Wheelmen book excerpt: What to do about Lance Armstrong (part 2)

The cover of the Wheelmen book

The cover of the Wheelmen book (Image credit: Amazon)

Several books have already been written about Lance Armstrong, but the latest - "Wheelmen" by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell - reveals new details of the Texan’s secret past and eventual downfall thanks to a detailed interview with Floyd Landis and numerous other people who were close to him.

The book uncovers the early years of Armstrong’s career and his Lothario life style, gives details of his spat with Greg LeMond, his use of performance enhancing drugs, the culture of cheating and is ability to bully anyone who dared go against him.

Cyclingnews has obtained an excerpt from Wheelmen which will be published in two parts. The first part told the story of Floyd Landis’s decision to confess to doping and how Armstrong and those who supported the Texan tried to stop him. It reveals the secret influence Armstrong held over Landis and how he and others used it.

This second part details the impetus behind Landis composing the fateful email providing the initial details about the doping program within the US Postal Service team, which was sent to USA Cycling and the UCI. Also included is the means by which Landis ultimately met and confessed to USADA's Travis Tygart.

Wheelmen can be purchased in bookshops and online by multiple retailers, including Amazon (opens in new tab).

Chapter 13: Betrayal (part 2 of excerpt)

That July, when Landis learned about the new RadioShack team, he swallowed his pride and called Johan Bruyneel to ask for a spot on the team. Bruyneel turned him down. He said Floyd would bring too much negative publicity, that in terms of public relations, Floyd was radioactive.

Floyd's depression deepened. He'd kept quiet, just as everyone had told him to do. Had he admitted everything and given Travis Tygart information on Armstrong and the other cyclists, his ban would have been shortened. But out of fear of being blackballed, he had continued to lie. Now he realized he'd been played. He was taking the fall for the entire sport, leaving all of cycling's other dopers unstained.

Landis had started to see a therapist in late 2009 after an article on the cycling website VeloNews painted him as a suicidal alcoholic. He thought the article was bullshit, but so many of his friends were worried about him that he had agreed to seek help. Landis was surprised at how good it felt to tell his shrink all of his secrets. Getting it off his chest made him feel light and free. It was then that he realized the true enormity of the weight he was carrying around with him.

In December, he confided his intention to come clean to Jonathan Vaughters, who again endorsed the idea, and in early 2010 to Tiger Williams. This time, Williams advised Landis to speak out, and promised to use his influence and resources to shield him from the consequences.

Landis also found the motivation to get back on his bike and train. For the 2010 season, he joined the Bahati Foundation team, founded by Rahsaan Bahati, a star cyclist on the American circuit. Landis's good friend Brent Kay had offered to cosponsor the team on the condition that Landis be given a spot on the roster, and the team was then renamed the OUCH-Bahati Foundation team. Landis's new teammates hoped that, as a former winner of the race, he could get them an invitation to compete in the Tour of California, which had moved from its traditional February time slot to May 16 that year. But in March, Landis found out that although Armstrong and his RadioShack team would be competing in the race - in fact, the Tour was paying Armstrong to appear - his own team had been shut out. Landis assumed it was because his team had not paid a high enough fee to the race organizers.

Landis began to ruminate on the aspects of cycling that had always bothered him - the politics, his sense that cycling's rules and regulations were applied unevenly, and the financial corruption. This rejection was the last straw for Landis. He decided once again that he would do what he could to tear it all down.

Landis again talked to Tiger Williams, who again encouraged him. Williams himself had had a falling-out with Armstrong the previous year over a business deal. He and Armstrong had a handshake agreement allowing Williams to use the Livestrong brand on the product line of eSoles, in exchange for which Williams had agreed to make a large donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Williams had supported Lance's charity for many years, donating substantial sums of his own money as well as holding fundraisers, including a benefit at the Waldorf Astoria that had raised $4. 7 million. But Armstrong suddenly backed out of the eSoles deal, telling Williams that it conflicted with an agreement that Livestrong had already made with Nike. When Williams protested, Armstrong dismissed him with a terse e-mail. After all their history together, Williams felt betrayed.

After talking with Williams, Landis began to draft an e-mail to Steve Johnson, the president of USA Cycling, replete with details that he knew would blow the lid off of the cycling world. Digging deep into his memory, he tried to unearth everything he could remember about specific instances of performance-enhancing drug use on the US Postal team, and then double- and triple-checked the dates against a journal he had kept to make sure he was as accurate and precise as possible. What resulted was a 1,080-word e-mail that was the equivalent of the Pentagon Papers of professional bike racing. In it he confessed to his own doping, and made accusations against Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Chechu Rubiera, and many other cyclists on the US Postal team, all of whom he said had engaged in years of clandestine doping, with encouragement from Johan Bruyneel. Landis didn't name Thom Weisel in the e-mails.

