Four years of The Northern Myth on Australian cycling, money, doping, Armstrong and more …
A look back into the dirty flood of money, drugs, power and rumour that swirl around cycling in Australia and elsewhere.
For my sins I’ve been following cycling and the stories that swirl like a dirty flood around it since early 2009 when I attended my first meet – the 2009 Tour Down Under. Three and a half years later I’m still writing about it and thought it timely to present a selection of the pieces I’ve written here and over at the Crikey main page, on just about anything to do with cycling, particularly Australian cycling, during that time.
Here you go …
A wild day out at the Tour Down Under -This was from my best recollection the first piece I wrote and shot on cycling. I was lucky enough to spend the driving up and up and down the Adelaide Hills during a stage of the Tour Down Under. ” …the Fuji-Servetto Cycles team car at the 2009 Tour Down Under hurtling at over 100 km/h down a steep, narrow and windy road through the Adelaide Hills. Around all is chaos. In front is a car with half-a-man’s body poking through the sun-roof – his arms are waving wildly and he is yelling into a hand-radio. Behind, beside and in front of us all is madness and movement. A pack of other team cars – all at once looking to get closer to the car with the half-a-man waving through the sun-roof, watching for other cars, staying on the road and checking the group of cyclists racing a few metres ahead of this frantic pack.”
A chat with Graham Watson - If Phil Liggett is the ‘voice of cycling” then British snapper Graham Watson may well be the lens through which much of recent cycling history has been viewed. I caught up with him in 2009 at Adelaide. TNM: Which Lance [Armstrong] do you like best – version 1 (pre-cancer), version 2 (post-cancer) or version 3 (post-retirement) that we are seeing now? GW: Probably version three, because it is a melange of all three. To me he has always been a great guy. But there is still a bit of mischievousness in him. There is the lance as a powerhouse of a sportsman but now there is also the very mature man in him – so I’ll go for version 3 – a much more rounded person.
Lance Armstrong, $3 million and the silence of the Rann - This was the first piece that I wrote on the unfolding (and to this day still obscure) relationships between American cyclist Lance Armstrong, then South Australian Premier Mike Rann and the murky world of pro-cycling, in Australi and beyond. “Lance Armstrong went to Adelaide for a fortnight in January. While there he spoke to a few cancer charities, visited hospitals, charity fund-raisers and cancer victims, and schmoozed with Kevin Rudd, a fawning South Australian Premier Mike Rann, assorted SA Ministers and half the population of Adelaide. Oh, and between schmoozes he rode around on his bike for seven days during the Tour Down Under. For his troubles he trousered a wedge understood to be up to $AU3 million in cash.”
Phil Liggett talks about birds, sewage treatments works and good chopper pilots - I caught up with Phil ‘the voice of cycling’Liggett at the 2009 Tour Down Under earlier in the year. Here he talks about everything in his life but cycling, including his love of birds and birding. “Eleven years ago, when we first came to Adelaide to set out the course of the Tour Down Under, they gave us a helicopter to go and check all the stage routes out by air. We were returning after a day in the air, we were coming and going from the Adelaide Oval right here in the city. Anyway, the chopper pilot and I were coming in at 2,000 feet off the mountain and we came right up behind a Wedgetailed Eagle (Aquila audax) and the chopper pilot said “Look at this – I’ve never seen this in my life!” We were no more than 60 feet behind him and this magnificent bird was turning his head to check us out in the chopper behind him. But he didn’t alter his height – just turning his head to look at us. An unbelievable and absolutely memorable experience that will stay with me forever. And we were hovering there – 2,000 feet above the ground and sixty feet behind this massive bird – we thought we were an eagle.
Valverde, the “Texan”, TDU2010 and what The Australian didn’t tell you… This is my reaction to an article in the national newspaper. “For cycling, if any of the allegations of Armstrong’s links to the nether world of performance enhancement are proven true – and it needs to be stressed that he has vigorously denied all and none have been proven to date – then the fallout would be catastrophic. But there are some in the Australian media that would rather gouge their eyes out with a pen than write a negative word about the demi-god that is Lance Armstrong.”
