I just finished reading “Tour de Lance” by Bill Strickland and “Breaking the Chain” by Willy Voet. Voet was the soigneur/drug dealer who was busted by French customs officials as he crossed over from Belgium into France with a load of goodies destined for the Festina team a few days prior to the 1998 Tour. The bust and its payload of EPO, among other things, resulted in the exposure of French star Richard Virenque as a doper, and got Festina booted from the Tour.

Strickland is one of the worst hacks in the world of faux cycling journalism, and his hagiography of Armstrong is fully revealed in the title. “Tour de Lance” is one fanboy’s masturbatory fantasy as he follows the team bus and watches Armstrong try, and fail, to win his eighth Tour. For Strickland, the project was a win-win. Either Armstrong stood atop the podium and the book could conclude “greatest athlete ever,” or Armstrong didn’t win, and Strickland could piously intone that Lance was now “more human. More like us.”

Either way, there would be a mountain of used Kleenex to get rid of.

Justice for Lance

With each disgraced doper retiring into comfortable fame, the accusation of Armstrong as “the most evil person to ever live including Hitler and Stalin” becomes sillier to read and more ridiculous to maintain. When Michael Barry begins publishing soporific, sappy little magazine tidbits that exhort us to “never forget the fun of cycling,” I have to choke back down my breakfast. This is the same Michael Barry who doped throughout his career, and we’re now supposed to take anything seriously that he has to say about what’s important in cycling?

Of course the most egregious offenders are George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer, who run successful businesses and ragingly popular Gran Fondos that are successful due to the fame they achieved as cheats, liars, dopers, and sporting frauds. And when Christian Vandevelde or Dave Zabriskie hang up their cleats, their cheating legacies are mere asterisks, nothing more.

But Lance, of course, is different because he exterminated the hopes of countless 12k dreamers. He personally directed the deaths of millions as a leader in the Khmer Rouge and as a henchman to Idi Amin. Plus, he was really mean to Betsy, so we should pursue him forever, no matter what. If Lance hadn’t lied about drugs, I’d have won the Tour, I know that in my heart.

The real culprits

We all know who the real culprits in the doping saga are. They are the athletes who cheat. They are spectators who uncritically adulate. And they are the media who refuse to act like journalists and instead act like PR shills.

“Breaking the Chain,” written shortly after the Festina scandal, is a short, punchy, brutal look at the rich history of drugs in cycling. When Laurent Fignon piously intoned in his autobiography that in his day doping methods were minuscule, he is contradicted by Voet’s detailed description of the methods, means, and effects that had been around for decades — including the years in which Fignon raced (busted for doping twice, in ’87 and ’89).

Although it only plays a vaguely minor scale to the tune of “Poor, poor, pitiful me,” Voet’s book reveals an old truth. The mules and drug dealers and soigneurs will get hung out to dry long before the stars. At worst, Voet was a bottom feeder and a drug addict himself who worked assiduously to master the black art of obtaining and administering drugs to racers. At best he was a tiny cog in a nasty, evil machine, culpable perhaps, but nothing on the level of the real villains.

And such a real villain is Bill Strickland

If you can get through “Tour de Lance” without alternating bouts of rage, incredulity, revulsion, and despair, you are made of pretty stern stuff. Here’s a guy who writes for Bicycling magazine as its editor at large, writing nine years after the publication of “Breaking the Chain,” and who can’t do anything other than hang around the Trek team bus and insinuate himself into the good graces of the mechanics and Bruyneel and Lance himself in order to uncritically accept every spoon-fed lie that is doled out.

The book isn’t even about Lance, it’s about Strickland and his fanboy fantasy as he revels in being on the inside even at a time when no critical writer could have accepted the plethora of lying denials regarding Armstrong’s doping. To make it even more sick, there is a post-script that mentions Landis’s confessions and accusations regarding drugs on Armstrong’s US Postal team, but even with that Strickland can’t bring himself to do anything more journalistic than jerk himself off one last time as he slobbers about how much more human Lance has become in his failed comeback bid.

And Strickland’s motivations for refusing to acknowledge the truth are just as base as his motivations for writing the fanbook in the first place: He’s simultaneously working on another lickspittle book that hoists up Johan Bruyneel as the greatest race director of all time — “We Might as Well Win,” and it simply wouldn’t do to take the wind out of that sail. After all, we’re talking money here. Bill’s money.

