Mike Anderson, Lance Armstrong's former bike mechanic, speaks out
From 2002 to 2004, Mike Anderson was a bike mechanic and personal assistant to Lance Armstrong. Anderson was so entrenched in Armstrong's life -- everything from working on bikes to assembling toys for his children -- that Armstrong's wife at the time, Kristin, referred to him as "H2," for husband number two.
In 2004, Armstrong had divorced Kristin and asked Anderson to clear her stuff from his apartment in Girona, Spain, before Armstrong arrived with his girlfriend at the time, Sheryl Crow. In Armstrong's bathroom cabinet, Anderson found a box that he says was labeled "Androstenedione," the steroid that first became famous when it was found in Mark McGwire's locker.
Not long after that, Anderson was fired with little explanation. According to Anderson, part of the condition agreed upon when he began working for Armstrong was that Armstrong would help him achieve his dream of opening a bike shop. When he was fired, Anderson attempted to negotiate a settlement with Armstrong over that promise, but Armstrong swiftly sued Anderson in an effort declare the bike shop claim invalid.
Armstrong's representatives portrayed Anderson as unstable and untrustworthy in the media. (In 2010, when SI interviewed Anderson for a story on Armstrong, Armstrong's attorney sent SI a fact sheet titled "Anderson's Complete Lack of Credibility." Other journalists have received the same sheet.)
As Anderson later wrote:
"As the struggle unfolded over weeks and months, many people sneered at my story, assuming that Armstrong -- Tour hero, cancer survivor, philanthropist -- would never fight dirty or lie, so I had to be the dishonest party. I suddenly had a lot of former friends, no job, no money, and a gaping hole in my professional reputation. The rest of the story was fought out in rooms full of lawyers and witnesses, a process that took far too much time out of my life, ruined me financially, and put great strain on me and my family."
Armstrong's admission will be unique in sports because he will be implicitly admitting that he denigrated and sued people he knew were telling the truth.
Shortly before Armstrong confessed that he doped to Oprah Winfrey, SI caught up with Anderson to ask about his experience working for Armstrong, what he expects will come from the Oprah interview, and whether anything Armstrong can say would be meaningful to him.
SI: Are you surprised at the impending admission?
Anderson: If someone had bet me a year and a half ago that Oprah Winfrey would be involved in all this, I'd have bet a million-to-one against it.
SI: Will you watch the Oprah interview?
Anderson: No. I never watched Oprah when she was frankly relevant in the media in America. I can't think of reasons why I would now. Since it's Lance and since I have such a cynical view of him, why would I even bother? I've wasted a lot of mental and emotional energy with that guy for way too long. That aside, there's not going to be any real genuine contrition. What's the point? I kind of enjoy getting everyone else's view. I know what he's like. I know he's completely lacking empathy. I know this. I've seen it. I don't think that suddenly he's turned 180 degrees and become a normal human being who thinks and feels like the majority of us do.
SI: You're one of a number of people who were telling the truth and who Armstrong tried either to intimidate or ruin. There has been speculation as to whether he'll address that with Oprah.
Anderson: And doing it! Not trying, but doing it. He certainly ruined me, and [Greg] LeMond, and Frankie [Andreu], and Emma [O'Reilly]. Professionally. Financially. He did a really good job of polarizing the cycling fans in the U.S. against Greg. He ruined Greg's bike company. He told me he was going to do it when I worked for him! It's a cautionary tale, I think, of what happens when people get too much power.
SI: A lot of media figures are now piling on Lance, but when you were in the newspapers after Lance sued you, that certainly wasn't the case.
Anderson: It really sheds some light on what people in your profession and what readers and the public view as journalistic integrity. So many journalists took the party line. The Sally Jenkinses of the world, the list goes on and on and on. How many just let it go? That was one of the hardest things to deal with. No journalists bothered to contact me [for my side of the story], they just reported. The local paper never bothered to contact me or my lawyers, they just spouted what came from Bill Stapleton. [Lance's team] took a page from Karl Rove's book on how to deal with detractors. That made my life very uncomfortable in a place like Austin.
SI: Is there anything Lance can say to Oprah that would be meaningful to you or that you make you contemplate forgiveness?
Anderson: I've thought about that a lot in the last few days. I was reading [philosopher] Soren Kierkegaard. Part of what he talks about is forgiveness and guilt and anxiety and the roots of it all. ... I still have these notions of forgiveness and turn the other cheek. But I wonder, what are the reasons? Who benefits from forgiveness. Me? To unload bitterness I have against Lance and Bill Stapleton and people who lied and ridiculed me? Or is it for Lance? The sinner, conceptually, if you will. Or for both of us? I just don't know if it will do me any good whatsoever to say lets let bygones be bygones. The cynicism I have about the whole thing, there's no contrition in Lance Armstrong's heart. It's a calculated effort. For what purpose, I don't know. I don't see it as at all meaningful.
SI: Lance has been calling some associates ostensibly to apologize. Has he called you?
Anderson: No he hasn't. I don't think he will. Again, it won't be genuine.
SI: When you were terminated as Armstrong's bike mechanic and assistant, you refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so you have been free to share your experience from your time working for him. You've told me before that you were dismayed by Armstrong's demeanor during some of his Livestrong work.
