An interview with Lance Armstrong, Austin, Texas, USA, October 26, 2004
Part II: Sixth Tour revisited, Discovering Discovery and the Simeoni incident
At 33 years old, Lance Armstrong is still very much on top of his game, crushing the opposition yet again during the 2004 Tour de France to win an incredible six Tours in succession. Although his racing committments have dropped right off in the latter part of the season, Lance has not been inactive, recently taking part in the second Tour of Hope (www.tourofhope.org) in order to raise awareness for cancer research. While at home in Austin, Texas, Lance Armstrong took the time to talk to Cyclingnews' European Editor Tim Maloney about the ToH, Livestrong, his sixth Tour win, Discovery's line up for 2005, the Simeoni incident and much more in this two part interview (see Part I).
The sixth Tour win revisited
Cyclingnews: Now that you've won six consecutive Tours De France and are firmly ensconced in the sport's record books, have you been able to look back over the good and bad moments for you in the three months since you won the Tour in Paris?
Lance Armstrong: It was...surprisingly easier than I thought it was going to be. I had prepared myself for what I thought was going to be a fight for seconds on the clock and it ended up being like 2001 or 2002 where it was a question of minutes. And I think we didn't expect that. I came into the Tour very motivated, incredibly motivated. And with all the heart and intensity that I could and I was surprised that the other guys were so far off. Riders we had expected...either Ullrich or Mayo or Hamilton...a lot of guys. But then you had other guys come up and make it exciting, like Basso and Klöden. But I was surprised that those people were not such a factor.
"There were a half-million people and that's a half-million opportunities where it could go wrong..." - Lance Armstrong on the L'Alpe d'Huez time trial at the 2004 Tour
We had a little help when Vinokourov crashed; that would have changed our stress level going in, knowing that (T-Mobile) had Ullrich, Klöden and Vino. I'm not sure we put a lot of stock in Klöden before the Tour started.
CN: One thing I remember you talking about was winning the sprints for stage wins this year - at Villard de Lans and Le Grand Bornand - that those were special moments for you.
LA: Well the first one in Villard de Lans, I sprinted because the race was still fairly close and the time bonuses were still a concern for us. And Johan was telling me, 'look, you have to sprint, you need the seconds...you need the eight seconds from Basso; you get twenty seconds and he gets twelve', so we wanted to sprint there. And Grand Bornand was a whole 'nother thing. I felt like the race was wide open; we sent Floyd away, he got chased down; it was a fast, scary descent and those guys (Ullrich and Klöden) came off and then came back...there were just attacks left and right. I just decided to go for the sprint...in fact when I started the sprint, I thought Klöden was gone for good because he had a big gap and I was - when I started the sprint - I was sprinting just to make sure that nobody got a jump on me and took time on me. Then I turned around and nobody was on my wheel and I thought, 'Klöden is coming back quick' and part of me said 'well, maybe I'll just sit up and let him have it' but then a bigger part of me said 'nope, I'm not gonna do that...I'm gonna go for it'.
CN: [We then showed Lance a photo of his win at Le Grande Bornand taken by Italian photographer Roberto Bettini] You look surprised in that picture!
LA: I was so happy, so happy...very happy. That was the biggest rush, by far. The team time trial, also, that was a really emotional day for me. You have your guys there, you're able to get the time checks from Johan, you can look at your guys and say, 'ok'...we started really far down and I had to ask myself 'are we really just bad' and had to look at the guys and say 'we have to go, now'. And you're never more than a half a foot from the others and you have all your teammates there. That's my favourite event.
CN: So now that your team has won the TTT in the Tour two years in a row, you've wiped out the Motorola Curse.
LA: Still, I would have been upset to lose.
CN: I hear from some riders, like Victor Hugo Peña, that you really try to motivate and direct the other riders during the TTT.
LA: Certain guys you don't need to motivate; a guy like Eki is just going to go hard regardless. Certain guys can go really hard, but they just need...like all sports, that's the job of a leader, that's the job of a coach...get in their ear, get in their face and say 'Listen, you've just got to go harder'. And I kept saying to Victor (during the Stage 4 TTT in '03 Tour) 'What colour jersey do you want at the end of the day? You can ride in a Postal jersey tomorrow or you can ride in the Yellow Jersey tomorrow.' So for a guy like (Peña), you have to push him and he went ballistic.
