For some, nothing has changed since October 2012 but publicity. For others — Lance Armstrong, notably — virtually everything has. A wide chasm has opened up in the year since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released its reasoned decision on the U.S. Postal Service investigation; USADA was hailed as a hero, mostly, or assailed a scavenger, and Armstrong was largely torn down by a news media muzzled for a decade, and a public that once adored him.
VeloNews spoke with Armstrong and USADA CEO Travis Tygart last week to reflect on the 12 months since the reasoned decision’s arrival, among other things. Presented first is a correspondence with Armstrong, followed by a transcription of a conversation with Tygart, examining the issue. The answers presented were in response to questions asked; the two men did not have a conversation. Opinions vary, absolutely, but one thing is for certain: professional cycling has not been the same since.
VeloNews: It’s been a year since the reasoned decision. Is the sport any different than it was? Or is perception only different than it was?
Lance Armstrong: Is the sport any different than it was 10 years ago? Of course. Is it any different than it was one year ago? No. But the events of the past year cannot take credit for cleaning it up over the past decade.
VN: I know it’s hard to account for, but since then, what’s really changed for you?
LA: A lot. I have lost every business relationship I’ve ever had. I have been sued left, right, and center. I have been ousted from my foundation that I started, personally donated 8 million dollars to, spent 15 years building, and helped raise half a billion dollars for. I’m not whining, yet I’m simply answering your question straight up. On the bright side, I have a lot of free time so I’m getting fit, raising my five kids, and lowering my golf handicap.
VN: Did the reasoned decision help or hurt cycling?
LA: Of course it didn’t help cycling. Only time will tell how much it hurt our sport. Of course, our generation did plenty of damage ourselves we now see. We have to accept responsibility for our actions. I know I do. Having said that, did we need to go back over a decade to dredge this up? Let me ask you a question: What if you opened the New York Times tomorrow morning to the headline that Kenneth Starr as been hired to investigate Bill Clinton’s alleged actions from when he was president? Or that Roger Goodell was investigating John Elway’s 1999 Super Bowl season and considering stripping him of his Super Bowl victory and MVP title? You would be in disbelief. Like it or not, that is exactly what happened here. Lastly, ask [Christian] Vande Velde, [George] Hincapie, [David] Zabriskie, [Levi] Leipheimer, etc. if they feel as if this has been a fair, balanced, and just process.
VN: Travis Tygart told me it wasn’t too late to come in and talk with USADA, but that the window was closing. He also said the possibility under the current rules exists to have your ban reduced if you did cooperate. Is that something you’re interested in, or are you waiting for the UCI process, if there is one?
LA: First of all, I was never offered the “deal” [Vande Velde, etc.] were offered. We now know the initial “deal” for the Garmin guys was absolutely no suspension while George and Levi were offered six months. The key is that USADA led with this “carrot.” It was never “tell us what you know and we’ll determine the punishment.” We asked them to sit down with us in person to discuss things (June 8, 2012) and they refused. The next news I received was the “charging letter.” As far as cooperation goes, I will absolutely cooperate completely and fully in the proper international setting. With all due respect to USADA, they are not in charge of a global sport, the UCI and/or WADA is. We now have new [UCI] leadership in Aigle (thankfully) and they seem to be intent on convening some sort of truth and recon process. As I have said many times, but want to repeat, I will be the first man in the door. I am waiting for their call. [Editor’s note: According to public record, USADA has attempted to meet with Armstrong on numerous occasions. Read one such letter here.]
VN: Some people have said you won’t ever truly come clean, tell all you know, try to right the past wrongs. What would you say to them?
LA: I would tell them that I completely understand. I was dishonest about my doping for a long, long time and I fully understand that I let many fans and friends down and for this I will pay a heavy price. Going forward, though, it’s straight talk [regarding] this issue. Whether it’s a passerby on the street, in a sworn deposition, or in a TRC [truth and reconciliation] setting, folks should expect the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
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Of course, there’s another voice — one of hundreds, actually, in this Armstrong/USADA script that feels as though it is in its third act of a five-part performance. That of Travis Tygart.
VeloNews: It’s been a year now. What’s changed for USADA?
