In a series of interviews with the U.K.-based Global Cycling Network (GCN), Irish journalist David Walsh, recent winner of the British Journalism Award as the 2012 Journalist of the Year, spoke at length about what has become the defining story of his career — the imposing rise and calamitous fall of Lance Armstrong.
In the first portion of the seven-part interview with former pro cyclist Daniel Lloyd, Walsh admits that he had long believed Armstrong had become too wealthy and powerful to fall. He also expressed surprise that it was ultimately a former teammate, Floyd Landis, who would bring Armstrong down.
“I always felt he was too big to be toppled,” Walsh said. “If you said to me, ‘did you see the end coming, as it came?’ The answer is no, I didn’t.”
During Armstrong’s Tour de France reign, Walsh persistently questioned the Texan’s achievements, initially writing for The London Times, where, in 2001, he was first to report that Armstrong was working with notorious Italian doctor Michele Ferrari.
Walsh also authored a pair of books, “L.A. Confidentiel: Les secrets de Lance Armstrong,” which was published only in French, in 2004, and “From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France,” published in English in 2007. In those books, Walsh reported statements claiming that Armstrong had doped, from former U.S. Postal Service soigneur Emma O’Reilly, as well as Betsy Andreu, wife of Armstrong’s former Postal Service teammate Frankie Andreu, and Steve Swart, a teammate at Motorola during the 1990s.
In 2006 The Sunday Times was forced to settle a defamation suit in Armstrong’s favor related to its publishing an article that referenced claims made in “L.A. Confidentiel.”
“Lance had a way of diminishing all of the people who spoke against him, and I suppose the bit that really frustrated me was the readiness of so many to accept Armstrong’s totally implausible explanations — to accept the fact that he felt he could character assassinate anyone who spoke against him,” Walsh said in the GCN video. “I found that depressing. If you were a big guy, you could say whatever you like about other people, and the journalists who should have been challenging you didn’t challenge you, and were prepared to let you get away with it.”
That didn’t deter Walsh, however, and following Armstrong’s downfall at the hands of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency over the summer and fall of 2012, Walsh published a third book on the topic, “Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong,” which will be available in the U.S. later this month.
In December, a spokesperson for The Sunday Times acknowledged that the paper is suing Armstrong for return of the settlement payment, plus interest and legal expenses, in a claim that “is likely to exceed” one million pounds ($1.6 million).
Walsh, meanwhile, is enjoying vindication after years spent as a pariah.
“My feeling was ‘I don’t believe [that Armstrong was clean, as he claimed] and I don’t care how many others do believe it,” Walsh said. “I’m sticking to my guns here.”
Walsh also acknowledged that while his investigative journalism may have helped foster suspicion around Armstrong’s achievements, it took the testimony of a shunned former teammate to finally pull the rug from under Armstrong’s house of cards.
“Although Lance was a smart guy, I think his smartness was more the analytical type of intelligence; I don’t think he was emotionally intelligent,” Walsh said. “He didn’t realize Floyd Landis would constitute a very dangerous enemy. So when Floyd Landis got banned after the 2006 Tour de France, and came back, is reaching out to Lance for help, and Lance is basically, ‘get lost, you got caught, you’re a loser,’ Lance made an enemy of a guy who is incredibly dangerous. Floyd is tough. He’s hard. And when he takes his gloves off, he’s a formidable fighter. Floyd took the gloves off and wrote about what life was like at the U.S. Postal team.”
“Floyd’s allegations were the turning point of this story, and from that moment on, we had entered the end game,” Walsh said. “And it was going to end very good for the truth, and very badly for Lance Armstrong.”
Additional installments of Global Cycling Network’s interview with Walsh will be posted daily over the coming week.