Dial-a-Denial, And Why The Game Might Be Up

May 24 2010

No public figure in recent memory has been more well-managed under scrutiny than Lance Armstrong. Sure, hero status gives him a leg up, but there’s real brilliance in how his inner circle handles accusations; on every battlefield he’s fought, Armstrong has always made the issue his accusers, and not their accusations. I’ve compiled a fun little chart to illustrate the point:

(click image for larger sizes, buy a wall poster, full list of sources)

Starting at the twelve o’clock position, the Armstrong quotes run clockwise in chronological order, from his 1999 exchange with Christophe Bassons to his lastest barrage against Floyd Landis. Along the bottom of the chart, the deflection intensity is assessed using a points system for anyone interested in actually playing this as a PR game.

Perhaps the best example of The Armstrong Approach came from the ostensibly anonymous and retroactively sampled EPO “positives” from 1999. Armstrong’s response was unbelievably comprehensive, calling into question the journalistic integrity of the investigation, the scientific honesty of the lab, the legal possibility of a positive test under the rules, and even the scientific fundamentals behind the test. Armstrong managed to address every issue—except for whether or not his ’99 samples tested positive for EPO.

In reality, electrophoresis is an extremely reliable lab technique, samples are almost impossible to spike, the rules are clear that a positive test requires A/B sampling, and, at any rate, the inquiry commissioned to suss out any potential penalties had their report leaked in the Dutch press—not that it stopped Armstrong from declaring victory.

However, a great deal of the effectiveness of Armstrong’s strategy has been that it’s played so sweetly in the mainstream, English Language press. After all, plenty of ink—yes, real ink!—has been spilled by Continental publishers in books compiling the allegations against Armstong. Only when it came time to port LA Confidentiel into English did David Walsh find himself drowning in a sea of rejection letters.The Texan’s unassailable public persona is a purely American phenomenon.

And why not? Armstrong’s opponents have been transatlantic adversaries with weird names (“Jean Francois so-and-so”, as Armstrong dubbed a hypothetical lab worker) who are angry an American is so good at “their” race. They’ve relied on complicated-sounding science and byzantine testing procedures. Besides, Armstrong has never tested positive—and the possibility of a false-negative is a media non-starter.

This time, though, things may be different. There’s no tricky science. There are no strange-sounding labs. The primary accuser, Floyd Landis is an American. He’s a guy most of us cheered for, at least for a bit. And while he’s been discredited, that only gives him the ability to be redeemed—a plotline no sportswriter can pass up. And (more on this later) the arguments that he’s got an ax to grind are at best weak, and at worst fabricated.

Finally—and I think most significantly—doping cases from mainstream American sports are starting to appear and get traction. Yes, non-USADA controls are a teenage babysitter posing as a prison guard, but they’ve still managed to nab a naughty child or two. And as any cycling fan can tell you, once you get your head around the idea that one of your heros is a cheat, it’s not too tough to imagine that the rest of them might be too.

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29 Responses to “Dial-a-Denial, And Why The Game Might Be Up”

  1. e-RICHIE 24 May 2010 at 9:07 am #


    “There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

  2. Marcello 24 May 2010 at 9:21 am #

    One other point to consider is that the feds are now involved. Kik Armstrong and Landis are talking to the Feds. Lying to a federal investigator is not a good thing to do. Guess they should have thought of this when getting money from US Postal Service a government agency.

  3. Sean 24 May 2010 at 9:22 am #

    Cosmo, why do you love cancer so much? 😉

    Seriously though, how would you expect Armstrong to act if he has never doped?

  4. Oliver 24 May 2010 at 9:50 am #

    I think if anything comes out of this story (i.e. Lance falls) it won’t be because the U.S. press is the driving force behind it that’s for sure (it’s like expecting cheerleaders to play the game and win the match!). The press has been part of the problem, faithfully parroting Lance’s press releases: they don’t investigate, they take dictation. That being said, if the Feds look into this seriously and start issuing subpoenas to people like Lance’s ex-wife, things might unravel. And if this happens, watch the press suddenly take dictation from the feds, even turn on Lance — since the balance of power will have changed!

