Betsy Andreu always knew that Lance Armstrong doped
Betsy Andreu was an inconvenient woman. At a time when a fawning media competed to compose paeans to Lance Armstrong (for years, I was at the forefront of that too-credulous crowd), she struck a discordant note. If we were enterprising enough to search for it, she told us, we would find that there was more to Armstrong's story than met the eye. It really wasn't about the bike.
The wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, she is a whip-smart graduate of the University of Michigan. She is well-spoken, often funny and occasionally profane, such as when the subject of her nemesis arises.
"I think your yellow bracelet is cutting off the supply of oxygen to your brain," she once e-mailed me, after reading one of my Lance stories and finding it overly favorable. (For the record, I never wore a yellow Livestrong bracelet.)
I met her in the spring of 2007. SI had come into possession of depositions from a lawsuit in which she'd given testimony. She had recalled in detail an incident in an Indiana hospital room which, if true, called Armstrong's then-immaculate image into question. Doctors had asked Armstrong if he'd ever used performance-enhancing drugs. To their surprise, Betsy recalled, Armstrong said yes, and ticked off no fewer than five PEDs.
Armstrong had mistakenly assumed that Betsy would subscribe to the omerta, or code of silence, which bound the riders in the peloton on pharmacological matters. When it become clear that she could not be cajoled or intimidated into silence, Team Lance went with Plan B. They questioned her sanity and assassinated her character -- never for attribution. Dude, off the record, she's psycho.
Paying a call on the Chez Andreu in Dearborn, Mich., I was greeted by an effervescent, smiling mother of three young children who struck me as grounded and kind, rather than bitter and vindictive. After dinner, with her kids underfoot and Frankie spot-welded to the sofa -- he was already tired of all the Lance/doping talk, and this was six years ago -- she hauled a large cardboard box to the middle of the den. In it were news clippings, depositions, files, handwritten notes and correspondence she'd collected since the mid-'1990s (including the hotel receipt from their Indiana visit in '96).
Working at nights, between carpooling to hockey and Little League, on days she was not volunteering at the Catholic school her kids attend, she had become an aggregator and clearinghouse for journalists and even investigators. She was interviewed on multiple occasions by Jeff Novitsky, then of the FDA, and USADA director Travis Tygart.
What motivated her? She e-mailed and phoned reporters, sending links to stories, suggesting angles, gently (and sometimes not so gently) correcting those who wrote that Armstrong had never tested positive. She gave interviews, appeared on Nightline, her composed, well-reasoned arguments giving the lie to Team Armstrong's descriptions of her as neurotic and psychopathic.
"I didn't decide to take Lance on," recalls Betsy. "I decided not to lie for him; there's a difference."
One of Armstrong's biggest problems, it turned out, was that he'd picked a fight with a woman who was just as stubborn as he was; just as headstrong, no less relentless in the pursuit of her goal.
The difference, of course, being that only one of them was telling the truth.
Here is a transcript from a conversation I had with Andreu earlier this week:
SI: You told me Lance called you last Sunday to apologize. You said you talked for close to a half hour, but would rather not share the specifics of the conversation. What can you tell us about the call?
Andreu: Let's just say he acknowledged the hurt that he caused us. I prefer to keep the rest of it private.
SI: Aside from smearing you and assassinating your character, how else did he hurt you?
Andreu: Frankie was one of the best friends Lance could've had. I, in turn, became his friend. And he tried to destroy us, and threw us away.
SI: Could you ever forgive him?
Andreu: Healing and forgiveness is a process, it's not a switch that you flip. It takes a long time.
SI: And yet it sounds like you don't totally wish him complete ill.
Andreu: Well, I don't wish Bernie Madoff complete ill. I hope he finds inner peace ... as he rots in prison.
I have a range of emotions. You think of the friend that you had, and how he screwed you; you think of how maybe he's sorry he screwed you so badly, but maybe he's not sorry enough. If Lance is going to be completely contrite and honest, than he's on the road to forgiveness the road to healing, I'm open to that possibility.
SI: You've been so antagonistic to each other for so long, it's easy to forget that you and Frankie were friends of his, that he once asked you to set him up with a friend of yours, that he liked your risotto.
Andreu: That risotto, I only made it a couple times. We argued about whether it's better with garlic and onions. I believe that it's not, he disagreed. We all went out more than I'd cook -- just hanging out, going out for pizza, or going to a restaurant or going to meet Michele Ferrari on the side of the road in his camper van.
SI: Ah yes, Dr. Ferrari. Frankie's reluctance to retain Dr. Ferrari's services put some strain on his relationship with Lance, correct?
Andreu: Lance told Frankie at the training camp in 2000, in Solvang [Calif.], "It's time to get serious. I really think you should see Ferrari," and Frankie said, "I'm not going to do that, end of discussion."
