In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24, journalist and author Pierre Ballester discusses the controversial comeback of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
FRANCE 24 – What was your reaction when you learned that Lance Armstrong was returning to competition and to the Tour de France?
Pierre Ballester – The cycling world had known it for a few days, because Lance Armstrong had previously filed a request with the International Cycling Union. My reaction was one of stupefaction, disappointment; even outrage. I think it’s one Tour too many. He left in 2005, to everyone’s great relief, and now he’s coming back. It’s too much!
F24 – Given the suspicions of doping that surround Armstrong, how could the International Cycling Union and the Amaury Sport Organisation (which organises the Tour) allow Armstrong to come back?
P.B. – You should ask them! We discuss in our book all the special treatment that the International Cycling Union gave him, which it never gave to any other athlete. We also talk about the fact that there was a transfer of money from Lance Armstrong to the Union, a financial transaction subject to all possible interpretations. He therefore enjoyed enormous privileges. In reality, he’s totally protected!
F24 – Why do you think Lance Armstrong is returning after a four year absence? What is he trying to prove?
P.B. – There are many reasons, notably the need to exist, to always be at the top, to be universally recognised. But it's more than that. His primary motivation is to familiarise people with the issue of cancer, or in more concrete terms, with his foundation, which would allow him to become the Abbe Pierre of cycling, the Bruce Willis of cancer, and to acquire the status of a generous public figure. This could legitimise his political ambitions, as he has never denied the rumours that he is interested in running for governor of the state of Texas in 2014.
F24 – Could a Lance Armstrong victory tarnish the image of the Tour de France?
P.B. – The image is already damaged. Year after year, cyclists have been dropping like flies, star cyclists, and the sport’s credibility has taken a hit. Bringing Armstrong back to the Tour de France destroys the sport's credibility, which is no longer the priority of the organisers. The sport is becoming an alibi for making a lot of money and for extensive media exposure….If Armstrong wins, everyone, the media included, will feign enthusiasm for his eighth victory. But that won’t do the sport any favours, nor those who defend its values.
F24 – Is Lance Armstrong safe from mandatory drug tests?
P.B. – Far from it! He’s on the radar of the AFLD (France’s anti-doping agency), which has already dealt with him. He had a hard time getting out of it last March. There was a test that caused quite a stir because it was administered under questionable circumstances. The agency didn’t pursue it, but the fact that he violated rules by being away from the doctor in charge of taking the sample for more than twenty minutes leaves room for suspicion….It’s therefore probable that he’ll have to undergo impromptu testing...
Date created : 2009-07-02