But Landis didn't send the e-mail. Not yet. First he planned to talk to Andrew Messick, an employee of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which had founded and owned the Tour of California. Messick was in charge of promoting the race, and had a role in choosing the entrants. Landis wanted Messick to know the whole truth about Armstrong - and about cycling. He wanted Messick to face a moral dilemma, just as he himself had when he made the decision to dope. As Landis drove off down his long dirt driveway to the mountain road leading north to Los Angeles, he knew he had crossed an important threshold in his journey as a cyclist. When he arrived at the restaurant where they had agreed to meet, Messick was already there.

As Landis sat down, he pulled out a digital tape recorder and placed it on the table between them. Turning it on, he announced, "Look. I'm going to tell you some things and I'm going to record it because I'm going to be accused of extortion. That is not what this is." He told Messick how he had doped for years while he was on the US Postal team, and how Armstrong and other riders had done the same. He talked about what he saw as the injustice and hypocrisy of the cycling world. "When you're in the mafia and you get caught and go to jail, you keep your mouth shut, and the organization takes care of your family," he said. "In cycling, you're expected to keep your mouth shut when you test positive, but you become an outcast. Everyone just turns their back on you."

As he listened and ate his sandwich, Messick became so visibly rattled by what Landis was telling him that his hands shook. Messick repeatedly asked the same question: "Yeah, but who is going to believe you?"

After the lunch, Messick told Steve Johnson about the meeting - just as Landis had assumed he would. Landis knew that the two men communicated often and that Johnson had been involved in helping the Tour of California get off the ground. Landis further assumed that Johnson would in turn tell Lance, and he was curious how long it would take for that to happen, because the network of connections between USA Cycling and Armstrong made it almost inevitable. If Landis went public with detailed allegations, it could bring them all down. One of the lawyers at USA Cycling then called Bill Stapleton, who jumped into action immediately. As Landis had anticipated, Armstrong called one of the leaders of Landis's cycling team and accused Landis of extortion. Landis, Armstrong said, was threatening to level allegations against Armstrong if he did not pay up. Armstrong asked how the team was doing financially, and offered to find the team sponsorship money in exchange for booting Landis. But Landis's team was behind him. They turned down Armstrong's offer.

Landis decided to up the ante by asking Messick to set up a meeting for him with USADA. Landis wanted to see what Messick would do. Would he tell Armstrong? Would he try to stop him? To Landis's surprise, Messick actually put him in contact with Travis Tygart.

Tygart got the call from Messick on Good Friday. When he realized what the call was about, he ducked into his daughter's room for some privacy. Messick explained that Floyd Landis had some things he wanted to get off his chest. Tygart knew immediately what Messick was talking about. Floyd had been on Tygart's mind lately.

Earlier that winter, Tygart had been skiing with his kids and ended up on a chairlift with Jonathan Vaughters. At first, the two men didn't recognize each other under all the gear. After some small talk, Tygart realized who it was.


"Travis?" Vaughters responded.

The two had not seen each other in months. During the chairlift ride, Vaughters brought up Floyd, who was trying to make a comeback and having a very difficult time of it. "I told Floyd he should have talked to you," Vaughters said. "That was the right way to go."

"Wish he would have," Tygart said.

The two men went on their way, both skiing with their young kids. But the conversation made Tygart think about his mission. After Landis's arbitration, Tygart forgot about cycling. He had other high-profile doping cases to worry about. But what might Landis have said? Surely, he would know enough to have brought Armstrong down. Had he cooperated, he might have served only a six-month ban and had a chance to compete again at the highest levels. Instead, Armstrong was making a comeback and was all over TV, newspapers, and magazines with a bounty of new endorsements. Landis was struggling and was rumored to be in some kind of alcoholic depression. Was this really anti-doping justice? Tygart thought.

Looking back, Tygart realized he'd missed several warning signs that pointed to a vast doping conspiracy centered around Armstrong. There was the time in 2002 when Armstrong missed a drug test. Instead of accepting a warning, Armstrong fought USADA tooth and nail. Stapleton had called up Tygart and tried to intimidate him. This is not the way an innocent person reacts, Tygart thought at the time. Eventually, Armstrong himself had called Tygart, complaining about the circumstances of the missed test.

"This is bullshit," Armstrong said.

"You know what," Tygart shot back, looking at a poster of Lance on his wall, "if you're clean, you should love us. Because we're the ones who can show that with an aggressive and thorough testing protocol."

After the conversation, Lance began using Tygart's logic in interviews, claiming to be the "world's most tested athlete." Tygart thought it was savvy but disingenuous.

There were also Tygart's odd interactions with Chris Carmichael, who lived nearby in Colorado Springs. Around the time of Tyler Hamilton's positive test, in 2004, the Carmichaels invited Tygart and his wife over for dinner. During the evening, Chris began pressing Travis for information on Tyler.

"What do you think he's gonna do?" Carmichael kept asking. Thinking back on it now, Tygart could see that Carmichael had been pressing for information to relay to Lance's camp. They were worried Hamilton was going to roll on Armstrong.

On another occasion, in 2005, Travis saw Carmichael at a barbecue. Carmichael had been drinking and went off on Betsy Andreu, tearing her to shreds and using language that Tygart found offensive.