Anderson: It was a blurry line between what was for charity and what was for business, and there was a calculated effort of branding a disease, if you will, for profit. Let me tell you a short story. My wife's first boyfriend, from when she was a teenager, he had cancer during the first year I worked for Lance. That guy went through chemo and nearly died. He had part of his foot removed. He lived in Austin and we hung out a lot. Once he was back on his feet he spent two or three days a week with me on Lance's ranch building mountain bike trails. I asked Lance to get him some help, some support. Know what he got? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He was swinging a pick and shovel working for Lance while going through cancer treatments, and Lance treated him with a cold shoulder. Everybody's been affected by that disease. My favorite aunt died of leukemia years ago. Everyone's had experience with it. I lost friends over [this issue] because they can't separate Lance the cancer fighter from the Lance the actual person, and that was done purposely. They threw up that cancer shield to defend him.
SI: And you said, and I've been told this by others, that he wasn't always thrilled at Livestrong events.
Anderson: He hated that! He said, "I hate these things" at the first Livestrong gala I went to, in a room of 3,000 people at the convention center in Austin.
SI: Like some of the others who crossed Armstrong, you ended up in court, and it seems that you were bullied and that there was untruthful testimony given.
Anderson: It saddens me that power and money mean so much in a country that's built on equality and due process and justice.
SI: With everything out now, did you ever consider suing Armstrong for slander?
Anderson: I don't have the stomach for it anymore. I think it's great how Floyd Landis has commented on how well Lance can deal with controversy and pressure, because he can. I think it's because he's a sociopath. I am fallible. I have emotional responses to things in life. I couldn't go through it again in life. I couldn't put my family through it again. And besides that, what am I going to do? Let's say I sued him and imagine the court said, "Mike Anderson, you're right. Lance Armstrong you're liable for X number of dollars to be paid in damages." That's dirty money. I can't accept that. I can't accept that at all. What I asked for back then was only what he had promised me. I didn't ask for all that other nonsense, and I made that perfectly clear and that's why I got fired. I quit grad school because I wanted to run a bike shop because it made me a happy human being.
SI: Some others have signed non-disclosure agreements, so if they say certain things about Armstrong they could lose money. Why didn't you sign one?
Anderson: We were friends first and there was a level of trust there that was different from a celebrity picking up a personal assistant somewhere. I was never asked to sign a non-disclosure until I was fired. [Lance's lawyers and representatives] said, we'll pay you two months salary, go away. Long story short, if you want your money, you'll sign this non-disclosure. You can't even say you worked for Lance Armstrong or we'll sue you. ... I said to myself, Lance Armstrong is a cheat, and I've put myself in harm's way by knowing it. I had a new son, a mortgage. But my parents did not raise an idiot or a man with weak morals and ethics. I knew if somebody asked me about what happened, I'm not going to lie about it. And a non-disclosure [agreement] is just a means of controlling speech. I don't agree with it. There's always something to hide, and with Lance there was a hell of a lot to hide, and it took a long time to get out.
SI: So, you live in New Zealand now, where you run The Bike Hutt. And how does your being in New Zealand relate to your time working for Armstrong?
Anderson: As [Armstrong's agent and business partner] Bill Stapleton put it, he started World War III. He threatened to make sure I'd never work in the bicycle business again. He made it extremely uncomfortable for me to be in Austin. ... At the time, bike mechanic was one of the jobs that could get you permanent residency in New Zealand. Even now, the Lance fans aren't going to buy a bike from Mike Anderson.
SI: Because they Google you?
Anderson: The first thing that comes up is [Armstrong's attorney] Tim Herman calling me discredited. How would that make you feel if you put all that energy into something only to have it snatched away by someone who keeps perpetuating lies against you. How would that make you feel? It's been really tough. What he has taken from me and my wife and what it has caused me, I can't ever get that back. Even despite his problems and his dishonesty, I got that job because I was trustworthy and I was skilled. I was not complicit in any of the drugs. But it was all taken away.
SI: When I first talked to you for an SI story, Armstrong's attorneys sent SI a packet explaining how untrustworthy and sinister you are. The character attacks are not far in the past.
Anderson: When was the last time one of his ilk uttered the word "discredited" about Betsy [Andreu] or Emma [O'Reilly] or me? And here we are saying he's on the path to redemption? ... You have to admit that the scales have tilted. If we had a 50/50 split of supporters and detractors six months ago, we're now heavily on the detractors side.
SI: Do you think too much of the media focus has been on doping?
Anderson: It's not the doping. That's not the issue. I don't have this anger, or resentment toward David Millar [a cyclist who admitted doping]. I don't have this anger or resentment toward Marion Jones. Frankly, I think there are bigger problems in the world. But Lance Armstrong, it's the way he dealt with it. It could have been any other crime he was trying to conceal. The crime is not doping, it's the crime against human decency, against the truth, against contractual obligations.
SI: Do you ever regret not having just signed the non-disclosure agreement, taken your two months salary, and walked away? You wouldn't have ended up in court.
Anderson: Dignity, truth, justice, I traded a lot of that. But I don't regret it for a minute. I stood up for myself. I think I stood up for my family, as painful as it often was.