testing during his early career. Nor did he address a cozy relationship (as indicated by Tyler Hamilton in his book, “The Secret Race”) with UCI top brass. According to the USADA dossier, the sport’s governing body was aware of Armstrong’s doping and helped him stay in the game, and Armstrong made a sizeable donation to the UCI to fund drug-testing equipment.

On the UCI, all Armstrong said was that he was “no friend” at all, a phrases he repeated at least three times during Thurday’s broadcast.

Greg LeMond’s name didn’t come up, nor did that of many other associates and teammates. Armstrong never said how he got the drugs, who supplied them, or how blood was cycled though the U.S. Postal Team at races. It’s true that Armstrong is on the hook for a False Claims suit, at the hands of Floyd Landis, a former teammate. That may have had a bearing on what he could — or could not — say. But if that’s the case, why talk at all?

“I’ve been thinking for the last 18 hours, why did he even do this interview? I’m not sure it satisfies anyone. There was an admission, but it was a pretty limited admission,” Stichel said. “He seems to be playing some of the same sort of semantic games that he’s played in the past. I’m just scratching my head as to why he even did this.”

Here was an opportunity to leave the sport better, and in a place to move forward. One would be hard pressed to say he’s done anything beyond serve himself.

After nearly three hours of TV and a week laid out across mainstream media, the sport is left with a series of yeses. But Armstrong won’t be remembered within cycling for what he did say, but more for what he didn’t. The omérta remains intact, and its king, for now, still has zipped lips.

We can only hope that isn’t the case if and when Armstrong sits down with USADA officials again.

FILED UNDER: Analysis TAGS: / /

Matthew Beaudin

Matthew Beaudin

Matthew Beaudin graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder's journalism school in 2005 and immediately moved to Telluride, Colorado, to write and ski, though the order is fuzzy. Beaudin was the editor of the Telluride Daily Planet for five years. He now lives in Boulder, where he joined VeloNews in the spring of 2012. Music. Coffee. Bikes. That about sums it up.

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