LR: Eddie Gragus [former pro and US Postal rider in 1996] on Facebook said that you've ben drinking the Kool-Aid. It seems that your reputation has been tarnished as a result of getting into this and I just wonder why you decided to do it and what was the reasoning behind it.
SM: It goes back to the imperfect justice thing... I don't know... I mean I do... I mean, I'm gonna stand by that, I think he won those Tours, now that doesn't mean that he shouldn't have been punished. He should have been punished, in my mind and I think it sent a huge message. I think they should go one step further and, the request of removing Astana's license, that's a big deal. You could also say there's imperfect justice there too, but if they actually take a World Tour team's license because of [doping], that's a pretty huge statement.
LR: I agree.
SM: I think you have to start somewhere. Taking Lance down, obviously for him it's been personally very painful but Travis just did his job and he won. It's not for me to say that it was a withchunt or not, but I know that Travis was doing his job. Did he fulfil it all? Are there other names, the 'redacted names', whatever you wanna call them, yeah.
LR: Would agree that Armstrong is adept at manipulating the media?
SM: I would say he was, I don't know if he is now. I honestly don't know. He's very charming.
LR: OK if you look at Lance and the BBC recently, he had the car crash late December, then he approached the BBC asking to do an interview in January [it came out Jan 26th], knowing that he was going to get busted, that his girlfriend was not going to take the fall for the accident but that he would be charged instead - the timeline shows that he knew something bad was coming and before that came out, he did the interview with the BBC pleading his case with regards to doping, and in the same period your article with the BBC also came out [Jan 31st, saying Lance won the Tours].
Does that timing not show that he is still playing the media and that you are a part of that?
[NOTE: Matt Slater, the BBC journalist who intervierwed Lance Armstrong mailed me to state that the initial contact to set this up came in October, and was confirmed December 25].
SM: I mean, anything is possible. I mean... I don't know. That seems a bit of a stretch, I mean, maybe, I'm not that smart, so I don't know...It's certainly possible but... I don't know.
LR: Your article on the BBC [mentioned above] came out on the 31st-
SM: Yeah and then a few days later the thing in Aspen [that LA was driving the car] came out [laughs].
LR: So you weren't contacted, it wasn't suggested that you should do this interview with the BBC?
SM: Suggested by Lance?
SM: No. Not in the least.
LR: OK. If we go back to Lance's character, you say he's very charming. He's been called a sociopath on more than one occassion. In that article with the BBC he said he still would have doped even if he had the chance again -
SM: I think that was taken out of context. See I actually think him saying that shows some real humility and honesty. It's not like - well nobody wants to put a bunch of needles in their ass. At that point in time, same circumstances, he probably would, right? I can't fault him for that.
LR: I think it's more of a slip. He knows everything he says is studied and I think that comment wss a slip-up. You say it was taken out of context but don't forget that this guy stood up on the Champs Elysees and told the world he was clean when he was absolutely full of it, he was brimming over with the juice.
SM: But here's the other issue I have with it, all these guys are saying "Oh Lance made me dope, I would have been kicked off the Tour'. At that time they weren't good enough clean to ride on the Tour team. Own up to it. They're not sorry, they're sorry they got caught. I got a problem with that.
LR: OK I'm gonna throw this one out there, the definition of a sociopath I have here is 'often anti-social, often criminal, lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience'. On a few of those we can say that Armstrong has demonstrated sociopathic tendencies: criminal mentality and lacking in moral and social conscience. Sociopaths are known to be extremely charming, be able to manipulate people and situations to their advantage and to get people to feel sorry for them.
He's done this in the past with Emma O'Reilly, who was treated terribly by him then ended up supporting him. What about yourself? Could this be the reason he reached out to you? He wanted to get you on his side because you have a good reputation and he wanted to use that reputation.