When Frankie rode the 2000 Tour de France, he rode it clean and was chided by [team director Johan Bruyneel] for not being strong enough.
SI: And that was his last Tour de France.
Andreu: He was deemed unwilling to "do what it takes." Looking back on it, we see it as a blessing, that he was fired from that team.
SI: That was 2000. You weren't deposed in the SCA matter for another five years. But your relations with Armstrong became increasingly strained.
Andreu: Well it started in '99, when I sent an email to Lance, telling him that he treats people like s---. He wasn't used to being addressed that way. He always remembered that.
In December 2003, I called Becky Livingston, looking for a number for Lisa Shiels. [Becky Livingston was the wife of then U.S. Postal rider Kevin Livingston. Shiels was an ex-girlfriend of Armstrong's who had been in the hospital room in 1996.]
But Becky told Kevin I was looking for the number, and Kevin went and tattled to Lance, who got really mad at me. He knew after that I was no Friend of Lance.
Before the 2004 Tour Bill Stapleton asked Frankie if I would sign a statement of support for Lance, claiming that the hospital room incident hadn't happened. They wanted me to smear David Walsh. I said "I'm not gonna do it." It was back and forth, back and forth -- they were frikkin' persistent. I finally told Frankie to give them this message: "Kiss my ass, it ain't happening."
SI: So in 2005, you volunteered to testify in a lawsuit against Lance.
Andreu: They served us a subpoena, but it wasn't notarized by the court, so we didn't have to recognize it. Then they came back with a Michigan-court-ordered subpoena, which we had to recognize.
SI: "They" being SCA, an insurance company that owed Armstrong a $5 million bonus, for winning his fifth straight Tour. But they read one of Walsh's books and decided not to cut that check right away. In your deposition you provided that account of what happened in that hospital room. Now it was war. I know you got at least one voice mail threatening your life. How did Lance and his supporters try to make your life miserable?
Andreu: I was painted as bitter, jealous, vindictive. Reporters would use those words, and I wouldn't be called for a rebuttal. Then, down in the comments section, readers would just be going off on me. And the people who employed Frankie would see it, and it would reflect badly on him. The sentiment from the teams that hired him was, "This publicity is not good for the sport. Why can't she just be quiet?"
SI: Frankie worked for a succession of teams as director and associate director. But the cycling world is pretty insular and incestuous. You can't prove a negative, so it's tough to prove that his career was stunted by his and your refusal to lie about Lance. But it's not hard to prove that Armstrong had allies at all levels and in all reaches of the sport.
Andreu: The best depiction of the incestuous relationship between all the players is Matt Smith's article in the SF Weekly, the Tour de Farce, back in 2005.
Jim Ochowicz is godfather to L.A.'s first-born child; he was president of USA Cycling's Board of directors. I remember that right after Frankie came forward [Frankie Andreu admitted to The New York Times in 2006 that he'd taken EPO to prepare for the '99 Tour], he got a phone call from Ochowicz saying, "Don't you think you should resign from the USA Cycling board?"
A few days before, I told Frankie, "All you do is complain about these stupid board meetings, how you fall asleep on the phone. Why don't you just leave them?" Then when Ochowicz called called to ask him to resign I said, "Let him go to hell, you stay on that board."
SI: Is Armstrong's confession incomplete, in your eyes, unless he owns up to saying the things you heard him say in the hospital room?
Andreu: He has one chance to tell the whole truth. If he does not tell the whole truth, then I think he has completely shot his chance at redemption and forgiveness. And he is going to forever imprisoned.
I've been told, "Calm down, it's baby steps." The truth will come out slowly. You've gotta be f------ kidding me. He's the one who chose this forum [to be interviewed by Oprah]. He has one shot.
SI: You told me recently that one of your kids asked you to come to school on Career Day as an "Unpaid Assistant to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency." Do you have any sense of what your life might look like if not for the last decade?
Andreu: I definitely would've done a better job keeping up with the laundry, and the dusting and keeping a tidier house. Maybe I would've tried try to invest my energies in something other than this crap while the kids were at school. I could've spent so much more time with them. I'm sorry, I'm getting a little emotional.
What pisses me off is the time it took to defend my freaking honor. A TV crew came over here yesterday, unannounced, the phone calls are never ending. What does it say to my kids? I told the truth before but it didn't matter. But now this person has decided to tell the truth after lying for over a decade, and he should be congratulated and praised? Are you kidding me? Shouldn't we always be telling the truth?
SI: Don't you think the more powerful lesson they'll get is that, for a decade, their Mom went toe-to-toe with a far more powerful adversary, fighting for the truth, and in the end, she won. That's a pretty powerful example, and lesson, right?
Andreu: Yeah, I get that. But sometimes it feels like there's no profit in the truth, right? Would you rather have Lance's money right now, or my reputation?