As we all found out, the people who threw Lance under the Postal bus the quickest were the very media whores and corporate rapists who had deflected all criticism and refused to investigate even his most incredible lies. Strickland is now back to his old business, writing puff pieces about the joys of bicycling even as Lance pays for his sins — and pays, and pays, and pays, and even as Lance’s former cronies continue to profit from their ill-gotten gains, gains made possible by people like Strickland.

The juxtaposition of “Breaking the Chain” and “Tour de Lance,” especially when read in sequence, tells you everything you really need to know about how it all happened, why it all happened, and whether it’s happening still. And no matter what the fanboys say, it is.

47 thoughts on “Bookends”

  1. Good article….you need to change 1999 to 1998 in the first paragraph, though…drug use among cyclists, always a fringe group of athletes, has been morphing for some time….from alcohol and amphetamines, to ‘super-vitamins”, to PED’s…anything to get that glory! I am always surprised by the shock (SHOCK, I say!) when people find out that 99% of the drug use in cycling (and all sport) is unsupervised. With such a poverty stricken band of misfits, what would one expect?

    1. I would expect them at least to drink good beer and better wine. At least.

      Thanks for the edit!

  2. As I told you before; When it made them money it was popular to love Lance and when it is possible to make money they hate Lance. So it goes and so it goes.

    1. When it was popular to love Lance I despised Lance and now that I can’t make a plugged nickel off of him I protest the inequity.

      Can you say “stupid”? My family can.

  3. And remember Strickland also wrote Ten Points, an explanation of how a weakly training race made up for his ‘affair’ with some lady. Oh, and how he looked in a The Animal’s eyes and saw that Animal enjoyed the pain, which is why torture is not, or something. Oh and about a cat that never grew up.

    1. Are you kidding? That’s too funny to be true, except I read “Tour de Pants,” and he really did write that stuff.

  4. Thank you for voicing the truth. Lance is a cheat and a liar but the fact that he is so vilified why others like Hincapie and Leipheimer receive token suspensions and get to fade away with their legacies “intact” really insults me. They’re all cheats, USADA!! Lance’s obsessive, stubborn and hostile nature just made him better at it.

    As for Strickland, too “fauxetic” for his own good.

    1. It’s sickening that they’re treated like “good” cheaters and he’s somehow the epitome of the worst badness ever to disgrace the face of Planet Earth.

      Witness the new slew of “Armstrong Worse than Kim Jong-Dong” books by, of all slime, the WSJ. Where the hell were they in 1999? Answer: Pimping Le Tour.

  5. Tygart, Verbruggen and McQuaid are responsible for this mess. Verbruggen and McQuaid did not just turn a blind eye (like Bud Selig in Baseball), but where active participants, allegedly, taking bribes and fending enforcement by the marginally less corrupt WADA.

    I have the most contempt for Tygart. The man is a big game trophy hunter with ZERO interest in cleaning up cheating in sports. He didn’t care about cleaning up cycling. He wanted Lance’s head on his mantle. Congratulations, Tygart, mission accomplished. You got one tree in the Amazon rain forest of cheating cyclists while allowing all the other cheaters to continue to deepen their roots into the sport of cycling. Plus, you managed to do something I didn’t think was possible. You got me to feel sorry for Dopestrong because of the way you went after him to the exclusion of all others. Well Done!

    As for the riders, I can’t say I blame them much, if at all. If I were in their shoes at a time when the overseers of the sport were actively condoning cheating, allegedly, then I would have cheated too. Cheating in sport is as old as sport. There was cheating in the ancient Olympics. If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, right?

    And thanks for exploding the fallacy that there was no doping before Festina and Dopestrong. I’m still waiting for Indurain and LeMond to come clean, but I’m not holding my breath.

    1. No better way to engender contempt for the process than to selectively punish the guilty.

      They made money while he was on the way up, and they’re making it on the way down.

    2. Bullshit. Tygart did his job, exactly his job. He did it with honour and in the face of extreme pressure. Armstrong was offered the same deal everyone else got and he told USADA to bugger off. You give a little, you get a little. That’s how these investigations go, every day. Murderers and thieves get the same deals, now we’re going to act like it’s not okay over a couple of bike races?

      If we had guys like Tygart at the UCI this sport wouldn’t be the drugged up cesspool that it is.

