The news that Tyler Hamilton, Lance Armstrong’s former cycling teammate on three of his Tour de France victories has now revealed that he witnessed Armstrong injecting himself with the blood boosting drug EPO – “like we all did, like I did many, many times” – may or may not end with Armstrong facing federal charges that he defrauded the US Postal Service for taking their money while insisting that he was clean of performance enhancing chemicals.
As the NYT’s George Vescey summarised: “According to Hamilton, Armstrong provided illegal drugs to teammates; showed them how to use them; used secret cellphones and code words like Edgar Allan Poe for EPO, the blood-boosting drug; flew Hamilton to Spain for illegal doping; and paid his way out of a positive test.”
Whatever the outcome of the federal probe one thing is for sure, and that is that virtually nobody now believes Armstrong’s claims that he won his record-breaking seven Tour de France crowns fairly and solely by virtue of his own physical abilities. Hamilton’s recent appearance on CBS’ Sixty Minutes follows similar claims from another Armstrong teammate, Floyd Landis who last year admitted to doping while describing Armstrong as the kingpin of doping on the Postal Service team whose management, he added, knew about and encouraged the practice.
Tyler’s claim was made all the more credible by the fact that after the CBS interview he returned his 2004 Olympic gold medal on the grounds that he had cheated to win it. Armstrong, a cancer survivor, has traded on his work for his cancer charity and his claim that he had never ever failed a doping test during his long career. But in the face of evidence that such tests can be and have been faked, and even that Armstrong has covered up, at least once, a failed drug test Hamilton’s interview has created what the New York Times recently called “another huge crack……in Armstrong’s formerly unbreakable facade”.
None of this would have happened but for the great journalism of David Walsh, sports writer for the Sunday Times and a former colleague on the Sunday
Tribune. Back in 2004, Walsh published LA Confidentiel along with French sportswriter Pierre Ballester, an investigation into suspicions that Armstrong’s astonishing cycling feat – coming back from a near fatal cancer to Tour de France glory – could only have been possible with the help of performance boosting drugs.
As American journalists now eagerly follow the path first trodden by Walsh they should remember that when LA Confidentiel first appeared it was either ignored or panned by much of the US media some of whom reacted as though this was the most outrageous and biased slur possible on a national hero and therefore not worthy of a follow-up or serious consideration.
When the book came out America had just invaded Iraq and anti-French sentiment was at a disconcerting height. With great common sense the French had queried the evidence linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda and pressed for a diplomatic solution to the WMD issue. In America the reaction was anger, chauvinism and racism: the French were wimps, interested only in making a buck out of Saddam, hadn’t they surrendered to Hitler and wasn’t De Gaulle a pompous pain in the ass? And in Congress the restaurant menus were altered to reflect all this. French Fries became Freedom Fries.
So a book written in French, published in France and co-authored by a French writer which sought to portray Armstrong as a cheat and liar had to be part of ‘Old Europe’s’ payback for the Freedom Fries insults.
It is to David Walsh’s great credit that he persisted in the face of all this. He knew he was right and he followed up LA Confidentiel with From Lance to Landis, written under his sole byline which took the case against Armstrong to the next stage. His perseverance, tenacity and confidence in his sources and the story have paid off. Enjoy the moment, David.