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Q&A with 'Lance to Landis' author David Walsh

Tuesday marked the release of "From Lance to Landis," Irish sportswriter David Walsh's second book on the subject of doping in cycling, focusing on his investigation of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong throughout his career has vigorously denied charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs, and recently he released a statement refuting the reporting that forms the basis of Walsh's book.

The retired rider declined to add to the statement when contacted by ESPN.com, but Armstrong did say he is confident that publicity surrounding the book will not interfere with his cancer foundation's efforts. "I answered these stories two years ago and five years ago," he said. "I answer them regularly. It's never gotten in the way of what I do."

Walsh has been on leave from his position as chief sportswriter for The Sunday Times of London for most of the last two years and said he plans to return to that job later in 2007. Last weekend, he sat down at his home outside Cambridge, England, for a question-and-answer session about the book. The following are excerpts from that conversation.

Armstrong's response to book

Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong recently said doping charges leveled in a new book by Irish writer David Walsh are
recycled allegations designed to "cash in on my name and sully my reputation."

Addressing the book, "From Lance to Landis," Armstrong said in a statement, "This latest attack will be no different than the first two. ...

"I responded in court to these allegations, most of which are made by a handful of grudge holders, axe grinders, and a so-called
'expert' whose graduate degree turned out to be by way of correspondence courses -- and I proved them false," Armstrong said.
"I was vindicated yet again."

He also charged that Walsh brought the book out now "to cash in on my name and sully my reputation." Armstrong retired after his
2005 victory, but the doping controversy still lingers. American Floyd Landis, the 2006 Tour winner, tested positive for synthetic
testosterone and is awaiting a decision from an arbitration panel on whether the victory will stand.

"Trying to jump on the bandwagon of current publicity surrounding cycling, Walsh now issues a recycled version of two
earlier French books that were likewise founded upon a demonstrably false string of sensational, untrue and fabricated allegations,"
Armstrong said.

Armstrong has repeatedly denied doping allegations against him both in court and the public arena. He did so again in his
statement.

"I raced clean. I won clean," he said. "I am the most tested athlete in the history of sports. I have defended myself and my
reputation and won every court case to prove I was clean."

-- The Associated Press

Question from Bonnie DeSimone: Three years ago, you collaborated with Pierre Ballester on a book called "L.A. Confidentiel," which made doping allegations against Lance Armstrong. The book was only published in French. What changed between then and now that enabled you to have this second book published in English and released in the United States?

Answer from David Walsh: I think what happened is that time passed. In that time, a lot more evidence came out about how much doping there was in professional cycling, particularly related to the Tour de France. We have Operacion Puerto, the Spanish drug investigation that eliminated a number of top riders from the race; we've had the Floyd Landis case come out immediately after last year's Tour; and there's just been a drip-drip of information about doping in cycling. And a lot of people's view that Lance had to have been clean because of all they knew about him, that view has changed. Sure, there are plenty of people who still believe he won the races clean, but there are also plenty of people who believe he didn't win them clean. And because the number of skeptics has increased quite significantly, publishers are always going to be more open to publication of a book that offered that viewpoint. Random House agreed about 10 months ago to go with the book, and here we are.

I think there was a real feeling of, this man is an incredible icon. He's an inspiration to so many people because of his surviving cancer and then going on to win the Tour de France. People thought, this is one sporting hero that really must remain on his pedestal. But the book I've written, it's been truthfully written, it's been painstakingly researched, and all I can tell you is that the story it tells is a true story.

Q: There's some overlapping material with the first book. What's new about this book?

A: My feeling is that 70 percent of the material in "From Lance to Landis" is new material. In the original book, I wrote about what I would call the "hospital room incident." Basically, people told me they heard Lance admit to his doctors that he used performance-enhancing drugs. At the time, I'd been told by these people but they weren't prepared to go public with it, because it was going to bring too much attention on themselves, and criticism, and they just weren't ready for that. That incident constituted a page and a half in the first book. In "From Lance to Landis," the hospital room constitutes two chapters. It's the same incident, but fleshed out in incredible detail because in the intervening time, we had this litigation between Lance and SCA Promotions [Editor's note: Armstrong sued the Dallas-based company for refusing to pay a $5 million bonus after he won his sixth Tour de France, and he was awarded a $7.5 million settlement by an arbitration panel]. I got all the transcripts from the SCA case. I read them in great detail. I got additional material. I hope when people see [this book], they will be struck by the amount of detailed information.

