EXCLUSIVE GREG LEMOND INTERVIEW
It was an exclusive, and a shocking one at that, back when I published this in 2008. That was an era when asking questions about what was really going on with doping in pro cycling could get you blackballed as Greg LeMond, Betsy Andreu, Paul Kimmage, David Walsh and any other rational person who stuck his or her neck out quickly discovered. Fast forward to 2014 and it turns out they were right. To many, this was non-obvious at the time.
I won’t lie: Greg LeMond is a hero of mine. So when Lance Armstrong lit up LeMond at a press conference at Interbike and most of the world sided with Lance and dogpiled LeMond, I was really curious about what Greg’s side of the story was. I’d been in touch with LeMond off and on for a few years prior to the incident for various stories and reached out to him for an interview I ran on the blog I published at the time. Here’s the story.
GREG LEMOND INTERVIEW
And now for something different. Last week Lance Armstrong held a press conference at Interbike, the annual cycling industry trade show in Vegas. Greg LeMond was at the press conference. Armstrong granted LeMond the first question. Read the details of how that unfolded here.
I contacted LeMond and he agreed to be interviewed for this blog. What follows is the un-cut transcript.
Q: Why were you at Lance Armstrong’s press conference at Interbike?
A: When I heard that Don Caitlin was going to oversee a transparent doping deal for Lance Armstrong, well I’ve been critical about any of these in-house controls. It’s like the fox guarding the hen house.
Q: How so?
A: What’s transparent? You could take anybody’s blood values and urine samples. You don’t know that they’re Armstrong’s or some other cyclist’s or whatever cyclist it is. You can just publish it and say it’s normal. You’ve gotta have somebody with no motivation and no interest in protecting that rider or the sport.
I went to the Tour last year because I love the sport. I rode L’Étape du Tour. I called Patrice Leclerc the commissioner for them and asked for a private meeting last year. I spent an hour and a half with them and I said I want to help the sport because I want kids to find the sport like I did. I want riders to come in and not have to sell their souls and risk their lives.
People say there are no victims in this sport. There are people who have died, suicides have gone rampant with pro cyclists, the cocktails of drugs they give them, you name it they give it to them. Twenty-nine medical ethicists were debating certain drugs that should be allowed, they think they’re just taking testosterone and that’s it. These guys have no clue that the riders are guinea pigs for the doctors.
Q: And that’s how it worked out for T-Mobile with Ullrich. The team doctors on T-Mobile were supposed to be there to do the same thing for Ullrich, right? And essentially they turned the guys into guinea pigs.
A: If you go back to Conconi, he was paid to detect drugs while at the same time he was using teams that were paying to be his guinea pigs to see how far he could go and get away with it. He even calls Ferrari the good student that went bad. That’s Conconi on Ferrari! These riders—people act like I’m out against Armstrong.
Hey, I make comments about Ullrich, that he shouldn’t be in the Tour, and Basso. Six, seven months later I’m doing an event and he came up and we had a great time talking. He was nice. He didn’t threaten me. He didn’t try to ruin my business.
There’s a whole other level in this with certain people. For me, I look at these riders and I think of Marco Pantani’s mom without her son. Here he gets busted for high hematocrit, treated like a fucking criminal, goes into a state of depression, abuses cocaine not because he’s some bad person but he can’t live with himself, with the shame. He dies of a heart attack. It’s suicide. And while he’s getting nailed like this criminal, others who are getting away with murder are basically treated like gods. I look at Pantani, I look at Ullrich and all these guys who lost everything. And I look at guys who are conniving, who work the system let’s say. They’re not busted.
Even Floyd Landis, after what he did to me last year, I have empathy for him. I don’t believe he’s a bad person. I feel he acted out of fear, most likely threatened like a lot of people have been and had to go one way. You could tell just by his actions. And you read that in Tyler Hamilton’s deal.
(NOTE: LeMond is referring to the recent Tyler Hamilton feature in VeloNews wherein Hamilton stated: ‘There are a lot of bad people out there who have done some bad things to me. I think it’s everywhere, but there is definitely a mafia in cycling. That’s pretty much all I’ll say about it. I’ll probably get banned from a race if I say any more, but there is a mafia out there. It’s crazy. But at the end of the day, that’s life. Whether you are in the business world, or in professional sport, there are alliances out there that can work for you or work against you.’)
There’s a whole other side of this story people don’t see. When people see a comment, they have no clue of the shit I’ve been through and the stuff I do know. I’m not some ignorant person.
