The following day we meet at his table at Prospect, the restaurant inside Aspen’s famous hotel. Lance has been mountain biking, and we couldn’t follow him around in the car. Instead we slept late. Or had, maybe, one drink.
When we arrive, Lance is scanning the room. The owner comes over. Lance asks him who that guy over there is. “He’s from CNN, ain’t he?” “Who?” “That guy over there?” “What guy?” “That guy! The guy in the chair. Right there.” “No. He is an author.” “You sure he ain’t from CNN?” “Yes.” “Well, I’ve seen him. He’s on TV.” “Yes. But he is an author.” “Hmm. You sure?” “Lance. I’m sure.”
It’s a harmless scene but it tells you a great deal about the man Lance Armstrong. Because he seems to be curiously entertained constantly. And quick to judge. Most people are dismissed as assholes or real assholes, but friends are sweet, super-nice, very smart or just fucking cool. Nothing lingers too long. Here is a man who get things done. Out of the way, move on.
Aggressive or defensive, his eyes flicker constantly. During lunch he looks at the sky outside again and again. Worried about his day’s golf-session. Rain? No rain. Sun. Sun is good. Oh, more clouds? What. Rain! No. Sun again.
“I crashed three times today.”
“Wait a minute. Lance Armstrong never crashes,” says Jakob Kristian.
“I’ve heard that,” Lance says.
“Or have flats. Have you heard that too?” Jakob Kristian asks.
“One flat. I had one back in the day.”
“Back in the day, yes,” I say. “What do you think about the world of cycling today?”
“Don’t give me that shit.”
Lance looks at me: “Oh, you are a tense motherfucker today, huh? Well. In my opinion there are a couple of things you need to do in order for this sport to work. First. No. First, how the hell do we eat our sandwiches?
“Cut it in half. Otherwise it’ll end up in your lap,” I say.
“But there is no room, man. With the fries an’ all.”
“Do like me. I do this. And then like… this. There.”
“See. But tell me more.”
“In my opinion, there are a couple of things you need to do in order for this sport to work. First. The riders have to have to have a voice. They have to unify. And they have to have a cut! They get to say, we’ll do that. But not that. For example; you get the usual 200-plus kilometre stage over a mountain. Then a three-hour transit to a shitty hotel and some half-crappy French food. The riders should be able to say ‘we are not doing that.’
“Now. There are a lot of organisations around the riders. The UCI, RCS, ASO, there is Bugno and the CPA, you have the AIGCP, all the blah blah blahs. But it’s smoke and mirrors, in my opinion.”
“This is good eating. Go on.”
“I’m talking about a real deal. For the riders. They should pay to be a part of it. And it should protect their interests. Their health. Safety. If you are a serious sport, you have to have that. Tennis has that. Formula One. American football.”
“Right. But a difficult task.”
“However, it is very difficult to organise, because you have so many nationalities, languages, cultures and interests. But I’m going to go back to that in a second. Because in the end, I want to talk about some sort of shared investment for all the riders. Which could also address the doping issue. Control it. The unity of the riders should protect each other from each other, so to speak. Because riders will say to one doper, ten dopers or even a team, listen: you are really fucking with our equity! And that creates a financial upside for the guys. So that’s that.
“Secondly. The teams. I mean. What a joke, right? The notion that this… this lunatic Tinkov can actually buy and own a team. That anybody with money, or maybe one guy, you know, some moron in the business, who is lucky to have a rich guy who’ll support him, and then they can just roll into the sport and be a major player. But once those sponsors go away, or if that particular friendship is lost, you are done. You don’t own Manchester United. Not the Dallas Cowboys or the Yankees. You actually own nothing! You’ve got a bunch of old bikes. You might have a bus and a couple of trucks. Some old jerseys. That’s your equity. Now. From a financial aspect; who would ever invest in that?
“And number three. And most importantly. ASO have got to give up some of their share. They have to. Because they now own the Tour. The Vuelta. There is talk that they are buying the Giro. If that happens, everybody can just bend over and drop their pants.
“So the business has to have a percentage or else go, well, then we are not coming to race. I don’t know the numbers – they are privately held companies – but there is all this global sponsorship, there is all the merchandise, and we should be involved in this. Because, first of all, it wouldn’t take $20m a year to run a team. Okay? They wouldn’t need that kind of money, if you have a guaranteed percentage of the share.”
“All teams seem to be on the verge of folding each year,” I say.
“Listen, man. It’s just like in any other sport. Say, the Premier League. If you buy a team you get 200 million a year just in TV rights. Right in the pocket. And that’s not necessarily the best teams. So with that, whatever we all share, whatever we all take from ASO, without the actors, the damn movie doesn’t start.
“Then there is the doping, so let’s talk about that. There are the official rules, and then the unoffical or unspoken rules, of what you are supposed to do. But if tomorrow you have the new drug XYP that is undetectable, we all know what will happen, right? Everybody would be on that. You’d just know. But all in the sport would also know that we’d jeopardise our business model. So you’d have to police yourself. You’d have to police it from a cultural standpoint within the sport. And you could create some sort of code of honour. For example, if a rider is drastically improving in a month, all the signs of doping are there, you could say, listen, I know what you are doing, and now you are fucking with my livelihood. Our livelihood.
“It’s not perfect, but it would be a start. And if the business could police itself like that, you’d never have a third party, like in my case, come in and try and control it. Because a union would take care of it.
“So that’s an idea. Only problem is to get one thousand uneducated riders to agree, as one entity. But ASO would understand that the riders are not their little pawns. They are their partners.”
“And, by the way. It’s just like in any other business deal. All deals are about giving up something. You may not want to, but ASO has to realise this in order to move forward on a bigger scale. They manage a relatively small company, in terms of others global sports, but the riders could say, why don’t we grow this? And together manage a huge fucking company!”
Someone call Brian Cookson. Is Lance Armstrong the savior of modern cycling? We raise our glasses. “Jesus. You guys are wimps when it comes to drinking wine,” Lance snaps.
Wimps? Jakob Kristian and I exchange glances. Here is our moment and Jakob Kristian leans into the table. “Lance. Did you ever do drugs. I mean real drugs,” he asks.
“Party drugs? No. Never.”
Jakob Kristian then smiles his devil’s smile, and I say to him, “Go on then, Jakob. You can say it now.”
“Say what?” asks Lance curiously.
“Lance,” says Jakob Kristian.
“You know, Morten is a former rock’n’roll musician. And I’m a chef for 15 years.”
“Yeah, you guys told me.”
“And we think you are a real wimp when it comes to taking drugs.”
“Oh, Jesus! You motherfuckers are the Blues Brothers!”
From Rouleur issue 51.