Talk: Chasing Lance, An Audience with David Walsh

There was a lot to take in at David Walsh’s Sunday Times talk about Lance Armstrong and doping in cycling last night.

I nearly didn’t make it to the sold-out talk had it not been for the invitation from my friend, who himself is a semi-pro cyclist.

I was one of the people who sat on the fence when the doping brouhaha first came out. Like many, I was an admirer of Lance Armstrong.

Seven years ago, I was sent two yellow Livestrong bracelets by a colleague who had heard of my brother’s battle with cancer. I sent one to my brother for encouragement, and kept the other for myself. My brother died a few months later, just after his 36th birthday. The yellow band was my last gift to him, so I continued to support Livestrong and Lance Armstrong in my brother’s memory.

A few months before my loss, my colleague Sue was given an all clear from breast cancer. She read Armstrong’s book It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life” during her chemotherapy treatment. Like Armstrong, Sue was no quitter. She won the cancer battle.

You see, Lance Armstrong meant a lot for cancer ‘survivors’ like us. Or at least the idea of who he was.

In audience with David Walsh and Alan Hunter
In audience with David Walsh and Alan Hunter

But personal feelings aside, I am also a journalist. I have to hear all sides of the story.

I have read David Walsh’s articles on Armstrong and the doping allegations on The Sunday Times, and how the memory of his 12-year old son, John, who tragically died during a cycling accident had motivated him to uncover the truth.

He had experienced a huge loss himself, so he is a survivor like the rest of us too.

Walsh is a surprisingly small man with white hair, clear eyes and spoke with conviction. In my opinion, he presented his case clearly. There is little reason to doubt him.


The key points highlighted at the talk:

1) The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)’s questionable practice, and the actions of its president, Pat MacQuaid.

2) The reputation of professional cycling. Pro cycling is not entirely clean yet. Walsh said he “has started to” dream about a clean Tour. And he would say Team Sky is clean ‘at gunpoint’ (his actual words) but he is not 100% sure.

3) The Spanish malaise. Spain is allegedly ‘the most corrupt’ cycling nation and probably has the most laxed attitude towards doping.

4) The collusion of sports journalists with influential bodies within cycling. During his low period of going head-to-head against Armstrong, some sports journalists refused to be associated, or even share a car with Walsh at the Tour de France, for fear of being intimidated or being denied press access to the US Postal Service, which was once an influential team.

5) A Kiwi journalist first got the scoop. He knew about the alleged Lance doping scandal earlier than Walsh, but was too scared and too small to come forward by himself. So he sought Walsh’s help in breaking the news with support of The Times.

6) Walsh regrets not disclosing the truth about his disgraced former hero, Sean Kelly. He is glad he finally did the right thing by ‘reporting the truth on Armstrong’.

7) The Armstrong ‘comeback kid’ myth was encouraged by the Tour authorities, who wanted to create a hero to appease the public after a scandalous 1998 race riddled with doping allegations. Armstrong’s return in 1999 provided the Tour with ‘The Story’ to sell to the public.

8) Cycling is not a clean sport, but it is better than it was. Other sports should be looked at too.

But there is no doubt about what Armstrong did to cycling. Many still believe that because of the cyclist, we are interested in pro cycling. And if it weren’t for him, we won’t be talking so passionately about it (or the doping scandal).

Although Armstrong has been perceived by many as having done a huge damage to the sport’s reputation, observers insisted that he wasn’t the only one involved (Editor’s note: To date, Armstrong has not been tested positive for doping, and at the time of writing, could still appeal against the UCI ban).

I also can’t help wondering if Lance Armstrong, in an ironic twist, has brought the best out of David Walsh, whose thirteen years of investigative journalism on this subject has won him the Journalist of the Year at British Journalism Awards.


David Walsh is the chief sports writer Sunday Times, and author of “Seven Deadly Sins“.


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