I loved the Tour and I love cycling, that’s my passion. I just went to the Tour and I said toPatrice Leclerc, I laid it out, the first thing you do is get rid of the UCI. There’s bribes, there’s been money passed, unethical things. I mentioned that the UCI was corrupt two years ago prior to Floyd’s positive and I got two letters from Pat McQuaid saying he was going to sue me for slander. Thank god my attorneys, they just sent him a copy of the First Amendment and the Webster’s dictionary definition of the word ‘corrupt.’ They said, hey, if you wanna sue Greg for slander, come to theUS. It wouldn’t stand up.
And it’s even that threatening deal. Just questioning the UCI, they threaten to silence you. The atmosphere in the sport is poisonous. I’m walking away from the sport of pro cycling for good. But I’m not walking away from the bicycle business. I am going to build a company based on ethics, based on the value of cycling and health, based on a passion for a bike.
And I want to get back to the roots of why I started riding. The end result of what pro cycling is, is the complete opposite of a healthy environment. It is poisonous.
And so when I heard Don Caitlin was doing this, I have been very critical. When I went to the Tour, I said, split the UCI. I know what I know, riders know what I know. I said, they don’t trust the system. All these guys are trying to do is keep their job and keep up and that’s it. There’s guys that are cheaters and there are guys that are cheaters. Some will go to great lengths to make sure that they can cheat even beyond what the cheaters are cheating. It’s kind of a cycle, cheaters are getting cheated by cheaters. It’s a cycle that needs to stop.
The only way to do that is by out of the box thinking on testing. It’s why testing is never going to catch up with the cheats. Blood values this, blood values that, abnormalities. Well, if you take EPO year round, you can micro dose it, you can time it to when they do the tests—you’ll never vary your hematocrit level. You could always be at 49.9. Oh, that’s my natural state, it’s 49.9. Oh, that’s good. It’s been that way for years.
But what you need to do, if you tested somebody enough in a laboratory situation where they weren’t allowed to take EPO and you took a base line for their oxygen uptake to watts, you’d find their true genetic output. Once it goes above that x amount of oxygen—power is force times velocity. In aerobic sports the way you develop power is with oxygen delivery. If you don’t have enough oxygen you can’t produce the power. Some people are better at buffering lactic acid and could have a little bit smaller motor and could produce a little bit higher watts. It charts on a graph pretty closely on milliliters of oxygen on every amount of watts. If you produce 400 watts, you need x amount of oxygen for your weight. It’s linear. Obviously a bigger guy is going to do more watts because he’s bigger, but it’s watts per kilo.
Now last year Contador and Rasmussen did nearly 8 watts-per-kilo. A scientist in Hollandcalculated that you needed nearly a 98 vo2 Max with a sustainable 93 or 94 milliliters of oxygen.
If you’ve got an 82 vo2 Max, or let’s say 80, for a world class cyclist lactic threshold will be 95% of that. So you’re sustaining let’s say 76 milliliters of oxygen. For somebody that’s 72 kilos or 68, on that you’d probably be able to sustain 360 watts.
I had a 93 vo2 Max. If I’d gotten close to that, theoretically I should have been able to produce—and I’ve had days on my SRM—when I’ve been up to 435. But I was not at my best. It was my last year of racing.
But on a fresh day, theoretically with my size, my watts and my oxygen uptake, 450 watts would be what I could produce.
So when I went to the Tour, I just said, you know, you’ve got to think outside the box. I said, talking to Michael Ashenden and other real physiologists who know stuff, you don’t need to have or find some product in the human body. Some of the stuff they might not even know how to detect it. But if you start base-lining it, even when you get a license as a 15-year-old, you start doing it on a standardized watts machine and oxygen intake, there are very highly accurate vo2, o2 machines, and SRM is highly accurate, you start tracking that, and you won’t see a variation.
You could see a variation in the power output, but not in the oxygen, because you’re either training well or de-conditioned or you’re sick or you’re not. Once you get to your trained peak, you can’t exceed a certain amount of watts because there’s not enough oxygen. It’s limited. There’s a certain amount of torque to watts in Formula One. For power output on their cars, they’ve had to re-engineer valves and all that so they can move faster and take more oxygen and fuel in which means that there were more RPM’s. But that’s a mechanical thing that they’re able to actually machine and do.
A body, chemical efficiency, Delta 25, nobody is over 26 or 27%. To make huge improvements you’d have to get to 75% which is virtually impossible. I know my physiology. I know what I’m talking about.