CN: Standing on the top step of the Tour podium on Champs-Elysees at the end of the Tour de France this year for the sixth year in a row and hearing the Star Spangled Banner was undoubtedly a special moment for you. What was going through your head in that moment?
LA: I was thinking that I was glad to get it over with...there were a lot of pressures before the race and a lot of pressure during the race and a lot of threats, shall we call them, during the race and I was just really glad to make it through number one, alive; number two, as the winner. And then I was just ready to take the crown and take the history book with me. Then I just wanted to get out of there. I don't mean that in a bad way, but it was just...the victory was secure and I was ready to leave.
CN: Lance has left the building.
LA: Well...and part of me wonders what I'm ever going to do on the Champs-Elysees again. It was a stressful Tour; there was a lot of weird stuff during the Tour and obviously even weirder stuff before the Tour.
CN: What was the worst moment for you in the Tour this year?
LA: Hmmm...not a lot of bad moments.
CN: What about l'Alpe d'Huez?
LA: Well, you had a lot of hostile people, but I was prepared for that.
CN: It didn't seem to faze you much.
LA: Yeah, and you gotta figure that nothing happened. In the first half of the race where it wasn't fenced, there were a half-million people and that's a half-million opportunities where it could go wrong and nothin' did, so...but I knew through just common sense, through threats that had been made to the organizers (of the Tour), I knew (l'Alpe) was going to be a jungle.
CN: That didn't come out at the time; so you're telling me that there were specific threats made against you prior to l'Alpe d'Huez?
CN: That didn't seem to bug you during the Tour.
LA: There was nothing I could do about it. I was absolutely committed to racing, even with the threats, I was gonna go out and race. We took all the precautions we could; there was probably more security around that people were aware of, I considered wearing a helmet (on l'Alpe d'Huez) which would have looked incredibly strange, but I just tried to block that out. Get to the barriers; just stay in the middle.
CN: So next year, the USPS team, considered to be the NY Yankees of cycling, will change its look for Team Discovery Channel.
LA: Well it'll be just a different name but the same team...the same team in a different jersey.
CN: But the changing of the guard, if you will, is a special moment.
LA: And, well it should be. I think that the team should now start to change a bit. We'll have, obviously, a few prominent names that will be new like Popovych and Savoldelli. We're working on one (new name) right now.
CN: Any idea when you might have some news on that?
LA: No, but we hope it'll be big...
CN: You already know some of these guys, like Savoldelli.
LA: I know him very well...good guy, good rider, great mentality, a lot of bad luck from crashes but obviously very talented. Not a selfish guy; a good team player. A very sweet kid...a good hard workin' kid from up in the hills of Bergamo. No flash, just a straightforward bike rider.
CN: Have you met Popovych or raced with him?
LA: No. I think I did Milan-Sanremo with him two years ago. But I'll meet him here in Austin soon.
CN: What about some of the other guys, like Hayden Roulston and Tom Danielson?
LA: Don't know Roulston well...know Danielson better. Apparently (Danielson) is a huge talent. I've not tested him or seen him tested but apparently he's a massive talent. We'll have to get him into a better environment and he'll have to become more used to riding long distances at high speeds and with a lot of position battles involved. I think that's been a problem for him in that if your team doesn't support you in that and you're a little guy, it's hard for a climber to fight your way to the front before a big climb and make it there with enough reserves to actually contest the climb. Hopefully we can give (Danielson) some opportunities in some other races, it doesn't have to be the Tour de France or a big Tour - Paris-Nice for example - and give the guy a lot of team support to show his talent. Because I think he's really talented and can time trial as well. He didn't show it this year, but when he raced in America, he time trialed very well.
CN: Your season is slated to start again November 1st...
LA: Who said that?
CN: You did.
LA: OK...yeah, that's a good idea.
CN: When is the first training camp?
LA: In early December, we'll have a bigger group than we've ever had. We have quite a few new guys this year.
CN: Any idea about the Tour next year?
CN: Have you sat down with the Discovery Channel people to look at next year?
LA: No. Johan was in the US earlier this month for Livestrong Day and we meant to get together and talk race calendars but we never did. So the calendar is still up in the air. I don't know what will shake out with the Pro Tour. We have yet to sit down and figure out what Discovery wants; if they want, for example Tour Down Under, since Australia is a big market for them. So we haven't figured it out. But if I start training November 1, which I want to do, I can adjust my training to the calendar.
