Armstrong instructs Filippo Simeoni to return to the peloton on stage 18 of the 2004 Tour de France.
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American's old foes nonetheless welcome USADA efforts
Two men who clashed infamously with Lance Armstrong during his reign as the Tour de France’s dominant rider, Christophe Bassons and Filippo Simeoni, today welcomed news that Armstrong will face doping charges from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Bassons said that USADA’s action was “important” but also long overdue. “It’s a shame now that it’s coming 15 years after it all happened. It’s a shame because the evidence was there for years. I knew all along what was happening, so this doesn’t change anything for me. I don’t need fifteen pages of documents to tell me what I knew already,” Bassons told Cyclingnews.
Simeoni had similarly mixed feelings. The Italian said the possibility of Armstrong being condemned for doping left him “cold”. Simeoni also “can’t understand why suddenly now they’re investigating him, when for years he was allowed to do whatever he wanted.”
Armstrong last night dismissed the investigation as a “witch-hunt”. “I have never doped,” he affirmed in a statement.
Bassons and Simeoni had of course tackled Armstrong about doping, in their own ways, long before this latest round of allegations. In 1999, Bassons was riding the Tour de France for La Française des Jeux but also penning a daily column for Le Parisien. After writing that the peloton had been “shocked” by Armstrong’s stage-win at Sestriere, Bassons was confronted by Armstrong on the road to Alpe d'Huez the next day and invited to stop his innuendo or else leave the sport. Two years later, sure enough, Bassons quit professional cycling at age 27. He now works for the French Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Today Bassons expressed his hope that anyone found guilty in the USADA probe will be banished from cycling. He also, though, partly supported Armstrong’s claim that the seven-time Tour champion is being singled out, while those who have given evidence against him seem set to escape without penalty for their own misdeeds.
“I can understand why they’re offering plea bargains. History tells us that, unfortunately, that’s the only way people will talk. It also provides very valuable intelligence when they do that,” Bassons said. “What is wrong is giving them complete immunity in return for information. When there’s a crime, there has to be a punishment. If there’s not, what’s happening here sets a dangerous precedent.
“As for Armstrong’s entourage, if found guilty, they can’t be allowed back in to work with teams in the future,” he continued. “In general I’m against making doping a criminal offense, except when there is trafficking involved, but there’s no reason why we can’t rid the sport of people who have facilitated doping on this scale.”
On the UCI’s role in the affair, and in particular allegations that they were complicit with what USADA is calling the US Postal team’s “conspiracy”, Bassons called for a radical rethink of sports federations’ role in anti-doping.
“It’s that old chestnut: you can’t have the body in charge of promoting a sport also policing it. Give responsibility for anti-doping to WADA or national anti-doping agencies. But not to the federations,” he argued.
Filippo Simeoni was involved in his own notorious spat with Armstrong at the 2004 Tour de France. Two years earlier, Simeoni had testified before an Italian magistrate that doctor Michele Ferrari had advised him to use EPO and testosterone in 1997, a claim that prompted Armstrong to brand Simeoni an “absolute liar” in an interview with Le Monde in 2003. The following year at the Tour, Armstrong thwarted Simeoni’s breakaway attempts and allegedly threatened to “destroy” the Italian in a mid-race exchange on stage 18.
Simeoni now owns two bars in Sezze, between Rome and Naples. The 40-year-old claims to have “left cycling behind completely”, although he happened to be riding his bike when Cyclingnews reached him today.
While he applauded USADA’s efforts, he also said that whatever comes of the investigation will bring scant consolation.
“This all leaves me a bit cold now. I’ve taken myself out of that world completely,” he said. “I just can’t understand how justice has taken this long. There was always evidence, but nothing was done. Is what they've got that much more crushing now? Armstrong was allowed to do whatever he wanted for years. He was a superhero, untouchable. Now this. I suppose it just shows how the balance has shifted; before, I think there were forces greater than our understanding working to protect him; now there’s probably also a reason why they’ve decided to take him down.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Simeoni summed up. “I prefer not to dwell too much, because I have too many regrets if I do. This whole business really cut me down in my prime. Now it’d be nice to just get justice, although I still fear that this could rumble on for months if not years.”