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Betsy Andreu: No longer a voice in the wilderness

By:
Daniel Benson
Published:
October 13, 2012, 16:21 BST,
Updated:
October 13, 2012, 18:09 BST

"I, Elizabeth (Betsy) Andreu, under penalty of perjury, declare and state"

Over 1,000 pages of evidence and testimony from 26 individuals, 11 of whom were US Postal riders.Through a wall of evidence that sheds light on a mass-scale macabre of cheating at the US Postal team of Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel perhaps nothing stands out more than Betsy Andreu's story.

The wife of Armstrong’s former teammate Frankie Andreu, she may never have raced as professional rider, and may never have experienced the precise choices George Hincapie, David Zabriskie and Tyler Hamilton had to make, but she, along with Emma O'Reilly, are unique examples of individuals who stood up and told the truth. And not just the truth when there was no place left to run, or when criminal or civil authorities were on their case, but from the start, when livelihoods were very much in the balance and careers far from completion.

For Betsy Andreu it all began in a hospital room in Indiana when Armstrong, according to testimony in USADA’s case file, informed doctors about his doping practices, providing them with a list of substances he’d used in order to compete. It was a sobering moment for Frankie Andreu’s then fiance, who until that point knew little of the omerta or the cheating that was rife in professional cycling at the time.

Over a decade has passed, in which time the Andreus have been dragged through the mud by Armstrong and his supporters, lost financial income and been vilified even by sections of the press. Now, with USADA’s reasoned decision in the public domain Betsy at the very least has some form closure on the subject. It turns she wasn’t lying, she wasn’t vindictive and she wasn’t jealous.

“I read the addendum with the hospital room evidence and I’m just really grateful that we don’t have a corrupt anti-doping agency in USADA and that they had the courage and the integrity to get to the truth. I’m so proud and grateful. Extremely grateful,” she told Cyclingnews.

“There’s so much [evidence] it’s overwhelming but the one thing that sticks out is the bullying and the intimidation. Grown men were torn to shreds by Armstrong.”

But despite the pressure Betsy appeared never to waver, not even when work dried up for her husband. In 2006, Frankie came clean, admitting his own doping past: one in which he took EPO as part of Armstrong 1999 Tour de France team but refused outright to work with Dr. Ferrari.

“The hardest point? It was 2006 when Armstrong was going around decimating me. He was on television shows and he had this platform and he was just merciless. I didn’t have a say and very few people believed me. Very few. That was hard. I was just a voice in the wilderness that very few heard.”

There were baby steps along the way that helped to give the truth and Betsy momentum. A call from USADA’s Travis Tygart in 2006 was a starting point. However there were further blows. Such as when George Hincapie, now confessed and proposing he should be a role model for young people, emailed Frankie and told him that his wife was "bringing down the sport".

“The pressure never put a serious strain on our marriage but there were times when Frankie wanted to strangle me, and I wanted to strangle him. I wanted him to be more vocal and he wanted me to be quieter but we respected each other enough to let us do what we needed to do for ourselves.”

“Sometimes he would say 'Betsy, okay people know how you feel’ but I would reply with ‘we’ve got to get the truth out there because I’ve not lied’. The more Lance and his friends in the media would make it sound like the hospital incident never happened, the more it gave me fuel to make sure the truth got out there. It put more of a financial strain on us because it was tough. I was a liability. A lot of jobs dried up for Frankie and Frankie is a well liked guy. You saw how Lance threatened him and that seems to be a theme for a lot of people.”

Missing from her testimony is the story of Frankie taking a call from Johan Bruyneel in 2000. Andreu had retired after it was clear he wouldn’t be given a pro contract with Postal, and was looking for work as a directeur. He’d received two offers from teams outside of US Postal. During the conversation Bruyneel asked Frankie which teams had offered him work.

“I was motioning for Frankie not to tell him,” Betsy says.

“Well Frankie told him. What do you know.. both those offers were rescinded because Frankie wasn’t deemed a team player. That was just typical Johan. They then brought Frankie on as a directeur and the joke was it was in order to shut him up, get Frankie on the financial gravy train so you have this financial and emotional connection. Look at the emails he’s sent to Frankie in the case.”

What makes Betsy’s position all the more illuminating is the support, or lack of, she and her husband received from the sport’s community. She recalls that only Jonathan Vaughters and Greg LeMond stood by them, while a clutch of riders who have recently confessed to doping US Postal remained silent.

There were others, outside of the Postal bubble who helped though: “The support I received from Dawn Polay, Piero Boccarossa, and Lory Testasecca who vouched for me with their affidavits about the hospital room; my mom who supported us wholeheartedly and my kids who had to put up with a lot as I tried to clear my name. Kathy LeMond has always been there too, someone I could always rely on; and countless strangers on the internet who didn't know me but believed me - you know who you are.”

“Even though I would have a beef with all these people coming forward now and saying how sorry they are now I don’t really buy that they’re sorry,” she says.

“I buy that they’re sorry they were going to be ‘outed’. They could have chosen to lie but they told the truth. So I’m supportive of that too. It’s the classic, you don’t say you’re sorry until you get caught. You’re only contrite after you’ve made your millions and when you’re compelled to tell the truth.”

“I’m grateful but man they didn’t really care about the truth when we were trying to get it out there. They just didn’t care. The one that was hardest was George because we were so incredibly close to him. When he just lambasted me in a email to Frankie, about me bringing down the sport that tells you he had no intention of ever coming forward. He was content.”

“Of all the guys Frankie has ever ridden with, two people supported Frankie. One was Greg LeMond, the other was JV. JV was the only teammate, the only one, who supported us from the very beginning through this thing. Frankie even told me that JV hated the doping culture as much as Frankie did. Maybe they were the sacrificial lambs. You had guys like Bassons, who never had a career because of all this, and the you had people like Frankie and JV whose careers were essentially killed because they wouldn’t get on the comprehensive doping programme and wouldn’t see [Doctor] Ferrari.

“This argument coming out that ‘I had to dope to compete’ should be clarified. ‘You had to dope to compete on Lance's team’. You had to dope to make a very comfortable salary. You didn't have to dope to merely finish the race. In the end, Frankie's career as a pro cyclist was over for refusing not just to dope but dope a la Ferrari.”

In a week that has shaken the sport, it's perhaps too soon to draw conclusions on where the sport goes from here but hopefully a lesson has been learned and if a Betsy or an Emma try and help the sport in the future their voices will be listened to a lot more.

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