STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Well, the Tour de France begins next month with cycling facing a doping crisis. Last year's winner, Floyd Landis, is waiting for a ruling on whether he is guilty of drug use. Other prominent riders confessed to doping, and a great champion is in a battle with a journalist over his record.
Mr. LANCE ARMSTRONG (Champion Bike Racer): And the fact of the matter is I don't like David Walsh, and David Walsh doesn't like me.
INSKEEP: That's Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour winner. David Walsh is co-author of a 2004 book that was published in France. It suggested Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong responded then at a press conference.
Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think extraordinary accusations must be followed up with extraordinary proof. And Mr. Walsh and Mr. Ballester worked four or five years, and they have not come up with extraordinary proof.
INSKEEP: David Walsh, the co-author, was at that press conference. And three years later, his newest book is available in the United States. It's called "From Lance to Landis." His story recounts the 1980s, when cyclists embraced a powerful new drug called EPO.
Mr. DAVID WALSH (Sports Journalist; Author "From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France"): It was like an elixir in endurance sport. Think of it in terms of going up a mountain in the Tour de France that's maybe got 23, 25 hairpin bends, and it's incredibly steep. And there are guys going up to the top of that mountain not needing oxygen. And you look at them, and sometimes their lips are almost sealed. And you're thinking this is not right.
INSKEEP: Well now, what's some new evidence that Lance Armstrong himself is guilty of doping?
Mr. WALSH: If people could just see the environment that Lance Armstrong found himself coming into, he became a professional cyclist at the end of 1992. At that time, EPO was becoming this huge drug in the peloton.
INSKEEP: The peloton - that's the word for the mass of racers out in the Tour de France or wherever else.
Mr. WALSH: Yes. And he's coming to this world at a time where you genuinely cannot compete unless you do as it seems everybody else is doing.
INSKEEP: Had there been Americans who tried to compete without doping?
Mr. WALSH: Yes, I think there was. I mean, there's a very good example, and I quote him in the book. A guy I interviewed, Andy Hampsten, who was a gifted, natural mountain climber. And Andy Hampsten came into this sport at a time when EPO did not exist. But by the time he got to the autumn of his career, EPO was there.
And from being arguably one of the world's best climbers - and by one of the world's best, I mean maybe top three - Andy found that he couldn't get into the top 30. And that was completely absurd in the competitive sense.
INSKEEP: You even told the story of a team that was known as the Motorola team until they refused to dope and did so poorly in races that they lost their sponsorship.
Mr. WALSH: They were always being pressurized by the manager to produce better results. And basically, they were getting nowhere, and did start doing EPO.
INSKEEP: Lance Armstrong was part of that Motorola team that couldn't compete at that time.
Mr. WALSH: Yes, absolutely.
INSKEEP: So you have this circumstantial evidence, but it seemed to be a period where the sport was changing and everybody was doing this drug. Why does that mean Lance Armstrong must have done it?
Mr. WALSH: Well, I mean, that's not all. I mean, I spoke to Stephen Swart who was in that Motorola team for two years. He gave me very detailed information about the decision-making in the team. And according to Steven Swart, as a team, Motorola decided to dope, and Lance was very much involved in that discussion, and according to Swart, he was very much a proponent of doping.
INSKEEP: And I suppose there's also other bits of evidence that it have become public over the years: the allegation that he admitted to doping in a hospital room, allegations by a former assistant, I guess you'd call her, who said that she handed him drugs and disposed of syringes and so forth. Is there anybody, though, who's ever said I saw this guy do it? I know he did it. I saw it with my own eyes.
Mr. WALSH: Nobody that I have spoken to on the record.
INSKEEP: Can I just ask you? He won his Tour de France at seven in a row after recovering from cancer. And I wonder what you make of the other explanations for his dramatic improvement that he lost weight, that he trained incredibly, intensively or just that he was more focused after that brush with death?
Mr. WALSH: I'm sure that there are elements of truth in everything that you say there. But I don't believe that the improvement he made was solely down to harder training. Remember, this is the Tour de France we're talking about here. There are many riders who are lighter than Lance, many riders who trained incredibly hard and incredibly smart. This was a guy who competed in Tour de France four times, never came within a million miles of being a competitor. And he went from there basically into a very difficult cancer situation, came out of that and won the race seven times.
INSKEEP: So after looking at hundreds of pages of allegations that you make here, I wonder if I can just get a sense of your certainty. Would you be more likely to say he might have doped, he probably doped, I'm sure he definitely doped. How would you put it?
Mr. WALSH: I would say, in my opinion, there is a zero doubt about the fact that Lance doped.
INSKEEP: Even though he has absolutely denied that on every occasion.
Mr. WALSH: Absolutely. I know that he's denied it, and pretty much every cyclist and who's ever achieved a lot denies it. It is what they do, they deny, deny, deny.
INSKEEP: You have some evidence involving the 1999 Tour de France, the first in his big streak. Do you have evidence that points to any doping later on as that streak continued and then went up to seven Tour de Frances?
Mr. WALSH: Well, yes, I mean, there's evidence from all of this time. I mean, the book reproduces for the first time, the full instant message exchange between two former teammates of Lance, Jonathan Vaughters and Frankie Andreu. And it's a very explicit account of how the Discovery team and the U.S. Postal team engaged in blood doping. Both of them were former teammates. Andreu was a teammate for eight years with Lance.
INSKEEP: Although we should mention, I mean, this is an instant message conversation. I mean, if you were a defense lawyer for Lance Armstrong, I can't imagine this would ever admitted at trial. It's hearsay. It's two guys talking about what one of the guys said about Lance Armstrong.
Mr. WALSH: Yes, it is. But the conversation took place, I think, at 6:00 in the morning. They believed they're engaging in a totally confidential conversation. They're two guys with real insight into the sport, who are friends with people who are right at the top of the sport, and they're saying the kind of thing they would never say in public.
Now, my belief is that cycling has gone into the gutter because people have been silent all through the years about what is really happening. Here's an instance of the kind of conversation that takes place behind closed doors. And as a journalist, I'm really happy to give the public a sense of what people are saying that's not for their consumption, because basically, we've been fed a pack of lies.
INSKEEP: What year was this conversation, this instant message conversation?
Mr. WALSH: This conversation took place immediately after the 2005 Tour de France.
INSKEEP: You mentioned that this is a pack of lies in your view. I wonder if your book almost suggests an alternative explanation because you have the stories of people who tried to win without doping. And they were crushed, and their teams were wiped off the map. And I wonder if you could make an argument - even if you accepted that someone like Lance Armstrong was doping - that he was only doing the thing that he was compelled to do by a tragic situation to keep up with everybody else in the race, and he still had to make an extraordinary effort in order to win.
Mr. WALSH: I believe that to win, he had to dope for sure. I don't accept that he was doing the bare minimum. I think some people do the bare minimum. I think, you know, one of the former U.S. Postal riders spoke to me about two kinds of people, in his opinion, in the peloton. He says there are those who are dragged into a doping culture. And there are the draggers. And in my opinion, Lance was one of the latter.
INSKEEP: Mr. Walsh, thanks very much for speaking with us.
Mr. WALSH: Thank you.
INSKEEP: David Walsh is the author of the new book "From Lance to Landis."
(Soundbite of music)
We reached lance Armstrong by telephone and invited him to respond to the allegations made in this book. And he said, quote, "No comment. It's old stuff."
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.