Lance Armstrong Slimed on Eve of Tour by French Journalists Rupert Murdoch

Ah, the classic French assault on Lance Armstrong as he's walking to the starting gate of the Tour de France!

It seemed to happen every year when the Texan was ripping up the record book at the hallowed French race. On the eve of the event, Le Monde would publish some explosive new allegations of doping that, in the end, would amount to nothing.

But it was the timing that counted. Le Monde and other French papers made sure that all anyone was talking about as Armstrong made his way to the start line were the new allegations. No doubt, the intention was to shake up Armstrong himself and give heart to hapless French riders, who have not won their country's most famous sporting event in 25 years now.

And this year is no different! Just hours before Armstrong begins his final Tour, here comes that last-minute explosive blast at him timed perfectly by...

...The Wall Street Journal?

The cycling press is buzzing this morning over new allegations from Floyd Landis that showed up in a lengthy piece by Journal reporters Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell. Landis first went public in May with admissions of his own doping -- after four years of denials that he was a cheat -- and allegations that Armstrong and other top American cyclists were dopers. The federal government has launched an investigation into Landis's statements, and Armstrong and the others that Landis named have all denied his allegations.

But for some reason, even though Albergotti and O'Connell clearly make reference to their interviews with Landis taking place in May, they have held back all of the juiciest details until just this morning, just hours before the start of the Tour.

And as far as we can tell, there's not really anything in the story itself that explains that delay.

Well, except for that old French trick of fucking with Armstrong. Good times!

Speaking of good times, what also struck us as odd was the first accusation thrown at Armstrong -- Landis remembering one of his first interactions with the Texan after becoming his teammate, a party involving strippers and blow.

Now, if you have followed Lance Armstrong for any length of time, and have gotten to know him and his personality, there's one thing you know about him: he's no boring family man. I think I knew his beer preference (Shiner Bock) before I knew how many races he'd won. He's the kind of guy who gives himself a nickname like "Juan Pelota" -- a play on "one ball," a reference to losing a testicle in his cancer fight. And we've all read about his skirt chasing from one end of the earth to the other. (Still not sure to think about the Olsen twin story, by the way.)

Anyway, so when the Journal tries to set up the stripper tale this way...

Mr. Landis had met Mr. Armstrong briefly in the past, but most of what he knew about the world's most famous cyclist was what he'd read in Mr. Armstrong's 2000 memoir, "It's Not About the Bike." Mr. Landis had devoured the book, in which Mr. Armstrong chronicled his comeback from testicular cancer and portrayed himself as a modest and devoted family man.

...we couldn't prevent some serious eye-rolling.

Modest and devoted family man? Isn't it in "It's Not About the Bike" that Armstrong actually admits that he could never stay in a relationship because he simply got tired of being with the same woman? (Sure, he says it as a way to explain how he'd been reformed when he fell so deeply in love with his wife, Kristin, but even then you knew he was full of shit. Sure enough, that marriage was soon over.)

But the Journal wants to extract maximum effect for the shocking detail that devoted family man Lance Armstrong would dare roll a car through stop signs with little "more than a tap on the brakes", and that a group of young folks might end up at a strip club, with some of them -- "people" in the story, not Armstrong specifically -- using cocaine.

Nine years ago. In Austin, Texas.

Can we get the Texas Highway Patrol on this right away?

What follow are several very serious allegations of doping -- Landis portrays a blood transfusion scene in a hotel that has a very cinematic quality, with team officials ripping out smoke detectors or anything else that could contain a hidden camera. In another spy-novel episode, the team bus is stopped on a remote Alpine road, the back opened up to make it look like there was engine trouble, and all the riders lie down for blood transfusions, with Armstrong taking his on the floor.

Landis's stories include many, many people, plenty of different locations, and seemingly dozens of ways to corroborate everything he's saying. The Journal offers almost no corroboration (apparently, May to July wasn't enough time), but no doubt the feds will be checking these things out, and we'll wait to see what they can confirm.

I said almost no corroboration. The Journal does offer a couple of very unsatisfying attempts at confirmation. First, they say that three (unnamed) cyclists tell them that there was doping on the Postal Service team. Note that they don't say that Armstrong or anyone else in particular was doping, and they also don't say that a doping program was carried out by the team (by director Johan Bruyneel in particular, as Landis claims), but that there were cyclists doping who were on the team. That's an important difference, and without the Journal naming these cyclists or what they specifically saw, it's hard to conclude that they lend any credence to anything Landis is specifically saying.

The other bit of confirmation is interesting and strange, and it's one that the cycling press seems most interested in: Landis's claim that the Postal Service team sold surplus bikes in order to pay for a doping program.

Landis claims that half of the 60 bikes Trek gave to Postal one year were sold off in this way. The Journal managed to get a Trek official to confirm that, yes, they did notice bikes showing up for sale on the Internet (presumably eBay) and weren't happy about it.

But were bikes sold for drugs? That seems a bit of a stretch. And here's why: pro cycling teams are famously broke.

See, you can't get the millions of people who stand by the side of the road watching the Tour de France whizz by to buy a ticket to the race. Many of them, after all, are just standing in their own front yards as cyclists go by. The only sources of revenue for professional teams come from sponsors, who use the Tour for advertising. Have you seen a cyclist's jersey? It's covered with sponsor names that a team has managed to beg and cajole into giving them a few bucks.

Sponsors come and go every year, and so do teams. Except for a few superstars, most riders are paid peanuts.

Is it so surprising that a team, that has to pay for soigneurs and travel and equipment and Gatorade (or whatever), would sell off bikes for cash?

I don't know, maybe that's against the rules. I'm too lazy to check on it anyway. In a few hours, I have a Tour de France to watch, and soon these allegations will be old news.

Nice play, though, Journal!


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