  5. Oliver 24 May 2010 at 10:43 am #

    When Stapleton says: “I’m all for the older generation racing and succeeding and passing the drug tests, but they don’t define the sport anymore. Lance Armstrong doesn’t define the sport anymore. There’s a new generation of riders and teams who operate under a whole new set of rules. I think the fans should stay tuned for that[.],” is this a man who wants to disassociate Lance from today’s cycling scene because he thinks it might indeed become clear he has been lying and cheating all those years…. — or is he just making conversation?

  6. Tiger 24 May 2010 at 11:13 am #

    Where was this when I needed it?

  7. AH 24 May 2010 at 11:38 am #

    @Oliver– Yeah, that quote made me sit up straight in my chair. I’m thinking he’s _not_ making conversation.

  8. Gio 24 May 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Is it really possible that one rider can be so superior that he can beat a whole peloton of doped guys while riding clean for 7 years in a row?
    All of the guys he has beaten have come clean about being doped. I know we are talking guilty by suspicion, but it is not hard to imagine that rather than clean he is only smarter and luckier that the rest.

  9. juheesus! 24 May 2010 at 11:48 am #

    There’s a new generation of riders and teams who operate under a whole new set of rules.

    This is more of this “let’s not look in the past” B.S. It is useful to the UCI and Director Sportifs because whatever doping scheme they are using is **always** 12-24 or more months ahead of the testing. A rider that chooses to dope needs to have the _dis_incentive of knowing that a positive might haunt you 3, 5, or 10 years later.

    Lastly, I’ve come to the hasty conclusion that doping policies treat violations like a virgin birth. When, as Landis’ allegations suggest, the team management and the UCI seem as involved as the riders themselves.

  10. Sebastian 24 May 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    And then there’s this:


  11. kkhart 24 May 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    Gio – exactly!

    Whenever I bring this point up to pro Lance folks (most recently the one who claimed it was a vegan diet that helped win all those TdFs) they just stare blankly and look confused. Hello???

    So did Lance really think that leaving his wife for Cheryl Crow was not going come back to bite him? Guess the hush money ran out.

  12. Zach 24 May 2010 at 6:07 pm #


    “How would you expect Armstrong to act if he has never doped?”

    I think the man would be livid at the dopers he has had contend with over the years whilst he was racing clean. Has anyone heard him complain that his rivals were cheating? Why isn’t he angry that Landis was cheating to beat him?

  13. Sebastian 24 May 2010 at 9:11 pm #

    By the way, I’m kind of looking forward to seeing the big scar that Armstrong apparently now has running from his eyelid to his nostril. It’ll add a endearing, colorful touch to his persona.

  14. wimble 24 May 2010 at 10:50 pm #

    Pharmsgone will still be milking it for another while, until the udders notice that his cheese aint fresh , as his one nut factorum is not up to scratch.

  15. joran 24 May 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    Love the link! You know what I’m talkin about, Cosmo!

  16. wimble 24 May 2010 at 11:09 pm #

    Of course the real reason he is so exposed is, that he so iltreated the small town Spanish guy, that there is a huge swell of dislike for this Butterly prepostrous person, in the shape of Pance the lonely. UYou can’t even accuse him of being nutz as the singular has less grab his ass than the original Clackers( a 70s thing, Googlini is your friend) man that was.

  17. joe 25 May 2010 at 7:57 am #

    What were his options? Stay clean and be beat by the other dopers? Dope and then admit it and lose everything? Dope like the rest of his comrades and prove he is the best ever? How many of you would turn away the fame and fortune because of some “integrity” that is based on a set of rules no other elite rider is following?

  18. Erik 25 May 2010 at 8:34 am #

    Why don’t you ask Sastre and Evans those questions? Then they’re no longer hypotheticals.