SM: [pause] Honestly I... I'm not a poker player, I've got Tourette's, I say what's on my mind. I don't think he knew what I was gonna say about him. I don't think he had any idea. I don't think he's a sociopath, I can't say that I know a sociopath either. I see a guy that's done some shitty things and some great things and that the great things got blown way up and the shitty things got blown way down and that's just the guy I see.
I've seen him do some dick things too, he's not always charming. I've seen him do some things and I go 'What the fuck was that all about?'
I just don't know. I haven't had a whole lot of experience with sociopaths.
LR: You said that he couldn't be sure about what you would say about him but what you have said about him and the fact that it is all now on the BBC, which gives it credence - what you have said is just about the best thing that you could have said about him. Would you agree with that? He's propbably quite happy with what you have said.
SM: I dont know if he's happy or not. We don't talk all the time.
LR: But what you have said has helped his case. It's helped to give him access to a clean rider and it's helped him, it allows other people to stand back and consider or reconsider what is going on.
SM: I guess, that I believe what I said. I have said some things he wasn't real happy about too. I just think everything gets blown out of context with him. Maybe that's the price of being a global superstar. I have a whole lot of anonymity and I love cycling. I think it's the coolest individual and team sport in the world and even with what it going on at the pro level, it's still the coolest sport. I want the sport to move forward and it has a long way to go. I think that whether Lance is gonna be a part of that, I think he can be but I don't know whether he will do the right things or not.
I think the sport has more potential still. You must feel the same.
LR: I do, I do. How do you feel - you said Lance has a part to play - about dopers being involved in management and coaching?
SM: Well they talk about Omerta right? I did some research and I got back to where the Spanish conquered Sicily where it was if you talked to the authorities you were under the pain of death. They use that word in cycling but it's much worse, because the Sicilian mafia was the mafia, but they didn't control completely the judiciary or the police force. If you look at cycling today, race organisers, management, riders, guys in the governing body, it is all run by former pros for the most part.
You got Hinault up there or Eddy Merckx, I mean your own website shows a picture of you with Merckx, I mean he;s been popped three times. How is he different to Lance?
LR: That's right, he was. I wrote an article about how my attitude has changed towards Merckx since then. I've been enthralled and in awe of Eddy Merckx for many years but this whole thing that is going on now has made me re-evaluate my position, which is now that those guys are the same as Lance, they would have been the same as Lance - let me say, to modern dopers, with Lance it was about his bullying - but the same as modern dopers. I need to remind myself that I was also enthralled to these stars too, but my position is now that if these guys had had access to EPO then they would have taken it too.
So for me all of that is sullied. I do love the sport but for me the sport lives with the amateurs that go out and do massive rides on the weekend and return near-dead, that is cycling.
SM: Like collegiate cycling. I'm not naive enough to think that an education will end doping but a bunch of kids that are educated ask questions, you learn to challenge authority and you have other options. I think if I was 28, the same age I was when I quit, and I had two kids and my alternative was to go work in a restaurant, you know at that point it's almost shame on me for not doing everything I can to support my family.
LR: But I don't think you would have done it.
SM: I probably wouldn't but I gave myself options. I didn't know who Merckx was or anything really about doping. The guy I watched, I watched Lemond in the Tour when he beat Fignon in '89. That was the first time really I watched racing... Yeah I don't really know where I'm going with that.
LR: The original question was do you think dopers should have positions within the sport. If we are gonna start again and get these kids the education we are talking about -
SM: In an ideal world yes they would all be thrown out. But it's too entrenched, they are all part of the same system. There has to be collective responsibility. Let's say you and I are teammates. If you test positive and I can lose my job, suddenly I'm going to be really interested in what you are doing because it can affect my career. The riders right now, the worst thing is that they have zero power. They make a pittance and there's a lot of money going to a few riders.
I don't know how you do it. Vaughters is a good example, he's running the clean team today right?
