The man who exposed Lance Armstrong’s doping lies | CNN (2024)

The man who exposed Lance Armstrong’s doping lies | CNN (1)

Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

After denying the allegations for years, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. As a result, he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and an Olympic bronze medal. Click through the gallery for a look at his life and career.

The man who exposed Lance Armstrong’s doping lies | CNN (2)

Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong, 17, competes in the Jeep Triathlon Grand Prix in 1988. He became a professional triathlete at age 16 and joined the U.S. National Cycling Team two years later.

The man who exposed Lance Armstrong’s doping lies | CNN (3)

Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong wins the 18th stage of the Tour de France in 1995. He finished the race for the first time that year, ending in 36th place.

The man who exposed Lance Armstrong’s doping lies | CNN (4)

Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong rides at the Ikon Ride for the Roses to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation in May 1998. He established the foundation to benefit cancer research after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. After treatment, he was declared cancer-free in February 1997.

The man who exposed Lance Armstrong’s doping lies | CNN (5)

Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong leads his teammates during the final stage of the 1999 Tour de France.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong takes his honor lap on the Champs-Élysées in Paris after winning the Tour de France for the first time in 1999.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

After winning the 2000 Tour de France, Armstrong holds his son Luke on his shoulders.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong rides during the 18th stage of the 2001 Tour de France. He won the tour that year for the third consecutive time.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong celebrates winning the 10th stage of the Tour de France in 2001.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

After winning the 2001 Tour de France, Armstrong presents President George W. Bush with a U.S. Postal Service yellow jersey and a replica of the bike he used to win the race.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Jay Leno interviews Armstrong on "The Tonight Show" in 2003.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

After his sixth consecutive Tour de France win, Armstrong attends a celebration in his honor in front of the Texas State Capitol in Austin.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong arrives at the 2005 American Music Awards in Los Angeles with then-fiancee Sheryl Crow. The couple never made it down the aisle, splitting up the following year.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong holds up a paper displaying the number seven at the start of the Tour de France in 2005. He went on to win his seventh consecutive Tour de France.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong testifies during a Senate hearing in 2008 on Capitol Hill. The hearing focused on finding a cure for cancer in the 21st century.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

In 2009, Armstrong suffered a broken collarbone after falling during a race in Spain.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Young Armstrong fans write messages on the ground ahead of the 2009 Tour de France. He came in third place that year.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong launches the three-day Livestrong Global Cancer Summit in 2009 in Dublin, Ireland. The event was organized by his foundation.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

In May 2010, Armstrong crashes during the Amgen Tour of California. That same day, he denied allegations of doping made by former teammate Floyd Landis.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong looks back as he rides during the 2010 Tour de France.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong's son Luke; his twin daughters, Isabelle and Grace; and his 1-year-old son, Max, stand outside the Radio Shack team bus on a rest day during the 2010 Tour de France.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong finished 23rd in the 2010 Tour de France. He announced his retirement from the world of professional cycling in February 2011. He said he wanted to devote more time to his family and the fight against cancer.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

The frame of Armstrong's bike is engraved with the names of his four children at the time and the Spanish word for five, "cinco." His fifth child, Olivia, was born in October 2010.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong competes in the 70.3 Ironman Triathlon in Panama City, Florida, in February 2012. He went on to claim two Half Ironman triathlon titles by June of that year.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

Armstrong addresses participants at the Livestrong Challenge Ride on October 21, 2012, days after he stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer charity.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

International Cycling Union President Pat McQuaid announces the decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France wins and ban him from the tournament for life on October 22, 2012. "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling," he said.

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Lance Armstrong's rise and fall —

In January 2013, Armstrong speaks with Oprah Winfrey about the controversy surrounding his cycling career. He admitted, unequivocally and for the first time, that he used performance-enhancing drugs while competing.

Lance Armstrong's rise and fall

Story highlights

Irish journalist David Walsh spent over a decade pursuing Lance Armstrong

Sunday Times writer was convinced from 1999 onwards he was doping

His co-authored 2004 book LA Confidential enraged the American cyclist

Armstrong apologized to Walsh during his 2012 televised confession

CNN

It cost his newspaper a thumping $1.6 million in legal costs.

He was the subject of vilification from both cycling fans and officials – not to mention from a man who had become a global sporting icon.

