Everybody gets popped

David Runciman

  • BuyThe Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups and Winning at All Costs by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
    Bantam, 290 pp, £18.99, September 2012, ISBN 978 0 593 07173 1

I was one of those Olympics gloomsters who, as Boris Johnson gleefully pointed out when the Games had finished, were scattered and routed by the rip-roaring success of London 2012. I assumed something would go wrong; everything went right. I thought people would complain about the cost; no one seems to have begrudged a penny. It was a triumph: I accept that now. But in one respect I still refuse to buy it. Before the Olympics began there were fears that the event would be overshadowed by a drugs scandal or by the steady drip-drip of multiple failed drugs tests. In the end, although a few athletes were caught (including the winner of the gold in the women’s shot put and an American judo competitor who blamed his positive marijuana test on eating the wrong cakes), the Games were more or less drugs-free. There were some dark rumours early on about the Chinese teenage swimming sensation Ye Shiwen, but she passed her tests and kept her medals; Colin Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, declared that she was a natural talent and told the doubters to shut up. These Games were ‘clean’, which was a big part of the success story. That’s what makes me suspicious. In an event on this scale, where the stakes are so high for competitors and organisers alike, an absence of failed drugs tests does not prove no one is cheating. More likely it indicates that no one is really looking.

When it comes to drugs in sport, what matters is how the incentives are aligned: the incentives of the people who might take them and the incentives of the people who might stop them. In some sports the temptations for the athletes are relatively slight. Premier League footballers might mess around more than they should with recreational drugs; but the use of performance-enhancing drugs is unlikely to be commonplace, since the skills required at the highest level in football are so various. The clearest evidence for this is the wide variety of body shapes you see in the top leagues. The world’s best player, Lionel Messi, did take growth hormones as a child to compensate for a height deficiency. Without them he would not have grown much above 4'7"; even now he is only a dumpy 5'7". He is also amazingly durable (he has played the full ninety minutes in his last hundred appearances for Barcelona), which can be an effect of steroid use. But you don’t get to be like Messi by taking steroids: no one sets out to be a dumpy 5'7". In American football, by contrast, steroid abuse is almost certainly widespread. Here, being the right shape – big and strong – and having the ability to recover quickly from injuries are the primary requirements in many positions. NFL players do not often fail drugs tests, but that does not mean the sport is clean. It means the people who run the sport are not overconcerned about the players’ underlying health: it would be bad for business. The clearest evidence for this is the brain damage we know is caused to American footballers by the repeated head trauma they undergo, which the helmets they wear do little to protect them from. The people who run the sport have done next to nothing about that either.

However, there has never been a sport where the incentives of the drug-takers and the drug-testers have been so out of kilter as in professional cycling during the Lance Armstrong era, which ran from the mid-1990s until a few weeks ago. The temptation for the cyclists to cheat was almost irresistible, once it became clear that ‘blood-doping’ – the use of erythropoietin (EPO) and blood transfusions to increase the levels of oxygen-carrying red cells in the bloodstream – could give them a clear advantage in the big races, including the three-week-long Tour de France, the sport’s premier event. How large an advantage is open to dispute: one study puts the increase in ‘peak power output’ for recreational cyclists taking EPO at 12-15 per cent, which translates into an 80 per cent increase in endurance (time riding at 80 per cent of maximum capacity). Professional cyclists are already operating at much closer to maximum capacity than recreational riders, but even if EPO gave the top riders only a 5 per cent boost, that could be the difference, as Tyler Hamilton puts it, ‘between first place in the Tour de France and the middle of the pack’.

But it would be a mistake to assume that most cyclists doped in order to give themselves a shot at ultimate glory. In many ways the biggest difference is not between coming first and being in the pack, but between being in the pack and not being in the race at all. Professional cycling is a team sport, and most members of the team are there to support the team’s star riders, who might have a chance to win. Their job is to do the donkey work, protect their leader, chase down rivals and sacrifice themselves for the common good. It is often soul-destroying work; it can also be very well paid. Tyler Hamilton started taking drugs, as he reveals in this gripping tell-all memoir, to give himself a shot at being part of a successful team. It meant the difference between scraping a living on the fringes of the circuit and becoming rich. Not Lance Armstrong rich; but non-sportsman rich. When Hamilton got onto Armstrong’s US Postal team he went from living on scraps to earning a six-figure salary. When Armstrong won the Tour de France with Hamilton’s help, that salary went up from $150,000 to $450,000. Hamilton’s fear when he was starting out was that he would not make the cut to be a Tour rider: blood-doping gave him the boost he needed to get in the game. This is consistent with the evidence from other sports. In baseball, for instance, studies suggest that the highest prevalence of steroid abuse is among players on the fringes of the major leagues. These are the guys with the most to lose by not taking drugs. It makes sense: the difference between the salaries of the top players can be measured in millions, but that’s because they are all being paid millions; the difference between being an obscure major league player and a permanent minor league player can be the difference between earning $500,000 a year and earning $50,000 – all the difference in the world.

