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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The following is excerpted from David Walsh’s new book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong. You can purchase it here.

Professional cycling has always exercised an omertà, and it has played a significant role in the endurance of a drug culture. But more than a code of silence is at work here, and it is not coincidental that the Sicilian word has become so associated with the peloton, because when a rider breaks the code, he can expect a mafia-like response.

After his individual time trial at Metz earlier in the day, Christophe Bassons watched television coverage of the leaders in his hotel room. They travelled at a speed he couldn’t believe, for the race against the clock had once been his own speciality. He was especially interested in Armstrong’s performance, because their physiological profiles weren’t that different: same height, same weight, Armstrong’s VO2 Max was 83 to Bassons’ 85. Regarded as a key barometer of athletic potential, the VO2 Max is the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen. Yet when Antoine Vayer did the maths afterwards, he told Bassons that he would have finished six kilometres behind Armstrong if they’d started at the same time.

On the night of Sestriere, Bassons and his teammates watched highlights of the American riding away from his rivals on the mountain and they were stunned by the ease with which he outdistanced them. They didn’t believe it. Bassons continued to tell every journalist who crossed his path that the doping culture had not gone away.

His refusal to observe the code of silence was a challenge to the leaders in the peloton, especially the rider in the yellow jersey. Armstrong was more than happy to deal with the upstart.

On the morning after his win at Sestriere, the yellow jersey decided the following day’s race should be sedate until the approach to the first climb. The patron has the right to do this and normally such decrees are strictly observed. But Bassons thought, “What the hell, I’m the black sheep anyway,” and he launched his breakaway in defiance of the informal truce.

With Bassons gone, Armstrong gave the nod to his U.S. Postal [Service] teammates and they immediately pursued. It didn’t take long for them to recapture the breakaway and as they joined him, Armstrong put his hand on Bassons’ shoulder, indicating he had something important to say, as a mafia boss might when deciding to personally deliver the punishment.

“What are you doing?” asked Armstrong.

“I’m making the race. I attack.”

“You know what you’re saying to the journalists, it’s not good for cycling.”

“I’m simply saying what I think. I have said there is still doping.”

“If that’s what you’re here for, it would be better if you returned home and found some other kind of work.”

“I am not going to leave when I haven’t changed anything. If I’ve things to say, I will say them.”

“Ah, fuck you.”

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3 responses to “EXCERPT: Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit Of Lance Armstrong

  1. Bob Shipp says:

    Lance Armstrong? Fuck Him. Just another $$$ chasing pro bambooziler. Neither he nor any of the accompanying scandal impacts my life in any manner whatsoever aside from blurring the line of what’s important and newsworthy by editors in the newsfotainment industry.

  2. Cycling association officers (like those in the Olympics) were middle-class before they became mega-rich from broadcast and licensing rights. Faster races got higher bids. Individual cyclists got crumbs but could not perform without the organization.

    Somewhere between slavery and indentured servitude the cyclists sought sponsorships. A more outstanding performance attracted sponsors with deeper pockets.

    Doping culture survived because it profited everyone. The notion that winning is or should be based only on effort was always a bogus marketing tool.

    Is it fair to have better genes? Is it fair to grow up at a higher altitude or in a climate suited to cycling verses cross-country skiing? Is it fair to have a coach and training facility from an early age? Is it fair to afford better equipment? Is it fair to train full time while another must earn a living? Is it fair to be 20 years old when the money got good verses 35?

    Is it even fair that some performance enhancing substances are “doping” while others are not? The fact that all anabolics increase hematocrit and that EPO is itself anabolic defy simple categories. All anabolics (including legal insulin and certain amino acids) function through the same mTORC1-AMPK pathway. One just needs to learn how to use each one.

    Getting a competitor’s drug declared illegal and then feigning outrage is part of the money game. They want you to choose when both choices are corrupt.

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