But not once did David Walsh waver in his quest to unveil the truth about Lance Armstrong and his doping lies – despite the almost insurmountable obstacles placed in his way.

“People find this strange, but for me it was the time of my life,” Walsh told CNN’s Changing Gear series in an interview before the start of the Tour de France.

“I loved it. I thought ‘This was journalism, this was what our game was about’ – asking questions that people didn’t want to answer was actually the life blood of journalism for me at that time.”

Read: “Deeply flawed” Armstrong admits to doping

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The award-winning Sunday Times journalist spent 13 long and sometimes lonely years pursuing Armstrong.

Labeled a “Little Troll” by the American, Walsh was finally vindicated when the disgraced cyclist confessed earlier this year.

It was Walsh’s finest hour and he even gained an apology from Armstrong during the course of the Texan’s televised interview with Oprah Winfrey earlier this year.

No elation

But the 58-year-old Irishman did not feel any sense of real elation – only the satisfaction of a job well done.

“For me, it wasn’t a conclusion that was thrilling, or exciting, or interesting – it was the chase,” said Walsh.

“I’ve used the expression that the hunt was better than the kill, and it very much was. I loved getting new information about Armstrong.”

Back in 1999, when the world was in thrall to the cancer survivor after Armstrong’s remarkable comeback to win the Tour de France that year, Walsh was immediately skeptical.

Read: How an all-American hero fell to earth

“It was perfectly obvious to anybody with half a brain that Armstrong was cheating,” said Walsh.

“We were told this is a clean Tour, but it was the fastest in history – completely illogical!”

Armstrong’s treatment of the French rider Christophe Bassons, who was renowned for his anti-doping stance, only served to further raise Walsh’s suspicions.

Bullying tactics

“I mean, Armstrong bullied him, most of the peloton bullied him and I thought: ‘If you were anti-doping, that’s not how you would treat somebody who clearly was riding clean.’”

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It was the start of a crusade to uncover the truth, though at first nobody wanted to listen.

In the aftermath of the 1998 Tour de France – blighted by doping, with police raiding teams to find illegal products – cycling had been desperate for a good news story and was prepared, in Walsh’s words, to “suspend disbelief.”

“An American guy comes from Texas, single-parent family, he’s come through life-threatening cancer, he’s in the lead,” explained Walsh.

Read: Armstrong wants truth and reconciliation commission

“It’s a story that could take the Tour de France from its knees and put it standing up again and the race organizers embraced that.”

As Armstrong’s winning run continued – eventually to total an unprecedented seven Tour wins in a row – so in Walsh’s view the American’s web of deceit grew and he alleges others were complicit in the cover up.

Walsh was determined to publish his version of events and when LA (Lance Armstrong) Confidential hit the bookshelves in 2004 and a story based on it was published in the Sunday Times, the libel suits and the threats intensified.

Singled out

Walsh was at an explosive Tour media conference later that year and Armstrong, when inevitably asked about the book, singled him out, as the journalist vividly recalls.

Armstrong said: “Well as the esteemed author is here, I will answer this.

“And then he said ‘Extraordinary allegations, no, extraordinary accusations must be followed by extraordinary proof.’ Everybody thought that was a great one-liner.”

Walsh had based his book on interviews with Betsy Andreu, the wife of cyclist Frankie Andreu, a former teammate of Armstrong, Emma O’Reilly, who had acted as personal masseuse for the now disgraced cyclist, and a former teammate from the 1990’s, Steven Swart.

Read: Armstrong’s return to competition sunk

When details of the systematic doping carried out by Armstrong and his team finally emerged in a report by the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) in 2012, it vindicated the whistleblowers’ stance – as well as Walsh and his co-author Frenchman Pierre Ballester.

But back in 2004, with Armstrong at the peak of his fame, it was inevitable he would challenge such damaging revelations to protect his reputation.

Libel action

The Sunday Times stood by their man and his story, but when libel action in the UK courts was commenced by the litigious Armstrong, they knew the outcome would probably be in the American’s favor.

Walsh recognized the seriousness of the situation, but admitted his judgment became clouded.

“I’m there saying ‘Well I don’t care, I just want this stuff out there.’

“And I wasn’t seeing reason to be honest. I would have been a bit of a nightmare from the legal department’s point of view and they were right.