Armstrong and Rann, the Tour Down Under funder This is a piece I wrote for the Crikey daily email edition on the less-than-transparent relationships between cycling and politics in South Australia – particularly in the run-up to the 2010 State election. “Opposition sports spokesman Terry Stephens agrees but can see another way around Rann’s reluctance to come clean — he told Crikey that we should go straight to the Texan: “… let’s remember that it is not Mike Rann personally that is paying Armstrong — it is the people of South Australia. Now that Armstrong has decided that Mike Rann is a terrific Premier I think that he should make his commercial agreements public.” Over to you Lance.
Dear Mike Rann, Show us the money…please Here I set out in sequence the questions I’d been asking of the South Australian Premier Mike Rann and various South Australian government agencies over the previous year or so. The longest response I received (after press-time) was this (in part): “In response to your questions … Any commercial arrangements we have with athletes, teams or events are commercial in confidence, as we operate in a very competitive environment. Furthermore, the agreement with Lance Armstrong was prepared on the express understanding between both parties that the agreement would be kept confidential. Any investment in Lance Armstrong has been more than returned in benefits to the State. The benefits of gaining UCI Pro Tour status for the Santos Tour Down Under (2008) and of attracting the world’s greatest cyclist Lance Armstrong to participate in the event (2009 and 2010) are open for all to see.”
Lance Armstrong, “yes-men” and the brave new world of Australian cycling A rough(ish) English translation of my article that appeared in the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais. ”On his arrival in Adelaide The Texan strongly endorsed Mike Rann’s premiership and said that if he could, he would vote for him:“It’s safe to say that over the course of the last 12 months we’ve become friends,” he said of the Premier. “He’s an old pro, he knows what he’s doing.“ Mike Rann refuses to disclose how much the Texan has been paid to come to South Australia to race. It has been said that he has been paid $AU3 million for each of his two visits to Australia … No wonder the Texan feels so comfortable here: hordes of yes-men, mountains of money and the freedom to play at kingmaker.
Mountains hammer Armstrong: new rumours may repeat the dose Another piece for the Crikey daily edition, here looking at Lance Armstrong’s difficult return to the Tour de France. ” … finishing this year’s Tour, and dealing with the allegations by Landis and Novitsky’s investigations aren’t the only things that Armstrong and his crew will have to worry about in the coming months. As Bloomberg News reported last week, other agencies, including anti-doping officials in the US, France and the World Anti-Doping Agency have all taken an interest in these matters. And Interpol, which links international policing agencies and has long had in an interest in anti-doping activities, is acting to link up the now rapidly increasing number of inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic. There are a number of Australian, cyclists, administrators and Armstrong boosters that will be watching these rapidly emerging developments with keen interest.”
Floyd Landis is coming to town … panic breaks out in cycling For mine this was one of the funniest moments of the past few years. Floyd Landis comes to Australia to speak at a conference and blind panic erupted in the small world that is Australian cycling. It was fun. For some. “Over the weekend the SBS program Cycling Central devoted its ‘Bike Shorts’ segment to the Landis issue, with presenter Mike Tomalaris interviewing ‘expert cycling analyst‘ Dave McKenzie about Landis’s attendance at the conference. McKenzie: “I think that he is using it as a bit of a soap box, absolutely. I think he is … everything he is saying … so you know I think he is using it as an excuse to I guess name other riders, or whether or not its make up stories — I don’t know whether we can believe him now.” Tomalaris played an interview with conference organiser Martin Hardie, who noted that the conference “was not all about Floyd Landis”. Tomalaris asked McKenzie if Landis might have some other motives for his attendance: McKenzie: “I think it is a good excuse to him, to I guess sort of highlight, I guess what’s happened to him … in a lot of ways I feel sorry for him but don’t try and drag the sport down with him. That’s what I think the people in the sport are saying — certainly from within and I think the fans have spoken as well…”
Lance Armstrong: ‘dancing on the pedals*’ all the way to the bank — again It seems easier to get blood out of a stone that any facts about payments to lance Armstrong by the South Australian government. “Opposition Tourism shadow Minister Terry Stephens this morning. Stephens told Crikey that: ‘Mike Rann consistently refuses to be open and transparent about these payments to Lance Armstrong. He won’t tell South Australian taxpayers how much we have paid for Armstrong to ride in the Tour Down Under in 2009 and 2010. If we paid Lance Armstrong $2 million in 2010 — where he ran in the middle of the pack — did we pay him another $2 million in 2009? It beggars belief that he’ll come back for his supposed swan-song next year for less money. The logical conclusion that can be drawn — absent of any further explanation from the Rann government — is that by the end of next years Tour Down Under we will have paid Lance Armstrong more than $6 million.‘”
Doping in pro-cycling – evil riders, institutionalised corruption, both or neither? A re-posting of the September 2010 Editorial in the Journal of the International Network of Humanistic Doping Researchbased at the Department of Sport Science, University of Aarhus, Denmark by Australian legal academic, Martin Hardie, who had previously ” … raised the issue of corruption within professional cycling – a problem that transcends and fuels the doping issue. I did so through the use of lawyerly hypotheticals. Not that long after I wrote those words we had the amazing declarations of Floyd Landis concerning allegations that Lance Armstrong and his partner, Johan Bruyneel paid bribes to the Union Cycliste International (the UCI) in order to avoid the ramifications of positive test results. A few days later other allegations concerning Bruyneel, the UCI and the Russian rider Vladimir Gusev were published. The response from the institutions of cycling and its ‘media’ has been to focus once again on the video nasty of evil cyclists doping and the un-trustworthiness of the whistleblower. The focus has not been on the allegations of institutional corruption. However there are players out there who wield more power than the UCI that are very interested in these and other such allegations.”
