Armstrong's Race Against Time
Armstrong has called that final week of the Tour "Hell Week."
Weighed against those daunting odds is the fact that, "personally, emotionally," as he himself put it, Armstrong seems this year in a much better place. He began the year not knowing who would sponsor his team, with his contract with U.S. Postal Service set to expire in 2004. He found a new sponsor in Silver Spring-based Discovery Channel, which will have a small logo affixed to his U.S. Postal jersey this year, and take full sponsorship in 2005, when the team name will become Discovery Channel Cycling Team.
His personal life appears to have improved, after his announced divorce last year from his wife of five years, Kristen, and his now-public relationship with the singer Sheryl Crow. "Happier than I've ever been," is how he summed up his life in December, just before going public with Crow at a Hollywood movie premiere.
But among the distractions dogging Armstrong this year is a return of the doping allegations, unproven, which have trailed him since his miraculous comeback after testicular cancer six years ago. This time, the allegations have been raised in a new book, "L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong," written by David Walsh, a respected sportswriter for London's Sunday Times, with a French collaborator, Pierre Ballester.
The book -- which Walsh conceded in a published interview is based on "circumstantial evidence" -- largely bases its allegations on interviews with a former Armstrong aide, Emma O'Reilly, who says in 1998 and '99, Armstrong asked her to dispose of syringes for him, and then asked her to apply makeup to cover up needle marks. The allegations seemed to carry additional weight because O'Reilly still speaks favorably of Armstrong.
Armstrong launched a furious assault against the book. "I absolutely confirm we don't use doping products," he said at the news conference announcing the Discovery Channel sponsorship. Armstrong also took the unusual step of suing in London's High Court for damages and an injunction against Walsh, and asking a Paris court to force the French publisher to include Armstrong's rebuttal in the text.
"In the past, I've always let these type of allegations pass," Armstrong said, "but we can't tolerate it anymore. Enough is enough."
His attorney in the French case, Christian Charriere-Bournazel, argued in court that the authors were guilty of "dumping a load of garbage" on Armstrong just weeks before Saturday's start of the Tour.
The attorneys were not persuasive enough; the Paris court threw out the case, with the judge calling it "an abuse" of the legal system. In the end, it was Armstrong who was ordered to pay a token amount of one euro in damages.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
"It's very difficult to win," Lance Armstrong said of world's premier cycling event. Three 5-time Tour de France winners have tried and failed to win a sixth.
(Peter Dejong -- AP)