Q: Did you go back and reinterview the original sources?

A: Very much so. A big advantage was that a lot of the information they gave me for "L.A. Confidentiel" was subsequently given under oath in the SCA case. What they said under oath had been pretty much what they said to us in the original interviews.

Q: This seems to have been a very personal story for you.

A: I do believe deeply in the whole anti-doping movement. I despise doping in sport. I believe professional sports has been brought to its knees by doping. We can't watch anything now virtually without wondering what they're on. It really has the potential to destroy sport. So I'm a very passionate activist in the anti-doping movement. I see myself as primarily a journalist, but I've got a conviction that we must have sport without doping. Maybe that's not possible, but it's certainly possible to fight for it, and I'm definitely fighting for it.

Q: How do you respond to Armstrong's repeated contention that he was clean based on the number of times he was tested and the scrutiny that he was under?

A: If there's one thing that modern sport has proven, it's that drug testing doesn't work in terms of always finding people who dope. In cycling, we've just had a battalion of people who have been caught up in doping investigations or subsequently admitted they doped who passed every test. The tests just don't work. I do think the case [against Armstrong] is much more substantial now because a lot of people have been emboldened by the stuff that's happened. They've been emboldened because they've seen cycling virtually in the gutter, and the UCI president, Pat McQuaid, saying "Yeah, we have a real credibility problem."

Q: You did famously say that there was no smoking gun in "L.A. Confidentiel." Do you have a smoking gun now?

A: There will never be smoking guns. Consider the situation of the cyclist with a needle in his arm and written on the syringe is EPO, and we get a video. The cyclist says "Oh no, no. This was a prank to make it look like I was on EPO. There was water in the syringe." There isn't going to be a smoking gun. But anybody who's had anything to do with criminal cases realizes that lots of people get convicted on the weight of circumstantial evidence. It happens. There's no reason why it shouldn't happen. Lance said all we've got here is disgruntled ax-grinders. I never felt any of those people had that kind of agenda. I spoke to them, I spoke to them at length, developed relationships with them, spoke to them on and off for a two- or three-year period. I'm still speaking with all of them and I don't think any of them were speaking from improper motives. I don't believe the book I've written will be the last statement on the matter. But because the whole kind of issue of whether he was a great legitimate champion is unresolved, this is going to go on.

From Lance to Landis

• In his new book, "From Lance to Landis," author David Walsh follows the trail of r-EPO, or recombinant erythropoietin, from its development in the 1980s as a treatment for anemia to the heart of Armstrong's U.S. Postal and Discovery teams. You can learn more about the book here.

Excerpt: "From Lance to Landis"

Chat wrap: Author David WalshInsider

Q: Don't you think most people have made up their minds about Lance Armstrong one way or the other by now?

A: I think there's quite a constituency out there who have had reservations about Lance as an icon. From being a believer, they went to a territory called "I'm not sure." I'm hoping that now that they have an opportunity to read a pretty comprehensive account of the Lance years, that they'll have an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the story as it actually happened. One of the things I would be at pains to say is that I did not set out to attack Lance in the book. I feel no personal animosity towards him. Never did.

Q: There are a lot of people who would be skeptical about that, including me. I was at some [Tour de France] press conferences where there was quite an electric current between the two of you.

A: What you saw was my sense of outrage against the doping culture. I don't know Lance. I have never interacted in his world. Why should I dislike him? There's been loads of stuff I disagreed with, but only one thing he got into that ever irritated me. I heard this quote, "David Walsh doesn't like me, I don't like him." Well, sorry, man, speak for yourself. It's not that I like him, but I definitely don't dislike him.

Q: Do you have any respect for what he's done in the cancer field?

A: I do. I think his work in the cancer field has been great.

Q: I want to ask some questions people might have about the credibility of your sources. You state in your book that American riders Greg LeMond [a three-time Tour de France winner] and [Tour of Italy winner] Andy Hampsten were clean. Why should we believe that when so many cyclists have lied about doping?

