11:05am

Wed November 21, 2012
Planet Money

Lance Armstrong And The Business Of Doping

Originally published on Wed November 21, 2012 4:57 pm

The story of Lance Armstrong's alleged doping is, in part, the story of an astonishing business enterprise — an enterprise that drove what the U.S. anti-doping agency called "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program" cycling has ever seen.

The story of that enterprise starts in 1998, when the Festina cycling team was caught at the Tour de France with a car full of banned drugs. According to author Daniel Coyle, this marked a huge shift in the culture of doping in cycling.

Coyle co-wrote The Secret Race, a book about the Tour de France and doping.

Coyle says that before the Festina bust, team officials and doctors handled the doping programs. Riders did little more than "nod, say yes and extend their arms [for drugs]." After the bust, he says, riders had to take over the doping operation themselves.

"It suited riders who were entrepreneurial, and who were not averse to taking risk," says Coyle. "And that was Lance Armstrong."

Riding for a team sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, Armstrong won his first of seven straight Tour de France titles in 1999, the year after the bust. Coyle agrees with the description of Armstrong running the enterprise like a CEO — a CEO who gobbled up information as a way to control the operation.

"Part of that stemmed from his natural character," Coyle says. "Part of that stemmed from the secret world that he was trying to create, maintain and ... optimize."

According to evidence and testimony contained in last month's report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, or USADA, Armstrong helped devise a strategy where his gardener would follow the tour on a motorcycle and deliver EPO, the banned drug that riders used to boost their level of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

"We called him 'Motoman,' " says Tyler Hamilton, who was Armstrong's teammate at the time, and who co-authored The Secret Race. "We were able to cheat throughout the whole '99 tour by probably every third or fourth day taking a shot of EPO."

Like Hamilton, Postal rider Frankie Andreu was a loyal lieutenant who helped Armstrong win his first few tours. Like Hamilton, Andreu doped. But unlike Hamilton, Andreu was not all in.

He says didn't know about Motoman. And while he was on the team, he refused to use the services of Dr. Michele Ferrari, an alleged doping doctor who Coyle calls the team's R&D department. Ferrari had a brilliant medical mind, and figured out how to beat the test for EPO that first came out in 2000, Coyle says.

Andreu says his decision to steer clear of Ferrari, and his refusal to fully commit to the doping program, cost him his job on the team. "I only wanted to race that one additional year, and they fired me," he says.

In 2006, Andreu publicly admitted he had doped. It was also revealed that he and his wife, Betsy, had been subpoenaed and had testified that they'd heard Armstrong admit to doping.

It cost the Andreus — literally.

Frankie Andreu had been working as a cycling team director and as a TV reporter covering major races. But suddenly, he says, jobs started drying up.

"Nobody would ever say, 'Well, it's because of your admission; it's because of Lance Armstrong,' " Andreu says. "It would just be, like, 'This isn't going to work out,' or, 'I don't think this is for the best.' "

The USADA report cites direct incidents of influence and pressure, even apparent intimidation. At one point, according to the report, Armstrong told a teammate he had to keep using Ferrari and his doping program if he wanted to keep riding for the team. The report also describes Armstrong sending a threatening text message to the wife of a former teammate who was subpoenaed and who testified against Armstrong. The message allegedly read, "Run, don't walk."

Armstrong's attorney, Robert Luskin, rejects the idea that Armstrong presided, CEO-like, over a doping enterprise. Indeed, Luskin rejects the idea that such an enterprise ever existed.

"I'm not going to start from the premise that USADA's conclusion accurately states what the evidence would be if it had actually been tested in front of a neutral fact-finder in a fair proceeding," Luskin said.

Armstrong had the chance to test USADA's evidence, but he chose not to have a hearing before a panel of independent arbitrators. He called the process one-sided and unfair, despite the fact that a federal judge ruled that USADA's arbitration rules are "sufficiently robust to satisfy the requirements of due process."

Armstrong may have decided not to fight. But his war necessarily isn't over. He still may face costly lawsuits. He may be subpoenaed to testify in other USADA hearings. And there was more than a hint of defiance in the recent photo he posted on Twitter. The photo showed Armstrong lying on a couch in his home, with his seven Tour de France winners' jerseys displayed above him. The jerseys that, technically, are no longer his.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Within the past month, we've seen one of the world's premier athletes suffer withering hits to his reputation. Many who have followed the story of Lance Armstrong and his alleged widespread doping have already chosen sides, for or against him.

SIEGEL: But details continue to emerge from interviews with people close to Armstrong, including his former U.S. Postal Service cycling team and from a lengthy U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report. These details reveal an apparent business enterprise behind what the agency calls the most sophisticated and successful doping program the sport of cycling has ever seen.

In conjunction with NPR's Planet Money, sports correspondent Tom Goldman has our story.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Every successful startup business needs a few essential components.

DANIEL COYLE: Market opportunity.

GOLDMAN: That's author Daniel Coyle. He wrote "The Secret Race," a book about doping in the Tour de France, with former Lance Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton.

Coyle says for Armstrong and his alleged doping startup, market opportunity presented itself at the 1998 tour.

(SOUNDBITE OF A NEWS CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: ...tremendous event. Members of the Festina team have been told they would not be allowed to continue in the tour, and reach the Paris finish following the seizure of drugs with the team masseur early last week.