“It did cost the Sunday Times a million pounds, but the newspaper were tremendously supportive as was my sports editor,” added Walsh, referring to the out-of-court settlement reached with Armstrong in 2006.

Read: Armstrong sued over sponsorship funds

By then the Texan had retired from the sport for the first time, though the rumors would not go away.

Ultimate responsibility

Walsh believes that cycling’s governing body – the International Cycling Union – bears a heavy responsibility for not cleaning up its own sport in the face of overwhelming evidence of doping, not just by Armstrong but other leading riders.

He is heavily critical of its chiefs past and present, Hein Vergruggen, who resigned in 2005 to be replaced by Pat McQuaid.

“They were the people whose ultimate responsibility it was to ensure that the riders riding clean were protected. They didn’t do their job,” said Walsh.

“McQuaid said he was very anti-doping, but he didn’t want to find out the truth about Lance Armstrong. He wanted basically, to sweep it under the carpet, and in my opinion, his organization now cannot have any credibility as long as he’s president.”

Walsh’s fellow Irishman McQuiad has a different perspective.

“Hindsight is an exact science and hindsight is 20-20 vision,” McQuaid told CNN as part of the Changing Gear series. “Of course you would do things differently but that doesn’t mean that I regret anything that I did.

“Many, many federations around the world told me that under no circ*mstances should I contemplate resigning,” added McQuaid defiantly.

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Read: British Cycling’s Cookson makes bid for UCI presidency

McQuaid is being challenged for the top job at the UCI by British Cycling’s Brian Cookson, and Walsh, while not specifically backing any candidate, is convinced a change is urgently needed.

“I have been saying this since the whole controversy unfolded – the people who were in charge during this fiasco, shouldn’t still be there.

“If cycling could find a credible candidate within its own ranks to take over from Pat, it would immediately change the perception of the UCI and people would say ‘You know what? Let’s give this new guy a chance.

“And let him reassure us that anti-doping really is going to be the number one item on the agenda.”

Ringleader

Armstrong came out of retirement in 2009 to ride for the Astana team and finished third in that year’s Tour de France. He raced two more years with Team RadioShack with diminishing success before quitting in early 2011.

By then he was the subject of a U.S. federal investigation into doping allegations and more former teammates, notably Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, came forward to specifically implicate the Texan as the ringleader.

Once again, Walsh had been ahead of the game, having published From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France in 2007.

Read: Former Armstrong rival Ullrich admits doping

The federal case against Armstrong was eventually dropped, but the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency persisted in its investigations.

Grilling his former teammates and other close connections, the USADA formally charged Armstrong in June 2012 with using illicit performance-enhancing drugs in “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Walsh, who has won a string of press awards, was finally vindicated as he recounts in his book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong.

New era

For the first time since 2004, Walsh will cover the Tour de France after Britain’s Team Sky Cycling team, who won the Tour last year with Bradley Wiggins, gave the journalist exclusive behind the scenes access to the 2013 race.

“I’m really looking forward to it, but I’m looking forward to it because I feel that the Armstrong era has been dealt with and we can start again,” said the Irishman.

“We can start tentatively believing in some of what we see, and that’s why I’m back.”

Not that Walsh believes the doping culture in cycling has been completely eradicated and points to last year’s race where Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck fell foul of the testers.

“The one certainty is that Frank Schleck wasn’t the only guy who doped in last year’s Tour de France,” said Walsh. “That’s absolutely certain.

Read: Defending Tour champion Wiggins pulls out of 2013 race

“Nobody of sane mind would believe that the people who get caught are the only people who dope.”

Walsh has spent four weeks in total with Team Sky as they prepared for this year’s Tour where Chris Froome, second last year to Wiggins, who will be absent this time, is regarded the favorite.

The journalist has had to soak up some criticism on Twitter that he has become a “PR agency for Sky” but Walsh remains unabashed.

“They say they’re clean. I’ve seen nothing to make me suspicious that they’re telling a lie when they say they’re clean, though that doesn’t mean that things couldn’t be happening behind my back.

“The conclusion I’ve come to given the time I’ve spent with them is that they certainly don’t have an organized doping program within the team.”

The man who exposed Lance Armstrong’s doping lies | CNN (2024)

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