Autologous blood transfusions are undetectable. If you have no base lines for vo2 Max and in the race they take a blood transfusion, Michael Ashenden has said that with a ten minute sub maximum test you’ll see instantly if the guy is taking a unit or two of blood based on his wattage output and oxygen intake. It’s a simple thing.
And my question was, what novel approaches are you going to do to make this transparent? And really to me, how transparent is it when you get paid by somebody to do it? It’s not like some government saying, let’s do this as a research program!
Teams have been doing the drug testing themselves for 15 years with their own labs behind their buses, so this is nothing new. You can print whatever information you want. It’s kind of like the global warming debate. Of course I believe in global warming, but the guy from NASA who has been the godfather of global warming, models and algorithms and all these projections. The projections are only as good as the information that is given in. A young scientist fromCanadabusted NASA and found out that he made a slight error of 0.15 degrees, I believe centigrade, in his forward projections and past history. This would have made the hottest ten years not in the last ten years but in the dust bowl, the twenties and thirties.
I’m just saying, that was a side print in the New York Times, a tiny little page which should’ve been the front page of the newspaper. But there’s too much money in the government to say, hey, we made a mistake. Without real transparency, it’s the same thing with the stock market. This whole thing, this subprime meltdown is, this idea of deregulation was meant to deregulate monopolies, not just let governance and rules go haywire. That’s what some people in the free market philosophy think, the market will figure it out. It would work out if you knew everybody was 100% honest and correct.
A book by Adam Smith I have not read—I’ve read Adam Smith’s book on the free market—but there’s a writer that wrote a book that said, hey, Adam Smith did not mean what we think of a free market. He just said that people are basically corrupt and he would rather have the corruption spread among more people rather than just one big single monarchy.
When it comes to doping, without transparency and rules and regulations that are punishable, you can’t have an honest playing field because nobody will trust the system. That’s the problem. If there’s corruption and even suggestions of corruption, it creates distrust that they’re really testing. It creates this vicious cycle.
What I suggested was a totally independent doping agency governed by the police, by the best scientists in the world. Really the goal is to get riders who have done the whole program that would be willing participants to say exactly what was going on, how they did it, and how they supplied it in order to do it. And now it’s over. It’s done. I think the UCI is back in control of the doping systems and for me that’s the death of the sport.
It’ll be good entertainment but it’ll be like pro wrestling.
Q: Why are people unwilling to ask these questions?
A: It’s so basic it’s unbelievable. It’s the same reason why we don’t question our President.Europedoesn’t buy any of this shit. They’ve got critical thinkers, I don’t know what it is. One of the good things about America is that we want to believe in the good of people, but the older I get, the more mature I get, the less optimistic I am about the honesty of people in power. I think there are a lot of Americans who are really honest but they’re not the ones who control the strings.
What really blows me away is guys like Ed Coyle, Michael Ashenden outs him, and there’s not some big scandal. You depend on scientists to do things with true transparency. But you don’t have anything that Armstrong’s doing (NOTE: LeMond is referring to the metrics he propose be collected on all professional cyclists as stated above). Let Michael Ashenden, people that I know and that I don’t believe are for sale, do it.
There are so many more creative ways. The problem with some people is they’ve already published their values. It isn’t even a question of proving that you are clean. It’s irrelevant because of the data and recordings in the past are impossible with those measurements. I’m just saying, I would love to see Armstrong come back, I would love to see the whole sport race clean and have it totally transparent. And if that’s what he’s willing to do, that would be great.
Q: Could cycling use greater financial transparency?
A: I don’t know how you could do that because these are private companies. It’s international in all these different countries. That’s why money changes hands in this sport without people knowing about it because there are a lot of different countries involved. That’s going to be hard. If the UCI and everyone are really willing to clean up the sport, then they should be willing to step away from the drug testing and allow the European governing community to all have a say in a democratic process and transparency that can be audited and ask all of the leading experts in the world on doping—not ones that can be bought off—ones that have integrity and knowledge. You’d be surprised how few medical doctors understand basic physiology. They might know cells, they might know how to detect this and that, but they haven’t spent their lives studying applied physiology to sports. The best physiologists and best scientists in that area are inAustralia,England, andScandinavia. It’s notAmerica. Part of that’s drawn out of the East Germans, but also the Norwegians and Swedish, from their doping. So they know a lot more. They understand what their methods are.
Who destroyed what? Drugs have destroyed the sport. I didn’t cause that. It’s kind of like kids wanting to believe in Santa Claus and then as the truth comes out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, they get desperate and disappointed.