When Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles, it left Greg LeMond as the lone American winner of cycling's most prestigious race. LeMond has not enjoyed the public stature that might be expected of such a figure, though, in large part because of his contentious relationship with Armstrong.
In 2001, LeMond openly criticized Armstrong for his affiliation with Dr. Michele Ferrari, who is now banned for life from the sport. Armstrong subsequently began a campaign of disparagement against LeMond that included souring LeMond's business relationship with the Trek bike company. Armstrong's influence led Trek to drop its long time sponsorship of LeMond.
SI caught up with LeMond's wife, Kathy, to discuss her and Greg's impressions from part one of the Oprah/Armstrong interview.
SI: Now Greg is the only American winner of the Tour de France.
LeMond: Right now, honest to God, Greg is embarrassed. He has said in the last few months, it's embarrassing to say I'm the Tour de France winner. That's how horrible this sport has become. I think it's changing, I really do, but with [UCI leaders Hein] Verbruggen and [Pat] McQuaid in there, it's impossible.
SI: So you just had a journalist from your local paper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, walk up to the door today.
LeMond: The reporter said, 'For 10 years, I thought Greg was crazy.' There's a whole generation that thinks Greg is a whiner. I'm sorry, Greg's statement is the truest statement of all time. It is the greatest fraud. [LeMond said of Armstrong's Tour victories after surviving cancer: "If Lance's story is true, it's the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If it's not, it's the greatest fraud."]
SI: Do you think Greg's reputation will be restored to some people now after Armstrong's admission?
LeMond: I think it will be somewhat. But when you feel badly about somebody for 10 years, it's still hard to change your mind. I think there still might be some 'ick' factor that clings to Greg, just because there was so much icky stuff written about him.
SI: Has Greg received any apologies?
LeMond: Yeah, one of the board of directors of Tailwind Sports -- I shouldn't name his name. He wrote an email apology. But I think that's just because he's worried about [the Justice Department joining the whistleblower lawsuit]. I don't buy it for a minute. That happened last week, and Greg's like, 'Oh, OK, 12 years later. OK, DOJ coming down on ya'?'
SI: So you said that you spoke with Betsy Andreu just after Armstrong called her on the Sunday before he taped with Oprah. So Betsy was calling because Lance wanted to talk to Greg?
LeMond: I guess I spoke to Betsy just after Lance called her. She said, 'Are you sitting down?' She said, 'Lance called me,' and she started sobbing. At one point they [Betsy and Frankie Andreu, Armstrong's teammate] liked him. They were friends. It's totally different for Betsy and Frankie. I can't even imagine.
SI: So Armstrong wanted to call you and Greg?
LeMond: Betsy asked if Lance could call, and Greg said, 'I don't want to hear from him ... right now.' We particularly didn't want to be manipulated because we knew that he was taping [with Oprah] the next day, and I really didn't want to hear on Oprah, 'Oh yes, I called Greg and Kathy and we're all good now.' That's impossible.
SI: Betsy said between her 2005 testimony -- in which she said Armstrong had admitted to doping -- and last Sunday, she had not once talked with Lance. When was the last time you or Greg talked to him?
LeMond: When he threatened us. The last phone call was 2001.
SI: So you and Greg didn't want to take his call now and see what he had to say?
LeMond: Well, we were never friends. Christmas of '98 was the start of his trying to get in our good graces. He and Kristin [Armstrong] were together, just married I think, and we got a call, and Kristin's mother was inviting us to Christmas Eve mass at our local Catholic church. And she was very sweet, but it was clear to me that she thought we were close with Lance. ... You could've knocked me over with a feather. We did not have a good relationship with Lance.
SI: Not long after that, Kristin and Lance Armstrong brought up to you and Greg at a dinner that he was going to win the 1999 Tour, which he did.
LeMond: When we got in the car on the way home and said, 'Oh my God, do you think they have any idea? ... How could he think he was going to win the Tour when he only finished once?' He just wasn't a Tour rider. So driving home we felt really sorry for him. He must feel pressure with his new wife and family to make a name for himself.
SI: But Greg did become friendly with Lance to a point, right?
LeMond: They tried to befriend us many times over the next year and a half, and it worked. It made Greg not speak out [about Armstrong's doping] as soon as he would have otherwise.
SI: So Armstrong threatened you and Greg in 2001, when Greg spoke out and said he thought Lance was doping.
