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An interview with Lance Armstrong, March 23, 2009
Armstrong talks Giro, Twitter and Tour
Cycling has changed since Lance Armstrong's retirement in 2005. Having returned to the sport late last year, the American admits that he's finding the pace tough, but there's a feeling he's enjoying the challenge. As he makes the first European racing appearances of his comeback, Armstrong tells Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown about life in the faster lane, Twitter, testing, this year's Giro and the prospect of an eighth Tour de France crown.
Cyclingnews: What are the big differences in the peloton since
you retired in 2005?
I can tell you that from Australia and
the Tour of California
the racing has been fast. I think that's good for racing, good for the
sport... You roll around in Australia and all of a sudden you are on the limit,
and you say to some guy, 'I thought this was a fun race.' I thought it was one
of these races where guys have a beer the night before and then show up and
race the next day. The next thing you know, this year we are all in the gutter
and suffering on the limit.
I think those guys realise that the races are televised around the world.
Every media outlet from the neighbourhood paper all the way up to the international
papers were there. There is a lot of added attention and pressure from their
sponsors and teams. So the guys came fit and ready to race. That happens, and
shit, the thing rolls down the road a lot quicker.
CN: Can you put a figure on how much your comeback has generated
to date for the Livestrong foundation?
CN: When you are racing you receive appearance fees and maybe
bonuses. Since your comeback, do you give any of that money to the foundation?
Obviously, a company like Nike, which contributes 100 percent of the profits from the Livestrong line to the Armstrong Foundation, easily eclipses my personal donations. The answer is a tricky answer, I could say yes and I can say no.
CN: Since 2005, more riders are speaking out against doping.
Why do you think that's the case?
CN: What allows this 'new' openness to speak about doping?
Cycling is clearly in the middle of that. I think some of it is a good thing to discuss. I think in the middle of all of this cycling is trying very, very hard, and has received very little credit for it.
If you laid out all the sports next to cycling – put us in the same basket as tennis, track and field, soccer... all those other major European sports (if you want to use American sports, then we can really have a discussion) – and asked who has been as aggressive and progressive as cycling... The answer is, nobody comes even close.
We have tried really hard, along the way we have not received any credit and continued to catch more people. In a sense, it is a little bit like a dog chasing its tail. When anyone sees a dog chasing its tail it doesn't look good. You can say 'keep it up, you might catch it' and one day he might catch it and it's going to hurt.
I have never been a fan of constantly yelling, kicking and screaming about doping. I am fan of acknowledging it, fixing it and then moving on. I think if you race everyday and preach how clean you are, and someone else works hard every day and talks about how mach they want to win, it almost soils their efforts. That is not to say they are cheating or cutting corners, that is just to say that they want to focus on the sport.
Most other sports don't approach it that way, Most other sports have a strong athletes' union. I think if cycling was a little stronger on the riders' front you would see a completely different scenario.
Perhaps we are moving out of it, but I think cycling has been in the middle of a civil war. I think everyone has been at war: from the riders to the teams to the organisers to the press to the fans to the industry. At some point there has to be this balance, a set of rules. If you break the rules you get the hell out and we are moving on – the quicker we can get to that point the better.
Debuting at the Giro
CN: We have heard that you
previewed the Ligurian time trial. What did you think of it, and will you
use a normal road bike like
I do think it's suited to a traditional road bike with some sort of aero setup. That is based primarily on the number of climbs, which are long, sustained and not easy. Over the course of 62km there is approximately 1500 metres of climbing, which means it is a real day's work in terms of climbing.
CN: What effect could that TT have on the race? On paper it will
rule out quite a few possible contenders.
CN: What are going to be the other decisive stages?
I just don't have the time; I have to go back and be with my kids for a few weeks. Some of them [stages] aren't even possible to view and may not be even possible to race in May based on the amount of snow that Europe has had this winter and spring.
CN: Which teammates will you bring along for the Giro d'Italia?
CN: You never have ridden a Giro d'Italia, let alone won an
edition. Would a Giro win complete what has already been a great career?
Do you Twitter, sir?
CN: You encouraged Alberto Contador via Twitter during Paris-Nice,
but you seemed to criticise him in L'Equipe after the race. Can you describe
the relationship between the two of you?
My comments on Alberto were not a criticism. If you read all the postings, I said, 'An amazing talent, but has a lot to learn.' That is not a negative comment. You have to admit there were some tactical errors made. If you read the follow up Twitter I said, 'Tough and unfortunate day; he will be back fighting tomorrow'.
CN: You mentioned in L'Equipe that he
could use the team more...
The fans, and more so the media, are trying to build up this internal battle for the Tour. It's good for you guys, good for the sport... I get it. It will lead us to be completely silent and not play that game because it is not worth the drama in our lives.
Plenty of times in my career Eddy Merckx spoke out and said this or that, but I still like him like a father today. He was right. If he said 'you f***ed this up and and you should have learnt,' I got it. I am a sponge and I can listen to people; that is not a bad thing.
CN: Do you believe you are targeted by the testing agencies more
than other riders are?
I think it is normal – they say, 'We haven't seen this guy in three years; we need to get some data.' I can understand that. There are 24 out-of-competition tests (one was in competition, a random test after the Tour of California prologue). Is that abnormal? I talk to a lot of other cyclists and when they are less than five I think that answers the question.
CN: How many of the tests are carried out by Astana's internal
doping programme since you've been back?
When PWC comes and says, 'this test is being carried out on the behalf of the UCI,' Damsgaard is also getting those results. Damsgaard does not show up to my house and say 'Hey Lance, come over here and pee in a bottle.' That's not the way it works.
CN: Team Saxo Bank decided to terminate his services. What effect
does that have on his legitimacy?
At some point you would hope that the independent programmes are not necessary. At the end of the day, the governing bodies and anti-doping agencies are not fans and supporters of independent programmes. The need for the independent programme says the others are not doing their jobs.
An eighth Tour win...
CN: The other day you
rode this year's 15km opening time trial. What can you tell us about it?
CN: If Contador wins the time trial would that establish who
is captain within Astana?
CN: We've seen big squads with too many leaders at the Tour in
the past – T-Mobile in 2005 springs to mind. Could Astana have a similar situation
on its hands?
CN: Is the Tour de France your number one goal for 2009?
Of course I have a bit of history there and it is nice to be back. I love the event and everything it stands for. I love its difficulty, its history... You've got to go there. It would be a dishonour to go there and not be at the peak of my fitness.
CN: It's just for pride and the cancer foundation then...
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