      1. Lance was offered a six month suspension like Big George and Levi with the right return to competition, and without offering details on the who/where/why of the team’s doping practices?

        I think you need to revisit the facts. Or not. Because, you know, Lance ruined the dreams of so many people, and global warming.

      2. Bullshit. He did not do exactly his job. This is exactly his job: “Preserve the Integrity of Competition. We preserve the value and integrity of athletic competition through just initiatives that prevent, deter and detect violations of true sport.”

        That is from USADA’s mission statement. Thousands of man hours and millions of dollars were spent to vilify and target a single athlete While dozens of others are permitted to continue their careers. That’s not a just initiative.

        A just initiative would have been two year suspensions for all concerned in exchange for no forfeiture of results and full disclosure of everything. To ensure full disclosure, any subsequently discovered information would result in a lifetime ban. The full disclosure of information from athletes and DS’s should give USADA and WADA an enforcement advantage for years. What good does vacating results do when 100% of the peloton was cheating?

        Or how about an initiative licensing doctors, DS’s and soigneurs? If you want to work in that capacity with pro cyclists, you agree to be held accountable for the athletes you treat or train. Dr. Ferrari has been blacklisted and Bruyneel has been (or is about to be) banned, but rather than enforcing after the fact, regulate these people before they start working with athletes. My health insurance dictates what doctors I can see; vet a list of doctors world wide and make it a rule that the athletes can only see those doctors. (Work it like an HMO and they have to get a referral from an approved doctor before being treated by a specialist. And of course, ER visits would be exempt) Then hand out suspensions and bans to the DR., DS and soigneur when a cyclist fails a test or has a bio passport violation.

        Tygart is a prosecutor. And like a man with a hammer, to a prosecutor, the whole world is a nail. Problem is, as head of USADA, his job isn’t just driving nails.

      3. Hwy, the things you’re suggesting are irrelevant to the question of whether or not the guy had a duty to investigate when provided evidence. The reforms you mention sound like fine ideas, but the implementation of new programs is a completely separate issue and one that is largely within WADA’s sphere of influence. Oh, and “deter and detect” sounds exactly what happened here.

        Seth : I suppose you’re right in a sense, no one really knows exactly what the deal was so I can’t say he was offered the same deal. Why don’t we know? Because Armstrong refused to discuss it. That was his call. We do know that he would have kept several of his yellow jerseys, at the very least.

        And these other riders did in fact provide details of the doping program, so…

      4. While I agree that Verbruggen, McQuaid, and let’s not forget Thom Wiesel, owner of USACDF and USAC, you can’t even be bothered to read WADA’s charter beyond the headline.

        If you did, you’d realize the epic scale of how wrong you are about the WADA/NADOs. You have no clue how stacked the rules are against the NADOs. Zero.

        Go, read how the process works. And Tygart was still able to get it done.

    3. Yes, cheating is as old as sport, but I know hundreds of very talented cyclists who didn’t cheat, wouldn’t cheat, and became, effectively, worse than packmeat. A lot of those guys just refused to go to Europe, or went once and never went back…and we were always fed the same story:
      “It’s too hard for Rider X” , or “The lifestyle and food are too different for Rider Y”. All BS. What a lot of people wouldn’t do became acceptable to a new breed of American (and European) cyclists, because of the adulation, glory, and money. And it was largely facilitated by a fawning press/system (jn no SMALL part, either).

    4. As Hamlet said: Me thinks Hwy. 39 doth protest too much.

      The tea leaves are revealing…

  6. While I totally agree with the rage inducing comparison between Voet and Strickland, let’s spare a word for the malevolent overlord of American cycling, Thom Wiesel.

    As much as we talk about these dopers, the sports federation is rewarding them until they don’t. Ask Tammy Thomas

  7. Caveat Emptor: It has always been evident that Bicycling Magazine(with the exception of Joe Lindsey) is the People Magazine of cycling. The breadth and depth(I say in jest), and the “position” of their articles are proof positive; You too can have 15 min abs/1500w sprints!!!.

    Inside “cycling journalism”: I’ve seen first-hand how cycling journalists refuse to print the truth about product reviews because they are afraid of retribution from the manufacturer/advertisers. Given that, why would anyone have reason to believe anything they publish subscribed to any sort of journalistic integrity?