Taking EPO was not without risks: the medical consequences were often unpredictable. It makes your blood ‘healthier’ in the sense that it makes it thicker, which can cause your arteries to clog up entirely if you are not careful. It is not clear how many cyclists died of heart attacks in the experimental phase of the EPO era, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the athletes were less adept at monitoring their reaction to the drug. They didn’t die on their bikes; they died in their sleep when the blood stopped moving (‘stories from that era tell of riders who set alarm clocks for the middle of the night so they could wake up and do some pulse-increasing callisthenics’). Why would super-fit athletes take such insane risks with their health? Part of the answer, as Hamilton explains, is that professional cycling is an inherently unhealthy sport.

It is, to start with, extremely dangerous: cyclists crash all the time, breaking bones and risking permanent injury. Then there is the need to eat the bare minimum consistent with surviving the demands of a long race. Along with having thick blood, the other crucial requirement for a Tour de France rider is to be extremely thin. Hamilton says that during his doping years he also had a borderline eating disorder, which meant he spent far more time thinking about the food he was keeping out of his body than he did about the drugs he was putting in. The truth is that long-distance road racers only feel healthy when they are on their bikes: the rest of the time they feel horribly out of shape. They are achy, wheezy, bent up; they walk like old men; they sit when other people are standing, and they lie down when other people are sitting. When Hamilton was at the height of his cycling powers, he infuriated his wife by being unable even to take a short walk with her to the shops: he never felt fit enough.

The other thing cyclists need is an extraordinary tolerance for pain. That, in many ways, is what the competition is about: who can hurt the most, for the longest, without cracking or doing something stupid. Hamilton’s calling card was his superhuman pain threshold: he became a legend of the sport in 2003 when he continued in the Tour de France despite having fractured his collarbone in a crash. The pain was so bad that he ended up grinding his teeth down to stumps. But he got to the finish, eventually placing fourth overall, and he even managed to win one of the most arduous mountain stages. It hurts just reading about it. Blood-doping does nothing to take the pain away; if anything, it makes the sport hurt more, because riders can push their bodies harder and for longer. For Hamilton, as for many of the other leading cyclists, doping did not constitute an unfair advantage. Instead, it was a way of sorting out who was really the toughest. In an extraordinary passage, Hamilton writes that EPO made the sport fairer, because it ‘granted the ability to suffer more; to push yourself farther and harder than you’d ever imagined, in both racing and training’. Races ‘weren’t rolls of the genetic dice, or who happened to be on form that day. They didn’t depend on who you were. They depended on what you did – how hard you worked, how attentive and professional you were in your preparation.’ One of the frustrations for a rider like Hamilton had been the moments when he was willing to take the pain, but his body packed up anyway: cyclists call this ‘bonking’, the point where the metabolism shuts down regardless of the rider’s will to keep going. Blood-doping meant that if you could take the pain, your body would keep up. Now success would simply go to the person who wanted it more.

No one in the history of the sport has wanted it more than Armstrong. The blood-doping era rewarded his insatiable appetite to win. But Armstrong was also lucky. Hamilton is being slightly disingenuous when he suggests that the drugs simply levelled the genetic playing field. Because there was no effective test to detect the presence of EPO in the bloodstream, the cycling authorities instituted a rule that suspended cyclists whose hematocrit level (the percentage of red cells in their blood) rose above 50, which was taken to indicate something was amiss. Normally the level for men shouldn’t be much above 45. But people differ. Some are naturally closer to 50, others struggle to get much above 40 without artificial help. These latter included Armstrong, whose standard hematocrit reading was around 39 (Hamilton’s was 42). So Armstrong benefited disproportionately from EPO, gaining nearly a 30 per cent boost while staying within the rules compared, say, to a rider whose normal level was 48, who would get only a 4 per cent boost before breaching the limit. Without EPO, Armstrong wouldn’t have been at the races.