An open letter to Lance Armstrong … While devastating floods wreaked havoc across much of the east coast of Australia I penned this note to Lance Armstrong for the Crikeydaily edition. I did cop a few whacks for what was seen by some as a mean-spirited piece. “We know that the Lance Armstrong brand has become more than a bit tarnished over the past few years time and that you are less of a ‘star’ than you may have been in the past. Your income has dropped fairly substantially over the past few years from the $28 million that Forbes Magazine said you had earned in 2005 – when you were up there in the list of Top 10 US sports star earners. But time and controversy appear to have taken their toll and, according to Sports Illustrated, last year you didn’t even make the Top 50 earners in American sport. And just today there was the news in Forbes and the Advertising Age that your TV advertisement for the major sponsor of your cycling Team, Radio Shack, came in a close No. 2 behind Tiger Woods as 2010′s “Worst Celebrity TV Ads by Negative Lift (Sink)” of 28 per cent. So we can understand that you might want to hang on to some of your dosh for the hard times ahead. But mate, you aren’t on the bones of your arse quite yet. Just last year Forbes Magazine listed you as having a “power ranking” of 65th on their “celebrity earners” for 2009-10, pulling in a cool $US20 million.”
Armstrong to quit TdU & leave legacy as “saddest deception in sports history”? In 2001 Lance Armstrong came back for another dip in the biscuit-tin that is South Australia’s hip-pocket and competed for the last time at the Tour Down Under. “I won’t insult my readers by trawling through the sycophantic puffery that is passed off as serious commentary on Lance Armstrong in the Australia media. You can pick up plenty of that for yourself in the tabloids and on the TV. And the broadsheet coverage isn’t much better. Most of that reporting – and the guff spouted by politicians – treats Armstrong as if he was some God come to earth on two wheels to lead us into some glorious future after the “war” on cancer has been won. Here is South Australian Premier Mike Rann – perhaps Armstrong’s most vigorous and uncritical booster – on Monday this week at the opening of the LIVESTRONG™ cycling pathway:“…Lance’s legendary spirit, inspiration and determination will forever be associated with another piece of Adelaide and South Australia….It’s a legacy worth honouring and remembering every time we ride or walk the LIVESTRONG™ Pathway.”
Did the LIVESTRONG Cancer Research Centre pay Lance Armstrong for use of his trademark? A look at the relationship between Lance Armstrong and his associated companies, a cancer research and treatment centre and the South Australian government. “According to a speech given to the House of Representatives in the Australian parliament by the local member Dr Andrew Southcott on 25 February 2009:“I also thank Lance Armstrong for giving the name of his Foundation, Livestrong, to the cancer centre.” But in August 2010 – according to a statement at the Flinders website, Lance Armstrong didn’t give the LIVESTRONG™ name to Flinders – he dedicated it: “In 2009 the vision of the Centre captured the imagination of seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, who dedicated the name of his foundation LIVESTRONG to the new research wing and was present at a site-blessing ceremony earlier this year.”