    Remember, the “A” students went to the NY Times and the WSJ, the “B” students went into PR, and the “C” students went to subscription pubs.

    1. And the “D” students worked at oyster bars, then strip clubs, then radioactive refuse disposal sites, and finally, bicycle magazines.

    2. You call it the People Magazine of cycling and I thing Rhodale Press would thank you for the compliment because it means they have lots of readers. And yes, they are easy to fool.

      The bigger super-fund toxic waste site is VeloNews. They have consistently sold Armstrong fraud and still do, they are the UCI’s/USAC cheerleaders.

      And yes, every review with the exception of Consumer Reports sometimes artificial metrics is soft on potential advertisers.

      1. It’s no longer a question of Armstrong fraud, but of why, now that everyone has come out of the doping closet, he is the guy who caused global warming, Rwanda’s genocide, etc.?

  8. Tylers book was enough for me. I’m kind of sick of reading about it now. Although that pales compared to how sick I am of ex-champion i-doped-so-long-ago-i’ll-never-be-caught-dopers commenting on the whole circus. Eddie? Bernard? Miguel?

    Pro cycling is fun to watch but I don’t get caught up looking for meaning in the results.

    1. None of us does, but when you read two books back to back like Voet’s and Strickland’s it strikes a pretty loud chord.

  9. Love this part of your site and I can’t wait to pick up a copy of Voet’s book.

    As for Strickland, I can’t fucking stand his writing and the ball lickers who praise his bullshit. Just a bunch of clowns circle jerking on paper

  10. Agreed and agreed. And since we’re here, Mr Barry is indeed the most platitudinous, tepid and soporific account teller there is. Not a single gram of frisk or personality in there. Dude is the proverbial flat soccer ball. His meager success, if we can call it that, is due to his stint as a pro, period. His prose would be better employed as lullabies to snooze babies to slumber.

  11. This thing about Hincapie et al getting light sentences while Armstrong hangs…

    OK – I won’t pretend to remember everything from my white collar crime class in law school but, it wasn’t entirely different than what you see on TV. Rats snitch in exchange for leniency; big fish gets taken down. I’m not in the field; I don’t know what the ratios are.

    Now, it looks funny to us cyclists, because we know what the relative stakes are. We know it is rotten that Hincapie is the guest star at rich guy cyclist fantasy camps catering to the WSJ crowd. And it makes me sick that any of those guys will be allowed to hang around racing and kids will ask them for autographs because, eventually, I will get tired of saying “no, son, not him – he’s a cheater and a drug criminal…” But Tygart doesn’t know the emotional side of pro bike racing and its legacy. Maybe he thinks telling those guys to stay away from the Olympics was enough. I don’t know.

    Another mystery factor: remember that there was an original investigation into Armstrong by the DOJ. This is separate from their joining Landis’ qui tam (whistleblower) suit. Maybe Hincapie et al were given blanket immunity before the case against Armstrong was closed. Maybe the working relationship between DOJ and Tygart’s charter requires a nod in that direction.

    1. You’re right, but outside the courtroom none is any better or worse than the other. Especially after reading “Breaking the Chain.” Wow.

  12. What I like about Seth is that he seems like, at least, the kind of guy who would actually say stuff like this to your face. Probably on a ride. Then, on the next ride, you could be just riding.

    1. Sums it up nicely. No hard feelings, at least not for more than a minute or two.

      By the way, what did I say?

  13. Wow it didn’t take long for TrueBullshit Strickland to pop out of his box.
    More’s the pity that he can’t fathom that Seth’s skewering is spot on.

    Watching a simpering Strickland mewl through his pre-baked bits in the
    Alex Gibney Lance Mockumentary was pathetic.

    The time line is mote like this, Seth. After Billy’s quixotic first book, he got on the Lance gravytrain bandwagon by getting his authors agent to
    shop the Bruyneel manifesto. That tome was a laugher, but by then
    Strickland had entered the inner circle of Lance and actually got to write
    a “book” about him. Nice big advance and follow-on royalties for
    a fanboy whitewash. THAT’s TRUE BS.

    Today Strickland is considered a Lance “expert” by the corporate media
    organs like CNN, et al that chew on Armstrong’s carcass like carrion.

    Please to see the muckrakerish Seth had the cojones to call out the
    vaunted Mr. William Strickland. Well deserved…

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