Then there was, of course, Stapleton's offer of a donation in 2004.

In a nutshell, Tygart had been used and duped by Armstrong for years, and he was only now beginning to realize the extent of it.

When he got the call from Landis, Tygart sensed that he was about to tell him something important. He agreed to meet with him immediately. He flew from Colorado to L.A. for the meeting, which was held at the Marriott near LAX on April 20.

Landis wasn't sure he trusted Tygart. He didn't know if USADA was in cahoots with USA Cycling and, therefore, with Armstrong. But he took a leap of faith. He told Tygart everything. He asked Tygart to keep the details of their meeting secret from anyone at USA Cycling, and Tygart agreed. Landis was testing him. If Tygart told Armstrong about the meeting, Landis would know, because if history was any guide, he'd hear from someone in Armstrong's camp almost immediately.

There was now a flurry of e-mails going back and forth between Landis, Andrew Messick, and officials from USA Cycling. In an April 24 e-mail that was addressed to Messick but copied to Steve Johnson (and others), Landis taunted Johnson:

I've taken the liberty . . . to copy Steve Johnson on this note and I'm hopeful that unlike in the past he'll also be willing to join and be forthcoming about what he knows about the history of doping in cycling.

Johnson was evasive in responding to Landis. He told him that, if he was going to come forward with allegations, he had better have the details to back them up. After all, Johnson said, Landis was reversing his long-standing position that he'd never doped.

Landis decided it was time, finally, to send his e-mail to Johnson, copying a small number of officials from USA Cycling and the UCI. On Friday, April 30, 2010, at about 6:20 in the evening, he hit the send button on the 1,080- word e-mail, which portrayed the US Postal team for what it was: a sports team with a sophisticated doping program, with Armstrong at its center, the ringleader.

His own history of doping had begun after the Dauphiné Libéré in June 2002, he wrote, when Bruyneel instructed him on how to use testosterone patches. And from that beginning Landis proceeded to lay it all out: Lance handing him the box of 2.5-milligram testosterone patches in front of Lance's wife, Kristin; Dr. Michele Ferrari extracting half a liter of blood from him, which was to be reinfused during the Tour; the discussions he and Armstrong had had in which Armstrong described using EPO, then testing positive for it after ignoring Ferrari's warnings about the existence of a new test; the bribe Bruyneel had paid Hein Verbruggen, then head of the UCI, to keep Armstrong's EPO test results secret; all the details about the Postal team blood bags that had been stored in Armstrong's apartment in Girona, Italy; the injections of Andriol, a form of ingestible testosterone, which the team doctor had given Landis and his roommate, George Hincapie, two out of every three nights for the duration of the Tour; the blood transfusions administered during the race to him and other members of the Postal team - including Armstrong and Hincapie whose transfusions he said he had witnessed.

Landis continued with details about being told to take EPO to raise his hematocrit level and going to Lance's home to get it. He described the blood draws and reinfusions during the Tour de France, including the one on a bus on a remote mountain road in France where he "saw the entire team [including Armstrong and Hincapie] being transfused in plain view of all the other riders."

Landis ended the e-mail by telling Johnson: "There are many many more details that I have in diaries and am in the process of writing into an intelligible story but since the position of USA Cycling is that there have not been enough details shared to justify calling USADA, I am writing as many as I can reasonably put into an e-mail and share with you." He said his goal was to figure out "what is the process which USA Cycling uses to proceed with such allegations." He added that he would provide "much more detail as soon as you can demonstrate that you can be trusted to do the right thing."

His next step was to hold a press conference. So within roughly a week, Brent Kay rented a hospitality tent during one of the stages of the Tour of California, which was to take place in downtown Los Angeles. The plan was that Landis would make his announcement there and confess to the world about his doping.

When Lance got wind of Landis's plan, he called Kay and told him that if he helped Landis, he would find ways to have malpractice claims leveled against him that would destroy his medical practice. Lance also wanted Kay to relay a message to Landis: that it was no use going to USADA. Armstrong said he had "sources" at USADA and he would know as soon as Landis contacted them.

On May 6, Landis wrote Armstrong an e-mail, informing him that he had already gone to USADA; Lance's sources weren't as good as he thought.

After speaking to Landis, Travis Tygart called up a friend in the criminal investigation unit of the Food and Drug Administration, Jeff Novitzky. Although Tygart's job was with the US Anti-Doping Agency, he had worked closely with Novitzky on investigations involving the use of performance-enhancing drugs by professional athletes. Over the years, the two men had cooperated on cases involving Major League Baseball, pro football, swimming, and Olympic track events, but in 2008 they had begun to look into cycling.

Novitzky had a reputation as the Eliot Ness of steroid outing, which he had earned on a signature prosecution dating back to his time with the Internal Revenue Service. The son of a high school basketball coach, he graduated with an accounting degree from San José State and joined the IRS the following year, 1993, eventually becoming a special agent with its Criminal Investigation unit. Novitzky spent years working routine investigations in the San Francisco area.

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