GOLDMAN: The Festina doping scandal at the '98 tour terrified everyone in the sport and caused a shift, says Coyle. Up until then, cycling teams generally managed their own doping programs. Coyle says team officials and doctors handled things with the riders doing little more than nodding, saying yes, and extending their arms.

But after the chill of '98, starting with the '99 tour, which would be Armstrong's first of seven straight wins, Coyle says the athletes had to take over the doping enterprise.

COYLE: It suited riders who were entrepreneurial and who were not averse to taking risk and that was Lance Armstrong.

GOLDMAN: Successful startup component two: The skilled, innovative, risk-taking entrepreneur. Daniel Coyle first met Lance Armstrong in 2004. Soon after, Coyle immersed himself in what he calls Planet Lance and wrote a book about the cyclist called "Lance Armstrong's War." Coyle agrees with the description of Armstrong as CEO of the U.S. Postal team business - a CEO who knew everything.

COYLE: He constantly astonished those around him with his ability to dig into information. He trolled the Internet looking for information about his rivals.

GOLDMAN: Armstrong was, says Coyle, very binary. You were either on Armstrong's side or his enemy. Things - a bicyle seat, a doctor - were either the greatest in the world or terrible. The word he hated most...

COYLE: Was maybe. That was a word he despised. He wanted clarity.

GOLDMAN: And control.

COYLE: Part of that stemmed from his natural character. Part of that stemmed from the secret world that he was trying to create, maintain and sort of optimize - try to get those results every July.

(SOUNDBITE OF A NEWS CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: A little touch of the hand there going to Tyler Hamilton from Kevin Livingston. Just so that Hamilton will accelerate and keep them towards the front of the main field. The pace though...

GOLDMAN: Tyler Hamilton was one of Armstrong's Postal teammates during several victorious July Tours de France. Hamilton admits he doped before riding with Armstrong but says his drug taking took a serious turn before the first Postal victory.

TYLER HAMILTON: Then we started taking some risks in 1999, when Lance was really set on trying to win the tour.

GOLDMAN: Hamilton says Armstrong helped devise a strategy where Armstrong's occasional handyman, riding on a motorcycle, would follow the tour and deliver banned EPO. That was the rider's oxygen-boosting drug of choice.

HAMILTON: We called him Moto Man. So somebody would contact Moto Man with a secret phone. And yeah, so we were able to cheat throughout the whole tour by every probably third or fourth day taking a shot, you know, of EPO.

GOLDMAN: Like Tyler Hamilton, Postal rider Frankie Andreu was a loyal lieutenant who helped Armstrong win his first few tours. Like Hamilton, Andreu doped.

FRANKIE ANDREU: I came out in 2006 and admitted that I had used EPO for a few years in the late '90s.

GOLDMAN: Unlike Hamilton, Frankie Andreu wasn't all-in. Andreu says he never knew about Moto Man. And while he was with U.S. Postal, Andreu refused to use the services of Dr. Michele Ferrari, an alleged doping doctor. Daniel Coyle calls Ferrari the startup's R&D department, a brilliant medical person who figured out how to beat the test for EPO that first came out in 2000.

Frankie Andreu says his decision to steer clear of Dr. Ferrari and not commit fully to a doping program cost him a job he loved and that paid him a six figure salary.

ANDREU: You know, I went and talked to Lance about it. I had scarified a whole large part of my career in helping Lance Armstrong win races. In '99, I rode extremely well, at the tour in 2000 I rode extremely well for the entire year, and I thought I deserved a spot back on the team. And I only wanted to race one additional year. And they fired me.

GOLDMAN: In 2006, Andreu made his public admission. It was also revealed that he and his wife, Betsy, had been subpoenaed and had testified they'd heard Armstrong admit doping. Frankie Andreu had been working as a cycling team director and as a TV reporter covering major races, like the Tour de France. But suddenly, he says, jobs started drying up.

ANDREU: Nobody would ever say, well, it's because of your admission; it's because of Lance Armstrong. It would just be just like this isn't going to work out, I think this isn't for the best.

GOLDMAN: The report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, USADA, cites direct incidents of influence, pressure, even apparent intimidation. Armstrong telling teammate Christian Vande Velde he had to use Dr. Ferrari and his doping program if he wanted to keep riding for the Postal Service team; Armstrong sending a threatening text message saying: Run, don't walk, to the wife of a rider who was subpoenaed and testified against Armstrong.

We wanted to talk to Lance Armstrong about all this. We were offered one of his lawyers instead. Attorney Robert Luskin rejects the idea that Armstrong presided CEO-like over a doping enterprise because Luskin rejects the USADA allegation that there ever was such an enterprise.

ROBERT LUSKIN: I'm not going to start from the premise that USADA's conclusion accurately states what the evidence, you know, would be if it had actually been tested in front of a neutral fact-finder in a fair proceeding.

GOLDMAN: Armstrong had the chance to test USADA's evidence. But he chose not to have a hearing before a panel of independent arbitrators. He called the process one-sided and unfair, even though a federal judge ruled that USADA's arbitration rules are, quote, "sufficiently robust to satisfy the requirements of due process."

Armstrong may have decided not to fight. But his war necessarily isn't over. He could face costly lawsuits. He could be subpoenaed to testify in other USADA arbitration hearings. And there was more than a hint of defiance in the recent photo he posted on Twitter - Armstrong, splayed out on a couch in his home. Above him, a panoramic view of his seven Tour de France winning yellow jerseys. The jerseys that, technically, are no longer his.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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