Betsy Andreu remembers the moment and the date vividly, Oct. 29, 1996 — the day she heard Lance Armstrong tell his doctors he used performance-enhancing drugs.
Nearly 16 years of being called “jealous,” “a liar,” and much, much worse later, the day after Armstrong said “uncle” to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s lifetime cycling ban and seizure of his seven Tour de France victories, she hasn’t changed one fact in her story.
After Armstrong came out of brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, this is what she heard and saw that day:
Betsy and her future husband, Frankie Andreu, Armstrong’s teammate and good friend at the time, stood near the bathroom door of a hospital room at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. “Lance was at a kind of conference table,” she said by telephone from her home in the Detroit suburbs. “Frankie and I were ready to excuse ourselves when Lance said, ‘That’s all right, you can stay.’ ”
Frankie had lived and trained with Lance in Como, Italy, and trained with him in Austin. He traveled the world cycling right beside Armstrong. Their bond was strong.
After a couple of banal questions by the doctors that day, Armstrong was asked whether he had used PEDs:
“He said, ‘Steroids, testosterone, cortisone, human growth hormone, EPO,’ ” Betsy recalled. “At the time I said, ‘I think we should leave.’ ” Once outside the room, she spun around and got in Frankie’s face: “If you’re doing that [expletive], I’m not marrying you,” she said. “That’s what gave him his cancer.”
To the millions in the Livestrong-for-Lance caravan, a never-ending peloton of enablers wearing yellow rubber bracelets, Betsy and Frankie have been at the forefront of the crazies.
Since they were deposed by lawyers in a long-ago lawsuit and related that story, they joined dozens of other former Armstrong teammates and accusers over the years as hateful vermin. Their only mission in life, to the Lance crusaders, is to be bring down a Texas-sized American hero, who himself has said Betsy just misinterpreted the question doctors were asking that day. Frankie backed up Betsy — Armstrong said when he was deposed — “to protect his old lady.”
I never believed Lance, who purportedly never failed a drug test. (Neither did Barry Bonds.) I’ve always believed Betsy.
I believed former teammate Tyler Hamilton, who had no reason to lie to federal investigators or “60 Minutes” last year when he said Armstrong put syringes and pills in his body to help him win. And I believed Hamilton when he said that he actually got the blood-boosting drug EPO in the mail from Armstrong, and that Hamilton would have done the same for his teammate if he had asked.
I believe USADA, a 12-year-old organization that Armstrong’s agent actually helped advise during its infancy when Bill Stapleton wanted to catch the cheaters. USADA has test results of Armstrong’s fully consistent with blood doping — and 10 witnesses to back up those claims. Armstrong’s masking agents, USADA believes, were undetectable for years. I believe USADA for the exact opposite reason Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, and his do-gooder lab rats are being vilified by the Livestrong faction:
Taking down Armstrong, who is still more popular than polarizing because his celebrity has enhanced cancer awareness and his foundation used to distribute funds to patients, was a lousy public-relations move — the adult-worship equivalent of divulging Kris Kringle’s real identity.
This is the part the Bracelet People don’t get: Coming out against Armstrong is actually bad for your career.
Ask Greg LeMond, who may be the only clean American to ever win the world’s greatest bicycle race, what happened to his bike company after he called out Armstrong.
Frankie Andreu admitted in 2006 to using EPO, but says he stopped by the 2000 Tour de France. His contract wasn’t renewed to ride the next year, he says, partly because he wouldn’t take an injection for the team. Just this past year, he managed a small American cycling team, which his wife suspects was never invited to the big races because you-know-who pulls so many strings and never forgets a grudge.
“Have I made money? No,” Betsy Andreu said. “Has anybody gotten richer since being honest about what they knew about Lance? No. Lance portrays me as a very homely, crazed, jealous, obsessed [expletive.]”
“Call me obsessive, but don’t ever call me a doormat.”
It’s been 16 years after a woman first heard him say he used.
In hindsight, the cancer-surviving icon can boast of one PED-free accomplishment. It’s a feat that had nothing to do with climbing those French Alps until his muscles almost failed.
No, Lance Armstrong’s greatest feat is that he kept the titles so many years after the people close to him knew. He held off those in pursuit of the truth better than any other elite rider who had his own magic potion waiting for him back in his hotel refrigerator.
So many still want to believe. Why? Because if fables about men dodging death, beating cancer to win the Tour de France seven times aren’t true, what is true? It calls into question our own belief system about the athletic heroes we hoist so high in our minds.
When the medals and trophies are returned, the overriding feeling isn’t “I can’t believe Lance was guilty.” No, it’s “How gullible was I to ever think he was the last clean cyclist?”
Betsy knows there will always be holdovers, believers “so emotionally tied to Lance they will never get it.”
She added: “He did a great thing coming back. No one can ever take that away from him. But just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you’re a saint.”
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.