LR: I've been talking to JV and personally I think he should not be in the sport, I think he's the sparkly example of the guy who is writing his own narrative. He said he had to dope cos everyone was doing it which is not true, he makes out like he made one mistake which is also not true, it is daily, continuous cheating that is going on when you dope, and then he starts a team that is supposed to be clean - he tells me that he told the sponsors that the guys weren't clean in the past but all the fans thought it was a clean team and then when he finally got busted through the Federal investigation did he hold his hands up and say 'yeah, ok I doped'.
And now he says he needs to stay in the sport because he doped and so he knows what it takes to stay clean but he is only in that position to get a team because he doped.
So we can keep saying 'in an ideal world' but if we don't start somewhere we get nowhere. We tell young people cheating doesn't pay but in this sport - and wider society - sure looks like it does. The bigger you cheat the more it pays.
SM: It's disgusting, really.
LR: So should Lance be allowed back in the sport? No way. Should Hincapie have a development team? No way. Should pro teams be riding his brand? No way. Should Levi had a gran fondo sponsored by huge companies, and Specialized? No.
SM: I agree.
LR: I think these guys should not be in the sport
SM: If there's a way to get them out I'm with it.
LR: Let's say the UCI fostered an environment in which doping was truly frowned upon and I don't mean lip service, I mean teams should be getting kudos for not employing people who are tainted, and what if sponsosrs stopped funding teams with dopers managing or riding in them? Money talks in this sport.
SM: That'd be great. I mentioned collective responsibility so what if a manager was fired ifa guy on his team was doping and fined 100,000 euro. That guy is going to be pretty damned interested in what his riders are doing.
LR: Should criminal culpability should come into it too?
SM: I wouldn't be opposed to that.
LR: So you think Armstrong should have gone to prison...
SM: I don't think so no.
LR: But you just said there should be criminal culpability.
SM: Those laws don't exist so...
LR: But in an ideal world...
SM: I don't think what Lance did should send him to prison.
LR: OK I'm not sure how you can say that-
SM: Criminal culpability, what exactly do you mean by that?
LR: If you dope and you are a professional athlete then you've frauded fans, sponsors, the team, the staff and your teammates, then you have taken money through illicit behaviour in the same way that a bent accountant takes money from a company which isn't his money, then I think that deserves a jail sentence.
SM: That is... that is interesting.
LR: This would be one step towards stopping it.
SM: Should Lance be jailed for actions 12 years ago? No. But if you set those perameters then yeah... but then again, here's an example, I read Vaughters and he said you had to remove the incentive to dope, and I thought that was one of the dumbest things I had ever heard. You can't remove the incentive to rob a bank cos the money is in the bank. People don't rob banks cos they know they're gonna get caught. If you knew you were going to be caught when you dope you wouldn't do it.
LR: I think it's both, getting caught and harsher penalties becasue even now, with the bans at 4 years, it's still not enough.
SM: What are the penalties for the management? Only the riders pay the price.
LR: Why do people dope?
SM: I think it varies. Some is peer pressure, for some it is the drive to win, for others it might have been the money. I don't think there is one reason.
LR: I think it's interesting that everyone thinks it's because of the money but that the celebrity status that comes with being the local legend is huge, at every level. I think just fining people and even these bans, without realising the celebrity factor, I think something is being missed here. Look at Ricco, the guys is shot to pieces and still he is desperate to come back. He missed the adulation.
I think it is the same with Lance, and this is why he keeps knocking on the door and can't just go away.
Last one, we've said you have enjoyed a great reputation as a clean racer, looking back now is there any regret at having done these recent interviews in support of Lance when there has been such a reaction about what all this means? Has what you've done in any way been detrimental to the anti-doping cause?
SM: No. I'm comfortable with it all, good, bad and indifferent... Yeah I don't know. No.
SM: Do you ever get to Colorado?
LR: Maybe later this year, Breck-Epic. Maybe me, you and Lance can go for a ride.
SM: [Laughs] Ok.
LR: Thanks, I really enjoyed the conversation.
SM: Thanks, you gave me something to think about as well.