Lance Armstrong rehabilitation attempt continues with Esquire interview
Golf is the new cycling for Armstrong, cockroach wing artwork, and door open for return to Livestrong?
Lance Armstrong’s attempt to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the American public have stepped up a gear with an extensive interview in the August 2014 issue of Esquire magazine revealing how he fills his days since his fall from grace and also giving a glimpse into his private world – such as the writer being given a tour of his art collection that includes a piece made entirely from cockroach wings.
Armstrong says it is his decision to return to cycling in 2009 that caused his world to come crashing down as he was banned from sport for life and stripped of results including his seven Tour de France titles – although he continues to insist he was racing clean after his comeback.
The cancer survivor continues to seek to give hope to others with the disease, and the door appears open for him to return to the charity he founded, the Livestrong Foundation – although whether he will accept the invitation is unclear.
Downsizing – but on a grand scale
He was speaking to John H Richardson for the 8,000-word Esquire magazine feature under the title, Lance Armstrong in Purgatory - the After-Life, the writer travelling to Austin, Texas where the disgraced cyclist has moved into a smaller home after selling his old, ranch-style property.
This is downsizing on a grand scale, however. The 42-year-old’s new abode has a “magnificent” wine cellar housing thousands of bottles. He proudly shows Richardson his art collection – promising to later show him another piece made entirely from cockroach wings.
In his teens, Armstrong competed as a triathlete, and following his second retirement from cycling in early 2011 began taking part in Ironman events. He was due to take part in one in Nice, France in June 2012 when the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced he was being charged with doping offences, causing him to withdraw from the event.
Now, he cannot take part in any competitive sport governed by bodies ultimately adhering to the World Anti-Doping Code – last year, for example, he was excluded from a local swimming race in Austin after a fellow entrant complained.
"Anything I try to do, any sport, even archery and volleyball, I can't do it," says Armstrong, who describes his long-time denial of doping and the bullying of his accusers as “indefensible” and “pure hubris.”
But, he adds, "nobody has stepped forward and said, 'I really won those races.' They didn't award those jerseys to somebody else. I won those races."
Regrets over comeback
Like many others, Armstrong believes that it was his decision to stage a comeback in 2009 that led to his doping being exposed and his life come crashing down.
He recalls a meal with his girlfriend at a café in Fort Worth, Texas, shortly before he returned to the sport.
"Every part of my being said, I gotta fucking stop this right now – I can't do this. And Anna, bless her heart, was saying, 'What are you talking about? What's the problem?' "
However, the support from sponsors, his charity and fans for his comeback proved too much to resist.
"I would do anything to be sitting back in that small café with Anna, and make a decision to just call it off," he explains.
Embroiled in a series of lawsuits, Armstrong says that discussion of that topic is off limits, although preparing for and fighting actions including the Floyd Landis whistleblower case that has been joined by the US Government is likely to take up a significant amount of his time.
Golf is the new cycling for Armstrong
Otherwise, his days are taken up by running for a few miles then playing golf, his evenings, given several references in Richardson’s piece, which describe Armstrong’s life as “his worst nightmare, a purposeless limbo,” to a fair amount of drinking.
But he also finds time to reach out to others suffering from cancer, whether sending video messages to give hope and encouragement, or travelling to California to be at a dying man’s bedside, and it’s clear that the writer believes that despite his disgrace, Armstrong remains a source of inspiration to many of those with the disease.
In the wake of USADA’s Reasoned Decision published in October 2012, Armstrong was dropped by a succession of sponsors – Trek, Nike and Oakley among them – but while that hurt him financially, what wounded him most was being pushed out of the charity he started, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, since renamed the Livestrong Foundation.
The news was broken by the charity’s chairman, Jeff Garvey, who called Armstrong, who was playing golf in Hawaii, one day in November 2012 and explained he needed him to resign because of media pressure and falling donations, which would slide by a third over the next year.
Armstrong rang his girlfriend, Anna Hansen, telling her, "They want me out," and when he returned to their hotel in a rage, he said: "This is ridiculous. I'm resigning."
Early the next morning, he wrote an angry email, copying in every member of staff at Livestrong.
The general thrust of the long email, written in what one of the people who received it said was "Armstrongese," was: "I spent fifteen years building this and seven or eight million dollars of my own money and never dreamed that it would be led by cowards."
He followed up with an email the next day in which he apologised, but the damage was done, and it appears to have marked a turning point, with Armstrong telling his children to stop defending him, and then going on to make his televised confession to Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.
Door open for Livestrong return?
Visiting Livestrong’s offices, Richardson is told by CEO Doug Ulman that the charity would embrace Armstrong again if he decided to work with it.
"If he gets up in the morning and decides that being a leader in the cancer community is what he wants to spend his life doing, then the cancer community and the Livestrong Foundation would welcome him back," says Ulman.
Richardson asks: "Are you really telling me that if he walked in that door and said, 'I want to be part of this organization again, please take me back,' you would say yes?"
"I think in some respects, he's waiting to be invited,” replies Ulman, initially off the record. “And people here are waiting for him to express to them his authentic passion to be back. Both are waiting for the other to, like, make a move."
He adds that at a recent brainstorming session about how to turn the charity round, a member of staff suggested that 2014 should be denoted the "Year of Redemption," with Armstrong coming in every day to work alongside other employees, manning the phones and stuffing envelopes.
"To pay a penance?"
"To say: 'I want to do this.' To say: 'I'll do anything.' "
Armstrong is shocked by the news when told about it, saying: "That would be the first I ever heard that, and that seems awkward.
"I mean, I've mentioned numerous times that ultimately I'd love to go back, but nobody's ever directly said that to me. So it seems awkward that it would go from Doug to you back to me. That's a pretty significant statement."
"Nobody's ever told me that. Yeah, I don't believe that."
Bloodied but unbeaten… for now
Armstrong is clearly itching for something new to do, though. "If I'm still playing golf five days a week at fifty, my head will explode," he says.
He heads to Scottsdale, Arizona to lead a "man camp" hosted by a local cycling coach named Jimmy Riccitello, the nine participants mostly ex-sportsmen who finished up working on Wall Street.
The programme seems to comprise riding at day and drinking at night, and there’s a lot of testosterone about.
"I came this close to beating Lance in the first race," Ken Rideout, an investment banker. "I attacked like a rabid dog. I had a gap on him."
On the third day’s ride, he thinks he’s beaten Armstrong, and says. "I'm the winner of the man camp! Lance, will you clean and hose my bike for me?"
It turns out Armstrong was 4 seconds quicker, despite cutting his hand when a rock hit him, and the bleeding still hasn’t stopped.
"I hurt Lance Armstrong! I broke him! I made him bleed!," exclaims Rideout.
Another rider says, "He's gonna fucking pass out," a third adding "Maybe we could cook up a big batch of Crybaby Soup."
Armstrong lifts his hand, showing the onlookers that the flow of blood has stopped.
"I think that I just finally ran out of blood," he says.
The metaphor is left unsaid, but it’s one that works on two levels… the blood that helped USADA bring him to justice, and the potential bleeding dry of his remaining financial resources should the whistleblower case and other actions go against him.
The story isn’t over yet.