Armstrong also got a lucky roll of the genetic dice when he contracted the testicular cancer in 1996 that nearly killed him. His luck wasn’t merely in surviving (and Armstrong, in his own tell-nothing memoir, It’s Not About the Bike, accepts it was luck: ‘The cancer does not care if you are a good or bad person’). Cancer also changed his body shape, making him much thinner and leaner. Before he got sick Armstrong was a top rider but few people’s idea of a future Tour de France winner: he was far too bulky, good for speed and for barrelling his way through one-off road races, but unlikely to survive the rigours of a three-week grind through the French countryside. Armstrong’s pre-cancer physique probably had something to do with steroids, and the steroids may or may not have contributed to his getting cancer: we can’t know. In a conversation with his doctors during his cancer treatment that Armstrong now denies ever took place, but which two friends who were in the room at the time have testified under oath to hearing, he admitted that he had been taking EPO, cortisone, testosterone, growth hormone and steroids. When he emerged from his truly gruelling chemotherapy regime, he seems to have realised that it made no sense to carry on as before. He was not going to dope indiscriminately. He was going to tailor his drug-taking to go for endurance rather than brute strength.

Blood-doping was what gave Armstrong a shot at becoming one of the legends of the sport. But it is clear that in his own mind what made the difference was how he doped: he simply did it better than anyone else, more creatively, more ruthlessly, more fearlessly. He exploited the same opportunities that were available to everyone. For Armstrong, drugs added an extra element of competition to the sport: the competition to be the person who made best use of the drugs. Armstrong never doubted that everyone was at it. His mantra, according to Hamilton, was: ‘Whatever you do, those other fuckers are doing more.’ So there was nothing to be gained by being squeamish. The challenge was to be ahead of the curve. Armstrong hired the ‘best’ doctors (meaning both the most imaginative and the most unscrupulous), monitored the latest developments in testing and research, kept a fearsomely beady eye on his own teammates as well as on the performance of rival teams, and paid out of his own pocket to secure his supply. He was all over it, and that’s what made him a winner.

Hamilton’s memoir establishes beyond doubt that Armstrong is not a nice person to be around. His take-no-prisoners approach to all aspects of competition made him devious, insensitive and cruel. He bullied his teammates and then, when they showed signs of resistance, replaced them with someone more pliant. Hamilton was forced out after the 2001 Tour, which Armstrong won (the third of his seven consecutive victories), because his heroic performance made him suspect in Armstrong’s eyes: could he still be trusted to know his place? Armstrong even suspected that Hamilton might have been taking something ‘extra’, a new drug that he was keeping all to himself. As Hamilton points out, none of the cyclists taking EPO considered it cheating, because they all recognised that doping was what it took to compete (‘You could have hooked us up to the best lie detector on the planet and asked us if we were cheating, and we’d have passed’). But in this, as in everything else, Armstrong had to go further. He wasn’t just a cheat who thought he was doing nothing wrong; he managed to cast himself as a whistleblower. When he thought other athletes were taking drugs not available to him (his term for this was that their performance was ‘not normal’), he informed the authorities and asked that they be checked out. After a successful race in 2004 Hamilton found himself, to his alarm and astonishment, summoned to the headquarters of the sport’s governing body, the UCI, in Switzerland for a thinly veiled warning and dressing down about his ‘health’. Only later did he discover that it was Armstrong who had ratted him out.

It is commonplace in accounts of the Armstrong years to remark on his brash and abrasive Texan personality, which is what made him so unusual in the world of European cycling. No one had ever encountered someone quite so crude and so open in his desire to dominate: the Europeans were used to putting up at least a veneer of civility (which helps to explain cycling’s popularity among the intelligentsia). But Armstrong’s cowboy persona, though untypical of European sportsmen, perfectly suited his chosen sport, given the way it was regulated. One of the ironies of the sporting world is that Americans run their sports as though they were Europeans, and Europeans run theirs as though they were Americans. The NFL, for instance, is practically a socialist organisation, with its strict rules about redistribution between the richest and poorest teams and its tight regulation of unfair competitive advantage. The Tour de France, by contrast, is the Wild West. Teams get to take part on the basis of their ability to attract sponsorship, which often depends on the whims of some very unsavoury people. Money swirls around the sport, but little of it is being monitored. There is no job security and plenty of scope for bribery and coercion. The riders, Hamilton included, like to talk about the teams as though they were ‘families’. But these are more like the families that rule the five boroughs of New York than the ones where mum and dad keep an eye out for the kids.

