Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong has apologised to Christophe Bassons, the French rider frozen out of the sport after raising doubts over his performance in the 1999 Tour de France – the first of the seven straight victories in the race that the American was stripped of last year. But Betsy Andreu, wife of Armstrong's former team mate Frankie Andreu, says his current charm offensive is a charade.
Armstrong, who confessed in January to having doped his way to those Tour de France wins, three months after the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) took away those titles and banned him from sport for life, is also reported to have apologised to the Italian former pro, Filippo Simeoni, according to French sports daily L'Equipe.
Last month, it was revealed that former US Postal Service masseur, Emma O’Reilly who was among the first to accuse him of doping following an incident that took place on the 1999 Tour, when he failed a positive test for a corticosteroid, covered up through the production of a backdated prescription for a saddle sore cream.
But Betsy Andreu, who was present in a hospital room in 1996 when Armstrong, just diagnosed with cancer, believes that his current campaign to position himself as a reformed doper is him trying to manipulate the situation: "Lance’s reconciliation tour, aka the I-really-want-to-compete-at-an-elite-level-again tour, is nothing more than a charade to back up his call for a version of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee that will exonerate him," she wrote on Crankpunk.
The meeting between Bassons and Armstrong in a hotel on the Champs-Elysées where the latter stood seven times on the podium in the yellow jersey to take the plaudits of the crowd as Tour de France winner, was brokered by Jaimie Fuller, chairman of the compression clothing firm Skins and founder of the pressure group Change Cycling Now.
Among the issues the men talked about were the stage to Sestrières in the 1999 Tour, the day after Bassons, in a diary he was keeping in Le Parisen newspaper, spoke of how “shocked” he was at Armstrong’s performance.
Bassons, who had been nicknamed Mr Clean after his Festina team mates, engulfed in a doping scandal the previous year, insisted that he wasn’t using drugs, went on the break the following day but the peloton, led not only by US Postal but also his own FDJ team, chased him down and Armstrong told him to “Go home.”
The Frenchman, who became something of a pariah in the sport as a result of his views on doping, retired in 2001 and went on first to become a schoolteacher and then to work in anti-doping.
"I have my own version of our dealings, but I believe my version and yours don’t diverge too much," Armstrong told Bassons. "The media’s version is different. I remember each detail. The media exploded over it. There was an article about cycling at two speeds.
'You expressed your concerns," Armstrong continued. "Me, I took it as the expression of someone who wasn’t happy. During the descent from Sestrières, I told you: ‘It’s a difficult job, a shit career, and if you’re not happy about it, you shouldn’t follow this career.' If you felt it differently, I’m sorry. But the media repeated what I said as ‘Go home!’"
Bassons replied: "I maybe felt it like that. It had been reported that Lance Armstrong had hurt me and thrown me to the wolves, but that’s not how I saw it."
Armstrong countered: "But if it was felt like that, I’d truly like to say sorry. That’s not surprising, you know, I harmed a lot of people."
"That's in the past," said Bassons. "What is important now is to know your state of mind, your situation and mine."
The pair, who were in agreement that doping or no doping, Armstrong would have won the Tour that year, turned to the broader issue of doping in cycling.
"You and I, we’re having this conversation," saoid Armstrong. "But the sport hasn’t had it. Maybe that will change now with the change in leadership at the UCI. But this conversation at that level hasn’t yet happened.
"Are you ready?" asked Bassons.
"I’ve always said that I would be the first but USADA can’t sort out a global problem – it’s not their place," said Armstrong. "I have the feeling that interviews such as this one act as a starting point.
"I would have liked to have not been in the situation to take the decision to dope. The end point of everything I’d done to get that far, the efforts, the sacrifices, was doping. Believe me, I would have loved to have done differently."
L’Equipe described Armstrong’s current charm offensive, which has included interviews with the Daily Mail and BBC as well as those meetings with O’Reilly, Simoni and Bassons, as a ‘Tour of Redemption.’
But prior to news of the meeting with Bassons becoming public, Betsy Andreu, writing on the website Crankpunk, has questioned how truly sorry Armstrong is.
“In a desperate attempt to do whatever he can to mitigate the damage he’s done to himself with a lifetime ban competing in sports at an elite level, Lance is reaching out to whomever will listen to him,” she insisted.
“He wants to show how very sorry he is for decimating people like me, Frankie, Greg LeMond, Mike Anderson, David Walsh, Emma, JV [Jonathan Vaughters], Travis [Tygart] and USADA that he has only reached out to his former soigneur Emma – over wine and with cameras rolling – just to show how sorry he really is.”
She said that she had been due to meet him in Houston, Texas in April, but he cancelled at the 11th hour, despite having assured her he wouldn't.
“I’m embarrassed to say I fell for it,” she reflected. “What benefit it had been for him to have his most ardent and vocal critic willing to give him a chance. In doing so, I kept quiet and I didn’t call him out on his lack of action.
"I was giving him the benefit of the doubt when I’d talk to journalists. Like so many Lance used for his own benefit, I too became a pawn in his reconciliation tour.”
Speaking about Armstrong’s televised confession, she said: “The day before he tapes Oprah in January 2013, he starts his reconciliation tour by calling people. Frankie and I are the only ones who spoke with him. Of course, Oprah asks him if he’s called people to apologise. Voilà! He can say he talked to us.
“After Oprah, I was willing to give him a chance; I wanted there to be a reconciliation. I wanted nothing more than to put this behind me, use it as a cautionary tale and forge ahead touting clean sport, especially for kids, whether it be through USADA’s truesport.org initiative or via the media.
“The weekend before his big Monday hearing in DC regarding the whistleblower case, he meets with Emma – and agrees to go on camera for the world to see how very sorry he is. It just happens to be the weekend before his big court date.
“Nothing has changed with Lance. He is still desperately trying to control the narrative. The problem for him is not many are listening. I know first hand he is trying hard to sully me and Frankie, not to mention Travis, Greg, JV, and his most recent target, Alex Gibney [director of The Armstrong Lie]. Funny thing is, he’s going off the record, hoping that by merely telling the lie the seed is planted.
“After all, it worked before. I can’t tell you how many people told me they thought I was crazy thanks to Lance,” she added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.