  19. Oliver 25 May 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    It’s not just Lance who is in denial, it is us, it is the press, but some in that last group are coming around, here’s an indication:
    “What is not fine, however, is a zombie media unwilling to confront a truth, any truth, for fear of angering a sponsor or losing access to a celebrity or damming the revenue stream of a broadcast contract.” Jeff MacGregor, espn.com

  20. joe 25 May 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    why do you assume sastre and evans are more likely to be clean

  21. Erik 25 May 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    Evans and Sastre are both widely regarded by fans and media as “clean” riders. I don’t care to get into an argument about whether they are, for all I know, they’re the biggest cheats in the peloton (though I doubt it, Evans has too much of a martyr complex).

    My point is that you assert that the choice between staying clean and doping is the choice between obscurity and “fame and fortune”. Surely there must be clean riders who have had success, I merely offer two likely candidates. Conversely, there are certainly a number of domestiques who are doped to the gills who have been miring their careers away in relative obscurity.

    The logic that anyone in a similar position to an active doper (albeit unproven, at least by the court of popular opinion) who wins would make the same choices is absurd. I doubt Lance Armstrong, if he’s ever unequivocally (and hypothetically, lest you think I assume he’s a cheat) caught, would ever use such an argument in his own moral defense.

  22. Joe 25 May 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    The point of course is exactly what you do not want to debate. Given the difficulty in finding the dopers it is quite hard to assume anyone is clean. I think it unfair to assume that armstrong is doper any more than it is fair to assume any other rider is above suspect. I agree that if caught few would use my argument because the general public is not ready for anything that is not black and white. Cycling is a sport that an individual benefits so much from doping that I think very few at the top level can compete without giving in to the temptations. I simply wish cycling would define a set of rules that were more lax but truly enforceable. Wada certainly benefits monetarily by continuing to try to regulate cycling in a way that is not practical.

  23. Erik 25 May 2010 at 8:34 pm #

    There is mounting evidence against Lance Armstrong. It’s fair to say we can publicly discuss our doubts without travelling too far into left field.
    There is not similar mounting evidence against Carlos, Cadel, or numerous other riders. When and if it occurs-so be it.
    YOU find it hard to assume anyone is clean, that’s a personal prejudice. Without evidence I have no reason to believe Evans is dirty.
    Your belief that the “public is not ready for anything that is not black and white” is a conceit. Do you believe you’re sufficiently more evolved or prepared to deal with shades of gray than the rest of us? People want fair sport, it starts as a kid playing pickup games.
    Your perception of WADA’s regulations are impractical is counter to the current conventional wisdom in the press and the peloton. Many riders believe the sport is getting cleaner, and most experts agree it’s harder to cheat in cycling than most other pro sports.

  24. joe 27 May 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    I do not know if evans is clean but there is no way of knowing for sure. People seem to accept gray in there own life much more than in the lives of heroes and stars. The press likes stories good or bad. Doping allegations make good press. If a member of the peloton was outspoken against progress of doping controls it would certainly increase the amount of scrutiny he would receive. Government involvement in cycling claims from the past is surely not what any true fan would enjoy. How much money do the executives at WADA make? What if that same money were put into good junior programs or bike safety classes?

  25. Mike 31 May 2010 at 12:23 am #

    You know one thing that makes Evans & Sastre look clean?
    Their bad days.

    They blow like folks use to blow….. You can see it in their riding.
    When the plop back on the seat or rock the bike standing for dear life.

    The others??? Not…..

  26. Mick 1 June 2010 at 1:11 am #

    Excellent point, Mike! Exactly my thoughts…

    For too long we have seen a number of “machines”
    almost beyond fail.

    I’ll glad to take things case by case…the day the evidence mounts against Evan’s and others is the day I’ll ponder that question…
    For too long I’ve watched the evidence pile up against LA…it gets hard to ignore

  27. Doug P 4 June 2010 at 9:38 pm #

    My take is LA took steroids as a youth, and contracted testicular cancer as a result. He then did the ‘ol switcheroo, “fighting” the very disease he propagated in his body.
    His closed, macho persona evolved as a natural result to living a lie. No, I’m sure he’s not the only one, just the one who has profited the most.

  28. Joe 8 June 2010 at 7:50 am #

    Cosmo = genius!

    Your quality articles need to be put up on a website where you will get more credit and publicity for such credible, quality and sometimes hilarious writing.

  29. jorge 9 July 2010 at 1:44 am #


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