Armstrong’s recovery from cancer and return to bike racing in 1998 coincided with the biggest scandal to hit the Tour de France in its history to that point. It broke when a Belgian physiotherapist working for the Festina team was stopped at the Belgian-French border with a car stuffed full of anabolic steroids, EPO, syringes and other doping products. The French police searched Festina’s headquarters and arrested the team’s chief, who eventually confessed to a widespread programme of blood-doping. Even the UCI, usually reluctant to act, had no choice but to expel Festina from the Tour. This event had two consequences, both of them highly favourable to Armstrong. First, the other riders, almost all of whom were also doping, had a choice to make: did they stop for fear of getting caught, or did they take matters into their own hands and start managing their own supplies of EPO? No one could trust their own team doctors, who were now under the suspicion of the French police. So they had to be creative. It became a world of smuggling and subterfuge: ‘Quick drop-offs in hotel parking lots from girlfriends, mechanics, cousins, a bartender friend of the coach. That’s how it works. The authorities shut one door, riders open two windows.’

Now there was a new game in town: who had the guts to outwit the police. ‘In the wake of the busts,’ Hamilton writes, ‘the 1998 Tour became a different sort of contest, less about who was the strongest and more about who was the ballsiest, who had the best Plan B.’ If this was a ballsiness competition, then Armstrong, back from his near-death encounter with testicular cancer, was going to be the winner. No one was more fearless. This was the other thing that worked in his favour: the people in charge of the sport, having survived their own near-death experience in 1998, were desperate for a good news story to change the image of the Tour. Armstrong fitted the bill perfectly. His miraculous recovery was ideal cover. Accusing Armstrong of doping always seemed in desperately poor taste, given what he had been through. Armstrong himself exploited this advantage ruthlessly. In It’s Not About the Bike, which was first published in 2000, Armstrong’s denials of doping now look distinctly half-hearted (he spends far less time discussing what he was doing to his own body than he does describing what was being done to his wife’s body as she underwent IVF treatment). One line stands out, however: ‘After chemo, the idea of putting anything foreign in my body was especially repulsive.’ This was bullshit, but it was gold-plated bullshit, and it protected him for more than a decade.

The French police continued to monitor the sport, and the French cycling federation came down hard on their own athletes when they were caught cheating. But this is where the incentive structure worked to Armstrong’s advantage. The Tour was French, but the French authorities did not control it. The UCI, which had the power to clean up the sport, was located near Lausanne, a stone’s throw from the headquarters of that other bastion of probity and good practice, the IOC. The view from Switzerland was that Armstrong was not to be touched. The other problem was that the non-French cyclists were only in France for the duration of the race; most of them lived elsewhere, often in Spain, which was far more lax about enforcing drug laws. Everyone knew the difference: ‘Racers used to say you could tape EPO syringes to your forehead and you wouldn’t get busted in Spain.’ Armstrong moved himself and some of his teammates to Girona, a small town in north-east Catalonia. Still, once he could afford it, he preferred to get his blood work done in Switzerland, where he could be confident the medical standards were higher. That’s where he liked to ‘train’ before the Tour. One of Armstrong’s many exquisite hypocrisies was an ongoing suspicion of riders who spent too much time in Spain: he was afraid that they might be taking advantage of the inattention of the local authorities to try out new treatments. If he thought you were a little too fond of ‘Spanish practices’, he would notify his friends in the UCI to warn them.

As well as the French police, who lacked the resources to get at Armstrong (they needed enough evidence to charge him with a crime on French territory), and the sport’s governors, who had the resources (all they needed to show was that he had broken their own rules) but lacked the will, there were also the anti-doping agencies. These people wanted to catch Armstrong, but he always managed to stay one step ahead. The contest between drug testers and athletes is often described as an ‘arms race’: each side is trying to gain the advantage in a battle of technological resources. ‘But,’ Hamilton points out, ‘that wasn’t quite right, because it implied that the testers had a chance of winning. For us, it wasn’t like a race at all. It was more like a big game of hide-and-seek played in a forest that has lots of good places to hide, and lots of rules that favour the hiders.’