LeMond: That call is embedded in my and Greg's heads. It was a life-changing thing and we knew it at the time.
SI: What was it like?
LeMond: Terrified. Terrified. I don't know if you've talked to other people who have gotten that call. But [Armstrong] is crazy angry. He is screaming. He gets out of control. I mean, he threatens in a way ... he said to Greg that he would find 10 guys to come out and say that Greg had used EPO to win in his career. He was convinced that Greg could never have won clean. He was like, 'come on, you used EPO, everyone used EPO.' Greg said, 'I did not use EPO!' And he said he'd find 10 guys to say Greg did.
SI: You and others have said Armstrong and associates aggressively pursued information about Armstrong's detractors.
LeMond: Today I tweeted out [columnist] George Vecsey's quote where Lance said to him that 'I can get into your emails, I can get into your phones, I know what you're doing at all times.' He's had us followed.
SI: What did you and Greg make of the part one of the Oprah interview?
LeMond: It's all about how he can forward himself. This is not authentic. If this were authentic, he would ask to talk to us and ask, 'What can I do to heal you? I really hurt you.'
SI: Are you convinced by anything in his sort of general admission of mistakes?
LeMond: No. No. Honestly, I don't feel that he's even in there. I do believe he's embarrassed, kind of. One of our lawyers has a house in Hawaii just down from Lance and I talked to him a couple days ago and he said every other year he's been there he sees Lance out riding with locals and everybody's kind of excited. Now he said he's never with anybody out on the road. He's by himself. ... I think it's hit him. People don't want to be near him. He's become a pariah. I think he's flailing, but I don't have any reason to believe what he's saying is true. The parts I know of what he's saying aren't true! Or only partially true.
SI: How does Greg feel?
LeMond: He's so angry that Lance didn't have the decency to apologize to Betsy and Emma [O'Reilly]. That was the bare minimum on trying to repair the personal damage he's done in the last decade.
SI: What about apologizing to Greg?
LeMond: If I don't hear something tonight, I'm going to be really upset. I spoke with Oprah's people and I would hope that they would ask that, because Lance did terrible damage to Greg's reputation. He is owed an apology. The things he's said, 'Greg's an alcoholic, Greg's a drunk.' I had a reporter tell me one time, the guy called me and asked if Greg's a heroin addict. ...I want him to address what he's done to Greg. He didn't have any problem saying the horrible things to the whole entire world.
SI: It's thought that Greg's brand with Trek would have been worth tens of millions if Armstrong had not pushed to have Trek drop Greg.
LeMond: Do you know what a loss that was for us? We lost our income. We lost our company. Greg lost his reputation.
SI: Do you think Greg will eventually take Armstrong's call?
LeMond: Why would he want to? I mean, if Lance will actually say to him, 'Yes, I hacked your e-mails. Yes, I had someone following you. Yes, we taped you.' He has hounded us and harassed us.
SI: USADA head Travis Tygart recently talked on television about getting death threats. Did you get hate mail when Greg spoke out?
LeMond: It's absolutely terrifying. The fans, you get letters that say, ya know, 'you better not be riding your bike by yourself on the road.' It's scary.
SI: Can this admission help the sport?
LeMond: He hasn't told one thing about how he did it and how we can help this never happen again. We need to know. Who is paid off? How do you do it? Why isn't he sitting down with [WADA's] David Howman and John Fahey and [USADA's] Travis Tygart. I thank God for Travis Tygart. The courage that man has shown. I think people don't understand -- when he said on 60 Minutes that somebody talked about putting a bullet through his head -- what that's like.
SI: Greg also spoke out saying that he was glad Jan Ullrich was penalized for doping.
LeMond: [Greg and I] were in Cape Town, South Africa doing a charity ride. Probably a month [earlier] Ullrich had gotten banned and Greg said, 'Great, fantastic, the guy's a doper. We gotta get him out of there. He shouldn't be able to compete.' [Ullrich] asked if we could have a beer together! And we talked, and everything was fine. That's really how it should be. He knows he cheated. He got caught. The riders that cheated and know it and have a conscience, when they're with Greg, they know that they didn't do it the right way.
SI: What do you and Greg expect to see tonight?
LeMond: Tonight I think we'll see him crying for himself. I think that's probably going to come with things that he's lost personally. Like money, and power. But I truly don't see him crying over 'How could I have done this to people?' It will be just, 'I have personality flaws.' What does that mean?
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