A: The big difference between Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten and the cyclists who came 10 years after them is that Greg and Andy came to a Europe that didn't have EPO. I think that's a huge difference. It was still possible for somebody to compete clean and achieve a certain amount of success. I do believe the reality of Greg and Andy's careers is that as soon as EPO took hold, they were both obliterated.

Q: But how do we know? This is also circumstantial evidence.

A: We know from their results. They were naturally right up there among the elite, and they became also-rans and they couldn't compete. Andy Hampsten talks about the fact that he was always one of the top five climbers in the world, and when EPO came around, there was suddenly a group of 50 that were riding faster than he could ride. He knew from his own training; he logged all his times, he knew his level hadn't diminished, and suddenly he's not in the top 50. So something radical has changed, and it was EPO. Lance's bad luck was to arrive at exactly the same time as EPO. I do believe the decision [Armstrong's former] Motorola team took in the mid-'90s was an entirely understandable decision. I don't feel that anybody should be judgmental about what they did. If Frankie Andreu [Armstrong's longtime teammate who admitted using EPO seven years after the fact] decides he cannot do his job in the 1999 Tour without taking EPO, people have to understand he didn't create that scenario. He reacted to it. All he was trying to do was earn enough money to pay his mortgage and keep his wife and newborn kid fed and sheltered. It's not like all the guys who doped are bad guys. Of course they're not. But I would say the guys who resisted doping, and there were very few, were extraordinary people.

Q: There's a section in the book where you describe how you and Ballester paid one of your sources, former U.S. Postal Service team soigneur Emma O'Reilly, approximately $10,000 for work she did in reviewing her "L.A. Confidentiel" interview transcript and the book manuscript. Armstrong criticizes that in his statement. [Editor's note: Walsh originally told a reporter that he did not pay any sources, then subsequently retracted that denial in other interviews and under oath in the SCA case.] Do you regret paying O'Reilly now?

A: No, not at all. I interviewed her for seven hours. The transcript came to 43,000 words. She never wanted to be paid for the interview but she said, "I should get some fee to compensate me for all this time." I felt that argument was just undeniable. If she had gone to a magazine and sold her story and, with the help of a journalist, written it in her own words, she would have been paid vastly more. If she had written a book she would have been paid vastly more. She wanted what, for her, was a nominal payment. This came up in the SCA case. I didn't have any qualms about it.

Q: Were any other sources paid?

A: Absolutely not.

Q: Floyd Landis, who is accused of doping in his Tour win last year, has tried to point out flaws in the anti-doping testing and adjudication system. Do you find any merit in his arguments?

A: I would have a lot more sympathy for the argument if I felt cyclists were genuinely trying to change the environment in their own working lives. There's no question the French lab made lots of mistakes. Did they deliberately contaminate Floyd's sample? I don't believe that. I don't believe there was any malice in the lab. I think there was a quite a bit of incompetence, sloppy administration, and it's something they need to look at very seriously. This strict liability law [Editor's note: The international rule that holds athletes responsible for doping substances found in their systems, no matter how they got there] is one that obviously would never stand up in a criminal court. But if we apply criminal law practices to doping, we have no anti-doping movement. If I felt Floyd was utterly and convincingly anti-doping, I would be much more sympathetic to his viewpoint than I am.

Q: Some people say it's impossible to run the Tour de France at this distance, under this format, with this number of difficult climbs, and have it be clean.

A: Respectfully, I would disagree 100 percent. What you have to do is go slower. They would only go 2 to 5 percent slower and finish 30 or 40 minutes later every day. If you say it has to be changed because of the dopers, you're spitting in the face of the guys who rode it clean and got around. Lots more guys won't finish, but that's fine. It's a reaffirmation of just how tough it was.

Q: How can fans remain fans if they have to watch the race for signs of doping?

A: The sport is at best in a state of transition. What happens in cycling is we get hopeful too quickly. And, as soon as we get hopeful, it gives an opportunity for people to feel they can do the wrong thing without being scrutinized. That shouldn't be part of the fans' experience, but it is.

Q: Will you be covering the Tour de France this year?

A: No wish to go. The Tour has got to convince me it's more believable than it is at the moment. No great wish to watch it. I watched last year, Floyd's great ride on Stage 17, and thought this was magnificent. It was one last kick in the face too much. I thought, let's wait and let the Tour prove itself.

Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.