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Dear Lance

Published January 9, 2013
An opinion column by Jamie Fuller, founder and chairman of Skins and founder of the Change Cycling Now group.

Dear Lance, 

So you’ve finally decided to speak out. Frankly, it’s not before time and I trust the hype, preparation and anticipation will be worth it. In fairness, by choosing to undertake a broadcast interview with Oprah Winfrey you have certainly guaranteed visibility for your much-awaited response and I trust Oprah’s professional instincts and journalistic credibility will not be compromised by any pre-emptive ‘deals’. I, for one, will be glued to the transmission but before we get into any detail on the potential content, let me say right here right now, do it properly or don’t bother. 

The USADA report into doping, which ultimately led to you losing all seven of your Tour de France titles and the receipt of a lifetime ban, meant you were (quite rightly) internationally disgraced and condemned. The report claimed the activities you were involved in were;  “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”. You had a chance to challenge the allegations, but you refused. 

So why the apparent change of heart? If confession was always on the agenda you could have saved many months of vitriol. You could have ‘come clean’. You could have helped put cycling back on the right path. So why now? It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that your former race director, Johan Bruyneel is shortly going to give evidence to a WADA arbitration panel could it? Or that you want to be free to compete in triathlons and Ironman events that are run in accordance with the WADA code?

There has been much speculation about deals being done in the background to satisfy commercial partners and sponsors who might have legal recourse to recover money they’ve paid to you if you confessed that you cheated. And there’s also the issue of potential perjury charges after your declarations on oath that you were not involved in doping. Perhaps, just perhaps, the weeks since the USADA report was published have been taken up with deals to clear a path for unfettered confession? If so, then I fear this latest revelation is - not for the first time - all about you. 

According to the New York Times, part of your incentive is to persuade the authorities to restore your eligibility to compete and resume an athletic career. If that’s true (and I have no reason to suggest otherwise) the only way you can attempt to restore any level of credibility and respect is to cover off EVERY element of this sorry saga. For USADA and WADA to reduce your punishment would be a high stakes, high risk decision for them. For you to spin that wheel in your favour, you’ll need to put ALL of your chips on the table.

The process of truth and reconciliation will, in time, bring out all the facts, so any admission has to be full and unrestricted. Anything conveniently left out that’s revealed at some point in the future, will put you in a place from which there is DEFINITELY no way back. As its stands, the path to redemption is hard enough. This really is the once-only lifetime opportunity.

There is, of course, an important human element to all this. In refusing to confess in the first place, you imposed further torment on those who have been brave enough to speak out and reveal experiences of the deceit, manipulation and bullying that were designed to hide your secret. These include people who were forced to comply with your deception or face losing their jobs on the team. All of their evidence undoubtedly inspired the conclusions in the USADA report and it was no doubt a cathartic exercise from their own perspective. Among those I’m talking about are people such as your own former masseuse Emma O’Reilly who you lovingly referred to as a ‘whore’ whilst under oath in your SCA testimony, former French pro cyclist Christophe Bassons who you bullied out of the TdF, 3-time winner of the TdF and living legend Greg LeMond, journalists of integrity Paul Kimmage and David Walsh plus former team mates Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton who were dragged into the mix as part of the U.S. Postal Services team. 

For me Lance, its far more important that those who were trapped in the web receive a full apology and exoneration than it is for you to extract the sympathy vote just so you can compete in future triathlons and relaunch your career to earn sponsorship dollars. 

A confession at this stage of the proceedings is NOT about what you want. If that’s the deal, then forget it. Your confession is about a sport that has been tainted. It’s about the sponsors and fans who have been deceived. It’s about the level of cynicism that now exists in world cycling because no-one believes anything a rider says any more. And it’s about the colleagues, team-mates and support staff who deserve the return of their professional dignity. Confession is not about Lance Armstrong anymore, its about everything and everyone else. And if there are deals being done in the background that would lead to the re-instatement of professional privileges and athletic eligibility, you’d better be prepared to give back dignity and honour to the sport, team mates and colleagues you snared in your web of deceit.

It really is that simple. 

Topics associated with this article: Racing & Sponsorship

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