2005 Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team Roster
Lance Armstrong (USA), Stijn Devolder (Bel), Benjamin Noval (Spa), Jose Azevedo (Por), Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) Pavel Padrnos (Cze), Michael Barry (Can), George Hincapie (USA), Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr), Roger Hammond (GBr), Leif Hoste (Bel), Hayden Roulston (NZl), Manuel Beltran (Spa), Benoît Joachim (Lux), Jose Luis Rubiera (Spa), Volodymyr Bileka (Ukr), Jason McCartney (USA), Paolo Savoldelli (Ita), Michael Creed (USA), Patrick McCarty (USA), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel), Antonio Cruz (USA), Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus), Max Van Heeswijk (Ned), Tom Danielson (USA).
Tyler Hamilton and the Simeoni incident
CN: Have you spoken to Tyler Hamilton about his situation?
LA: No, but I've spoken with Haven (Hamilton) a bit via email. I know that he must be up to his eyeballs. I've made a few statements that I support him and I find it hard to believe.
CN: Are you willing to comment about the ongoing carabinieri investigation in Italy on witness tampering? What's your take on this whole thing, that you may have intimidated a witness (Filippo Simeoni) in the trial of Dr. Ferrari.
LA: Well, I think we can all agree that with 200 guys out racing their bikes, that one attack goes left, that one attack goes right...these are not violent acts, these are not criminal acts, and that what I did that day with Simeoni perhaps should have been done with the team. The honest truth is that when I went across (to Simeoni), I didn't look back. I figured I had twenty, thirty, fifty guys on my wheel!
CN: That usually happens when the Yellow Jersey attacks...
LA: Yeah, why wouldn't I? It was just a false flat...you would think that all the other favourites would have been right on my wheel. I know that if the roles had been reversed, I would have never let the Yellow Jersey go. And if they got ten meters, I would have closed it! What has been reported is simply not the case. To then try and make the case that I tried to intimidate a witness, that I'm potentially guilty of sporting fraud because I was just contesting my sport...it's ludicrous.
But as we know, the climate in Italy is very political right now and very motivated to keep this issue of doping in cycling in the forefront and this is just another sub-plot. For a true cycling fan to sit back and read this, they must chuckle. Granted, we can all say: 'Lance you should have done that or your shouldn't have done this; you're the Yellow Jersey and don't waste your time doing that'...that's all fine. And I might even agree with that...but don't...the problem is giving Simeoni a platform when he doesn't deserve a platform. But does that lead to a criminal investigation? Absolutely not.
So I'm fine with an editorial that says 'bad move, no class, why the hell did you do that?'. No problem; I can deal with that. But to then be investigated for (allegedly) intimidating a witness, sporting fraud and whatever the other charge is, that's crazy.
CN: Will this situation change your possibility to ride the Giro d'Italia?
LA: Yeah, and I have to ask myself do I want to subject myself and my team and my sponsor the Discovery Channel to a tremendous photo op for the Italian police and the answer to that is no. Why would I want to show up and have them waiting at the airport and whisk me off? They are wasting their time for something that has no effect on their process over there and what's fair and right over there, and has even less effect on what I do.
Here I am...what do I care? If they think that they are getting even, they're not! I'm sitting here in Austin, Texas and working on dozens of things that make a positive difference in the world. Come on! Do you leak stuff to a scummy journalist? Sure, you can do that. Do you launch an investigation for sporting fraud and all these other things? You can do that. Do I care? Absolutely not. Come on; I'm busy and I'm busy with the right things, not the wrong things. So have fun, fellas...
Throughout his racing career, from his days as a brash young Texas triathlete to the man who stood on the top step of the Tour podium for an unprecedented sixth time 17 years later, Lance Armstrong has achieved global fame and fortune in his own, unique way, with few compromises. Armstrong's achievements as an athlete and cancer survivor have touched people the world over and as the 33 year old transitions to the final phases of his career with the new Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team, Lance can be content that he did it his way.
See also Part I of our interview with Lance Armstrong, where he discusses the Tour of Hope, Livestrong, Vuelta/World's and the Pro Tour.