Sometimes, the hiding was done in plain sight. During the 2002 Tour not a single rider failed a drugs test. This included Raimondas Rumsas, who finished third overall, and whose wife was caught with a cache of EPO, corticoids, testosterone, anabolics and HGH in the trunk of her car. She gamely claimed they were for her mother (who, as Hamilton writes, ‘must’ve been quite a racer’), and Rumsas got to keep his place on the podium. This showed that the UCI would buy any excuse to keep the Tour clean, and that it was possible to take a boatload of drugs and not fail a test. The way it was done was called ‘micro-dosing’, which meant injecting small amounts directly into the bloodstream, making any traces far harder to detect. This was the equivalent of dotting tiny markers around the forest rather than piling your stuff up in a single hiding place. But it also helped that no one told the testers that this is what the cyclists were doing. The authorities only discovered that the cyclists were micro-dosing when one of Armstrong’s former teammates, Floyd Landis, confessed to the practice in 2010.

The testers did have one thing in their favour. A cyclist only had to make one mistake, or be unlucky once, and he would become damaged goods. The code of omertà, which guaranteed that the riders on the Tour never discussed what they all knew was happening, also meant that if one of their number got caught, he had to be ostracised. The only way to keep up the pretence was to pretend to be outraged by any evidence of cheating. And over the course of a long career, it was almost impossible for the top riders to keep out of trouble. This became Hamilton’s private motto: ‘Sooner or later, everybody gets popped.’ Not because, as he puts it, ‘the testers suddenly became Einsteins, though they did get better. I think it has more to do with the odds over the long run. The longer you play hide-and-seek, the more likely it is that you’ll slip up, or they’ll get lucky.’ Hamilton got his own comeuppance in 2004, when a test showed that he had another person’s blood in his system. By this point most of the top riders were using ‘blood bags’, storing samples of their own blood taken at a time when their hematocrit level was high, and then re-injecting it into their bloodstream during a race to give themselves a boost. Somehow, Hamilton had been supplied with the wrong bag.

He was outraged, and protested his innocence, because this was clearly a mistake: no rider would deliberately boost with another athlete’s blood. He had the sense of injustice of the perennial cheat who finds himself accused of the one thing he never tried. A doctor must have screwed up, making Hamilton the victim. But Hamilton couldn’t win, either under the official rules or under the unofficial ones. He took his case to court and lost, because the scientific evidence against him was overwhelming: the blood really wasn’t his, a fact for which there could be no innocent explanation. He had also fallen foul of Armstrong’s unspoken rule for the sport, which was that you have to be better at breaking the rules than anyone else. If your doctors screwed up, you were at fault for having hired the wrong doctors. Armstrong knew that the medics who ended up servicing cyclists were there for two reasons: first, to make money (some were charging hundreds of thousands for their services); second, because a career in conventional medicine had somehow passed them by. These people were not to be trusted: had they been, they would have become regular doctors. Armstrong never stopped monitoring the men who were monitoring his body, because he knew his fate was in their hands. Hamilton took his eye off the ball, and paid the price.

In the end, Armstrong was the shining exception to Hamilton’s motto: he never got popped. As the rumours swirled around him, Armstrong’s first line of defence, along with the cancer, was always that he was the most tested athlete in sporting history – five hundred times and counting – and he had never failed a single one. Nonetheless, it was Hamilton’s motto that got him in the end. As other athletes failed tests, and found themselves both ostracised and outraged by Armstrong’s censorious treatment of them (he never gave a sucker an even break: if you failed a test, he would dump on you), the wall of silence began to crack. It began with Floyd Landis, who had won the first post-Armstrong Tour in 2006 and then been stripped of his title when he tested positive for testosterone. After serving a mandatory suspension, Landis tried to make a comeback but Armstrong, still the power in the sport, blocked him. The two men had been friends but Armstrong never forgave friends who displayed the potential to make him look bad. He tried to crush them instead. Luckily for us, unluckily for him, Landis was tougher than most. In 2010 he responded to the threats and the cold shoulder by confessing all to the authorities, implicating Armstrong. This kick-started a US government probe into the activities of the US Postal team during Armstrong’s time, led by a tough attorney at the FDA called Jeff Novitzky. Novitzky started to gather a mountain of evidence as, one by one, different riders, bridling under their own disgrace, started to open up. Armstrong responded as he always did, by raising the stakes. He lobbied Congress. He revived a long-held plan to buy the Tour de France – not to bribe the authorities, but actually to purchase the whole damn thing – so that he could run the race his way (he needed to raise $1.5 billion, a figure that eventually proved beyond even him). He hired the best lawyers and continued to issue the most stringent denials. It worked. Earlier this year the FDA dropped its investigation into US Postal, citing insufficient evidence. The incentives were still out of joint: the political rewards of nailing Armstrong did not match the political risks of taking him on.