Google, Demand Media, Lance Armstrong and ‘the worst IPO of the year’ A look at the tangled corporate web behind Lance Armstrong and the companies associated with him. “In 2008 Demand Media acquired perpetual and exclusive worldwide licensing rights to use the LAF’s registered trademark (LIVESTRONG™ — for more see here). Soon after that deal, Demand Media launched the very much for profit Livestrong.com, which was described at the time as a “wellness” site. Livestrong.com is the main online port of call for Armstrong’s very visible web presence. Larry Dignan at ZDNET.com described Livestrong.com as “a useless stray link on damn near anything health related I’ve researched. So I’d give permission to Google to just kill that site.” LAF got a guarantee of a certain amount of traffic and content from Demand Media. Armstrong and Demand Media made a separate deal whereby Armstrong entered into an “Endorsement and Spokesman Agreement” with Demand Media “under which he provides certain services and endorsement rights”.
Some (unanswered) questions for South Australian Premier Mike Rann A collection of the questions I had asked of the South Australian Premier Mike Rann, various South Australian agencies and organisations prompted by this comment from the Demand media IPO offering. ” … over the weekend just passed I found this reference to the LIVESTRONG trademark in the Initial Public offering (the IPO) for the US “content farmer” Demand Media that seems to raise yet more questions. “The Lance Armstrong Foundation is a party to a license agreement with us under which the Lance Armstrong Foundation grants us a perpetual, worldwide, exclusive license to use the LIVESTRONG.com brand, trademark and certain website names associated therewith, including LIVESTRONG.com.” This can be found at page 193 of the Demand Media Form S1 IPO prospectus – see the rest of that most interesting document here.”
Dear Mike, we need to talk about Lance … Yet another attempt to get some answers from the South Australian Premier Mike Rann and the South Australian government on their relationship with Lance Armstrong. “ … the point needs to be made – at no time have I – or anyone else in the Australian media seeking answers to these and many more questions about the relationships between Mike Rann, his government and Lance Armstrong and his related organisations – received any meaningful response to these questions. Those answers are now long overdue and the time for Rann to respond to these issues has now come. Later today US time the CBS 60 Minutes program will broadcast a program that rips yet another ugly scab off the myths that surround Lance Armstrong. As the CBS website reports: “60 Minutes” has learned that at least three of Lance Armstrong’s former teammates – including one of his closest, George Hincapie – have told federal authorities they used banned substances and saw Armstrong use them as well.”
Lance Armstrong and the conspiracy of dunces* A look at the business model that Lance Armstrong and his crew made. “Professional road cycling B.A. (Before Armstrong) was operated by an odd mix (as compared to other international team sports) of privately-owned teams riding in privately-owned races and governed by a complex web of national and international sporting regulators. These arrangements suited all involved in a close-knit informal club that jealously protected the interests of its members and enforced a strict internal code – the “omerta” – particularly when awkward questions arose about the use of drugs and performance enhancing techniques – issues that had long-plagued professional cycling. All that changed with the arrival of the Texan and the idea that a rider could become a brand sold to the world. Professional road cycling would never be the same again.
Matt White on doping with US Postal: “I too was involved in that strategy.” Here I post the media release by director-sportif of the GreenEDGE pro-cycling team, Matt White, and the response from his team. “I am aware my name has been mentioned during talks that USADA has had with former team mates of mine in their investigation regarding doping activities at the US Postal Service team. I am sad to say that I was part of a team where doping formed part of the team’s strategy, and I too was involved in that strategy. My involvement is something I am not proud of and I sincerely apologise to my fans, media, family and friends who trusted me and also to other athletes in my era that consciously chose not to dope.”
Is the Flinders LIVESTRONG Cancer Research Centre an accomplice to Lance Armstrong’s fantasy? My piece from yesterday. “I believe it is fair to say Armstrong and his associated companies had — have — at least some of the hallmarks of a cult. There was a degree of control and uniformity: the branding using the ubiquitous yellow LIVESTRONG rubber wrist-bands; the importance of joining and attending mass rallies; the implied stigma of leaving and the emphasis on the single charismatic leader. Armstrong’s worlds — professional and business — have slowly been crumbling around him, hastened by the release last week of the damning report by the US Anti-Doping Agency.”
That is all for now – I’d love to hear your thoughts about any of the matters raised in these pieces. Please do the one-ff registration and let all of us know your thoughts …