Here is a thought. Lance Armstrong’s new narrative is to give extended interviews to high profile magazines such as Esquire and, well, Rouleur magazine.
On our website it states that we are the leading cycling magazine in the world. Perhaps Camp Lance read this and thought it would be okay to spend some days with us in Aspen. This new narrative is to give as much of the New Lance, because the media now needs, he believes, a new perspective on how we view the era in which he stood as the main character, its main protagonist.
We walk around. Highly expensive furniture. Exquisite, with art everywhere. Sculptures, drawings, lithographs, huge oil canvases. Random pieces. Keith Haring. A Warhol. A couple of framed guns, lesser known stuff. It looks as if they pick out their art by the moment, a flicker of curiosity could be enough – that one!
Downstairs, an oversized pool table, a wine cellar. But this is a home where children live. A room with four bunk beds looks like someone dropped a grenade onto a grenade. Back upstairs again, beside the fireplace, a trophy rests on a table. It simply reads “Sportsman of the Century”.
Now we are in a car. Going out for lunch. Hunter S. Thomson’s old joint down at Woody Creek. Lance wants to show us. From the backseat, he calls up Anna: “Hi, baby. Yeah. I’m with the Danes now. They’re dressed like the Blues Brothers, man! Crazy shit. What? No. I just motor-paced Tejay for an hour. My ass is about to fall off.”
After another ten minutes of mostly private stuff. Lance tells her he made 138 bucks on the golf course, and he’ll bring all the money to her, when they hook up again later on in the week. “All right, baby. Love you. Bye.” He sighs. “Right. That’s that out of the way.”
We laugh. All of us travel. All of us have wives at home. “Turn right here. It’s a great little place. Hunter had lunch here every day. Just fucking terrorised the place.”
“Okay, I’m gonna do my Twitter shit now. What?”
“Ha! Was meaning to ask you about that.”
“Well, it goes like this: if I don’t say anything, nothing happens. But if I post, it all begins. All these goofy cycling-hater people. Let’s see. Here. One guy goes on about the watts Contador and Froome do. And how nothing has changed in cycling since me. And then this guy replies: ‘Lance Armstrong. Seven times Tour winner. Fuck you UCI, WADA, USADA, ASO, Tygart’. Haha, this guy goes crazy, haha… Jesus!”
“How does it make you feel, that this is always going on? It’s all over the world. People discuss your every move.”
“I’m immune to it. Of course, if they write about my family, that hurts my feelings. But anything regarding me, I’m totally immune to. The flipside of that is that I’m also immune to compliments.”
“That doesn’t sound healthy.”
“Well, that is unfortunate. Here. Park up here.”
Woody Creek Tavern
The waitress arrives three times at our table to take the order. But Lance can’t stop talking. “In a minute,” he apologises. “Sorry. Where were we?”
“If it was worth it?”
“Take a wild guess.”
“Making the decision to dope? Well, we all made that decision. Once we realised – this was when we arrived in Europe and got our asses kicked – that we had brought knives to a gun-fight, we all went out and got guns. So virtually everybody in the business made that decision. My set of options was to go back to the US and work in a bike shop. Well, I didn’t take that option. So this was the times of the sport. But don’t fucking over-apologise about it. Everyone is now going; ‘oh, I’m so sorry…’ I can’t take that narrative and run with it.”
We order. Food arrives quickly. Lance and the waitress exchange pleasantries. He is a regular. At the table next to us, a father of two can’t stop looking at Lance’s back. I smile at him. He doesn’t return it. People sneak a look. But other than that, we are left alone.
“But within all this, there are really two issues. Because if you take a look around this restaurant, these people are all thinking more of the denials than the actual doping. They think about the treatment of people – you know, my press conferences, the raving-mad asshole thing.”
“I’m glad you said that.”
“Right. So first with the doping. We all jumped in. And with that, the sport, the whole industry, the media, all went like this. Up! My foundation raised half a billion dollars, serving three million people. And then, as we all know, a handful of people got rolled. By me. Because I was so aggressive. Not good. I’m admitting that. But let’s talk about the three million who got our help. The billions of dollars that the industry saw coming into their accounts. Increased participation around the world. So you are asking me, if we all want to go back and make a different decision?”
“That’s my question.”
“Well. If you say yes, you’re a liar. Nobody wants to walk away from that. And part two, which is the most significant part. That I was so aggressive. And all the denials. For that I have tremendous regrets. First time it came up, I should just have said, well… I don’t know what. I couldn’t have said ‘no comment’, because that would have answered their questions. But that fight, that contest, it became bigger than the races.”
“Why didn’t Johan [Bruyneel] tell you to shut up?”
“Yeah. He probably should have. Like ‘woah, woah! Easy on the answers there, Lance!’ But that wasn’t my personality. I was a fighter. Okay. Take Tiger Woods. Or Clinton. Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan. You think these people are the dictionary definition of ‘nice?’ No. Great champions are winners, man. But the one key fundamental difference between some of them – or any other public figure you can think of – and me, is that they were allowed to go back and rewrite their story. If Clinton, after the affair at the White House, was told he could never speak in public again, never go around the world helping people, do all the things that he does now, then he’d go down as the guy who did, you know, the blah blah blah with the intern. He’d still be considered an asshole. Tiger, too. Ultimately they’re forgiven, because they got a chance to come back and tell a different story.”
“And you don’t?”
“Right. With me they completely robbed me of… well, there may be some kind of rehabilitation at some point, but if I had served, say, six months like the other guys, and then went back and did the triathlons and the Ironman, we’d be having a totally different conversation right now. But I can’t change that narrative. I’m forever the asshole.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“How the fuck do you think it makes me feel? But I’ll tell you something; as I have seen in the numerous legal proceedings I have been involved with, they are throwing everything I’ve ever said publicly right in my face. And I’m sitting there thinking; did I say all that? I mean. Did I fucking say all that? Was I that convinced that they couldn’t touch me? Well, the answer to that is yes. But you know what? It is almost… refreshing to hear. Because I now know that, for the rest of my life, I will have both of my feet right on the fucking ground.”
Now. Isn’t that a man you’d want to have a beer with?
“As a retired man?” I ask.
“Hmm. Norman Mailer followed Ali around Kinshasa once. For the fight against Foreman. What he saw was almost a political figure. When you were at your peak, a lot of the talk was that you were also political material. You think you could ever come back like that?”
“Pff! Have you ever trusted a politician?”
“Never in my life.”
“Right. I have a tough time with politicians. They all seem fake. So why would I want to become one of those guys? Also, they actually have a job. They do work. And I don’t wanna do that!”
“But you don’t seem like a man ready for retirement. Are you playing golf for the next 50 years?”
“Told you, I’m retired.”
From Rouleur issue 51.