But Armstrong was not safe. The FDA had to prove criminal wrongdoing. The USADA (the main anti-doping agency) had only to prove that Armstrong was in breach of the rules governing his sport. There was now more than enough evidence for that. In October the USADA issued its report accusing Armstrong of ‘a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history’. He has been banned for life and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the UCI, albeit somewhat reluctantly (in making the announcement the current head of the UCI, Pat McQuaid, was still channelling Armstrong when he described the true whistleblowers, Landis and Hamilton, as ‘scumbags’). Armstrong has now been ostracised by the rest of the sport, though given that he had already ostracised most of them it isn’t clear how much difference that makes. If he hasn’t seen it, I recommend he takes a look at Ralph Fiennes’s recent film version of Coriolanus, for the magnificent scene in which the Roman responds to the news of his impending banishment from the city with the spit-flecked shriek: ‘I banish you.’

What happens next? It is hard to believe that Armstrong will not end up in court at some point, either sued for the return of the hugely lucrative sponsorships and endorsements he accumulated over the years, or charged with some criminal offence (the USADA report may have changed the FDA’s calculus of incentives). Armstrong himself is concentrating on his charity work, even though he has been forced to stand down as head of the Livestrong charity that he founded to help cancer survivors and their families and which has raised nearly half a billion dollars since 1997. The charity has always been Armstrong’s last line of defence: attack him and you are attacking the good work he has done for sick people around the world. As the Livestrong website pointed out on its front page until recently, Armstrong has contributed $6.5 million of his own money to the cause. However, this needs to be set against the reputed $125 million personal fortune he has built up over the same period. Celebrity charities can do a lot of good while at the same time covering up a great deal of bad. They provide camouflage for all sorts of things, from paedophilia to drug-taking to the hoarding of wealth.

Before he gets to court, some people think Armstrong will be forced into some sort of confession, so absurd have his protestations of innocence now become. But that rather depends on who you think he really is. Hamilton’s ex-wife, the wonderfully named Haven, was once Armstrong’s friend and thought she knew his type: ‘Lance is Donald Trump. He might own all of Manhattan, but if there’s one tiny corner grocery store without his name on it, it drives him crazy.’ If Armstrong really is Trump then he’s likely to remain trapped in his bubble of bluster and self-delusion until the money runs out. However, the person he increasingly reminds me of is Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed spin doctor in The Thick of It, who may or may not bear a passing resemblance to Alastair Campbell. For Tucker the only line of defence is attack, because whatever you do, you can be sure the other fuckers are doing more. When he is finally cornered at the end of the last series, trapped in a lie before a lightly fictionalised version of the Leveson Inquiry, Tucker’s mea culpa comes out as just another diatribe against his enemies. This is not about me – it’s about you. Whatever I am is because of the world you created. In that world, I was the only honest one: I played the game, and spun the facts, and twisted the truth, because I know what it takes to win; you just turned your noses up at me and let me get away with it. I censure you. That’s what I imagine an Armstrong confession will be like.

The real Alastair Campbell has always been one of Armstrong’s staunchest supporters. In an interview with Campbell in 2004, Armstrong told him: ‘Losing and dying: it’s the same thing.’ Campbell has described this as his favourite quote from his favourite interviewee. He took it to be a declaration of iron resolve (Armstrong kept winning because he could not tolerate defeat) when in retrospect it sounds more like the motto of a cheat (if losing is the same as dying, then anything goes). Campbell, like so many others, believed that Armstrong was the victim of a witch hunt because it suited him not to believe the opposite. Now he has joined the ranks of the disappointed, wondering how their hero could have let them down. Meanwhile, the sport is trying to clean up its act. This year’s Tour, won by the British cyclist Bradley Wiggins, was much slower than races during the Armstrong years: at the pace he was going, Wiggins would have finished in the middle of the pack a decade ago. For many fans that is proof enough that the sport is now dope-free. Someone who knows far more about cycling than I do assured me that Wiggins’s Sky team, and the other British cyclists who won gold at the London Olympics, don’t do drugs. He says that if it turns out otherwise, he will never believe anything anyone says about anything ever again. Fingers crossed then.