Travis Tygart: They arrested [those who made serious threats against Tygart] and have entered plea agreements, so that is a good thing, obviously. We took that seriously. And they did as well. But we’re just trying to do exactly what we did before. Certainly there’s been more attention. Congress has asked us to take over horseracing. We’ve been asked to testify in Europe numerous times — three times. So I think the ripple effects of the realization that corrupt cultures of drug use can take over a sport, people are still eager to learn the lesson about it and do everything possible to ensure they have the best systems in place to not allow it to happen in their sport. So that’s a really good thing. Obviously for cycling itself … three months ago, Pat McQuaid was a shoe-in. I think the downfall of the [UCI] president sends a powerful message. You know, one, you better protect the athletes who are competing while you’re in charge … you also better make firm commitments to ensuring it never happens again, or your positions are in jeopardy. And that’s how it should be.
VN: Do you think cycling is better off now than it was a year ago?
TT: I think absolutely. The key question is — and you saw it after Festina, I guess, to a certain extent, you saw it after Tyler [Hamilton] and Floyd’s [Landis] cases — when top people at the top of the top of the sport are held accountable and you realize that no one is above the rules … it sends shockwaves to some extent through those who might cheat. I think what this has done is show that no team, or individual, is above the rules. And there are independent organizations out there that are going to listen and follow up appropriately. And athletes should take responsibility for their cultures. And let’s not forget, while there are a lot of people in the pro peloton over the years who participated in the corrupt drug culture, there were a lot of people who didn’t. But a lot of people left the sport unfortunately because they refused to. And those people, that’s hopefully that’s the generation in the sport now … they do have a choice now not to leave the sport.
VN: Time and time again, USADA has said its investigation is ongoing. Is it still?
TT: Absolutely. You’ve seen cases arising. There’s been a number, since the reasoned decision. We obviously have open cases that are still pending before the national tribunal judges here. … Look, it continues. We continue to develop information. And it’s why we’ve pushed so hard for the UCI to do something. Because we know that it’s just going to continue to come out. We know the culture was deeper than just the U.S. Postal Service’s team. And while that has been largely exposed, it hasn’t been entirely exposed. Because there were other team owners and others involved, we firmly believe … there’s more that’s there. We believe until a full process has been put in place, as Pat McQuaid promised a year ago … you’re still going to have bits and pieces of evidence coming forward and then having to be acted on, as we continue to try to do. And it’s exactly why we’ve pushed so hard from the beginning.
VN: Some say, ‘hey, that happened a long time ago, everyone did it. These disclosures now do nothing but hurt the sport.’ Do you have a response to that?
TT: That’s very shortsighted. Yea, it might be painful for a little while, but that’s less painful than having all this evidence come out over a longer period of time. So go ahead and just rip the Band-Aid off. And enough naive thinking that you can continue to keep the secrets quiet, because they’re going to come out, one way or the other … we would have loved for it to happen a long time ago, too. But that’s not the reality of when the Omerta was cracked that allowed us to move forward. We were hopeful through our process with the reasoned decision that it would have come out in a bigger way, and then we were hopeful when McQuaid made his promise to take decisive and transparent action that it would have come out in a bigger way. You can’t be shortsighted. You’ve got to be long-term.
VN: Well, there’s Brian Cookson now as UCI president. Do you believe you’ll get that truth and reconciliation commission?
TT: We’re as hopeful as we’ve ever been. We’re confident that he’s going to fulfill the promise. The devil’s always in the details in those situations, particularly where you have some within the sport who just want to sort of forget about it, close the book. I think that would be a tragic outcome. And I don’t think — we’re confident he’s not going to do that. Clean athletes will demand he doesn’t do that, but I’m confident that he won’t.
VN: Would USADA still cooperate with Armstrong?
TT: We’ve made it crystal clear. We are eager to hear what he has to say … we firmly believe there’s other information that hasn’t yet been discovered that he could potentially be helpful with. We made our initial invitation to that back in June of 2012, and numerous outreaches to his representatives. We’re obviously not sitting around waiting. And with each passing day, the value of that becomes less and less. Hopefully it’s not too late. We remain open.
VN: Ten years from now, how is the reasoned decision viewed?
TT: I hope it’ll be seen as the watershed moment. That the balance went in favor of clean athletes and truth in competition. That those who attempt to scare off or intimidate truthfulness [won’t be] empowered. At the end of the day, athletes own the culture. The sport, certainly in the pressure and the money, certainly helps set the culture, but I certainly believe one athlete would defer to the majority. And we hear it from them that this has given hope and courage to athletes that they can stand up and make a difference.