The Livestrong-Armstrong-Outside story. An anecdote.

Lance and lab rats.

The investigative journalist Bill Gifford has written a pretty damning story for Outside magazine about — among other things — how little money Livestrong puts into cancer research and how they exist to promote Lance Armstrong.

Nearly everyone in the cycling blogosphere is writing their take as you read this and more will no doubt be written this week. We’ll add a small anecdotal story to the avalanche of opinions headed your way.

Last year on the second rest day at the 2011 Tour de France, I had a fantastically fun dinner in Montpellier with all the tour writers for Cycle Sport magazine. As a newcomer to the official world of cycling journalism, it was not only a thrill but an honor to spend the evening with pros like Edward Pickering, Lionel Birnie, Andy McGrath and Anthony Tam.

They had hilarious stories about covering the Tour de France and Ed was generous in ordering several extra bottles of wine that probably went beyond the expense account. It’s always informative to get another take on things and in the course of the evening up came the subject of Armstrong.

As an American, I have complicated opinion on Lance Armstrong. I was a nationalistic fool cheering him to his seven Tour wins. I’ve read both his books several times. I consider him the greatest endurance athlete of our time, an inspirational character, a great leader and yes, maybe even a visionary. I don’t even care if some of that saintly image is fabrication. On the other hand, I also consider him a liar, a hypocrite, vindictive and petty.

Continuing the complications, I am 100% sure he doped and yet on some important level, I don’t care — for several reasons, one which will bring us back around to dinner in Montpellier. Like many Americans, I have an almost unavoidable tendency to be more forgiving of American athletes than those from other countries. I’m much harder on Alberto Contador than the Spanish and much more harsh on Alexander Vinokourov than most Kazakhs.

So even despite my firm belief that Armstrong doped his way to seven Tour de France victories, I excuse him on two levels. One, everybody was doping in that era so in some sick sense, it was a level playing field among the elite, the right man still won.

Second — and here we arrive at dinner and the latest Outside Magazine story — is that I tend to under-judge and forgive based on the fact that Armstrong has raised tens of millions for cancer research. It never occurred to me question that fact.

There at the table, sitting outside on the downtown square on a warm evening in beautiful Montpellier, Lionel Birnie of Cycle Sport called that fact bullshit. He didn’t use that exact word but he went into a ten minute rant against everything that Armstrong had ever done and when I offered the counter-point of those millions raised for cancer research he nearly spat out his red wine.

He told me in no uncertain terms that Livestrong was a sham, that he’d seen or done the digging and the real fact was they gave very little for cancer research. Now, Birnie is a well-respected cycling journalist and highly experienced. His assertions about Livestrong snapped my head back.

Well, Lionel’s opinion was seconded by the Outside magazine story. It is just another damaging attack on the one thing Armstrong holds most precious: the Myth of Lance. Maybe someday Federal Investigator Dirk Novizky will detail for us all the transgressions in Lance’s great race to sports legend and cultural icon.

Since Montpellier I’ve stopped using the half apologetic, half defensive “well, yeah, but Lance did raise millions for cancer research.” But I will do Lance a favor because how does anyone put a dollar amount on hope and inspiration?

Even if Livestrong didn’t give one dollar for cancer research, the hope he gives millions of people with cancer to keep fighting is beyond calculation. Lionel was right, Outside magazine is right and all the same, on this subject of hope being as valuable as research, Lance Armstrong is right.

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  • http://www.transparentagenda.com gfurry

    I tend to hold your opinion of Armstrong but do question the facts about Livestrong. I think the same could be said about just about every charitable organization in this country. Livestrong seems to score well on the sites that claim to judge such things. I doubt the same could be said for other 501C3 organizations. Particularly the ones that have been all over TV for the last month. They are called the College bowl games. I am sure all the money they generate is going to good causes.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Gfurry, let's hope so. I think the writer at Outside was making the point that Livestrong and Armstrong pitch the organization and hustle for donations based on "fighting cancer" — i.e. finding research. They really don't do that anymore and a high percentage seems to be spent on the more vague "awareness" that often seems to mostly benefit Lance himself — even more so as he fights to win public opinion during a major doping investigation. Matt

  • http://twitter.com/jkcvt @jkcvt

    I

  • http://twitter.com/jkcvt @jkcvt

    I, too, have mixed feeling about LA, both as an amazing athlete/cyclist who probably doped, and a human being, who is, by most accounts, both a big jerk and someone who has given back to the cancer community in ways he certainly didn't have to. Maybe it's because I did some research on LiveStrong during it's first years in existence, but I am not one of those who has been taken by surprise by this "news" that LiveStrong does not give money to cancer research. It was always my impression that the main focus of the organization was to give guidance and support to those with cancer, their caretakers, and survivors of cancer. From what I understand, this kind of help was virtually nonexistent before LiveStrong. It is also my impression that LiveStrong has greatly succeeded in doing this, helping countless people through very hard and scary times. The foundation (and LA, himself) has lobbied governments to spend more money on cancer research, so they are involved in that aspect peripherally.

    The two things that Lance Armstrong is known for, surviving cancer against all odds and going on to win the Tour de France seven times, are forever intertwined, and that is both a great thing and a real shame. It is wonderful because it has given hope and inspiration to thousands of people, yet it is a shame because the doping allegations always come into play with anything surrounding LA. Would this even be a story if LA hadn't given birth to LiveStrong?? I firmly believe that LA has no right to use his foundation and the work he does with cancer as a "shield" against the doping allegations, but Lance haters (for lack of a better term) also shouldn't use the doping allegations as a weapon against everything associated with LA. LA's cancer survival, the TdF wins, and the doping allegations are a complex web, and LA with always be connected with LiveStrong, but it's time that everyone separated the charity from the negativity. Let these people continue to help those in need in peace. I certainly hope that LiveStrong will survive whatever the outcome of the federal investigation, and that the foundation continues to thrive.

    Check out charitynavigator.org. It's surprising how much of the funds of big name charities goes to expenses other than what it's intended for. gfurry is right in that LiveStrong consistently scores well with that.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Thanks for the long, thoughtful note. It is difficult to separate Armstrong from Livestrong and that causes all kinds of problems and misunderstandings. Nothing wrong with cancer "awareness" being the primary budget item but it does seem that money often serves to sell the Lance Armstrong story. Matt

  • http://www.joyridesnh.com/ Scott

    It is completely fair to say that Lance Armstrong and his foundation *have* helped direct millions of dollars to cancer research, including through advocacy to create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and fund programs of the National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Food and Drug Administration.

    LIVESTRONG's main focus, though, is even more important to people who are affected by cancer right now. Inspiration and empowerment matter tremendously, as do the direct services the foundation provides, connects people with, and enables through grant funding.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      No argument here. While I agree with the contention of the Outside writer that Livestrong often seems to promote Lance, I certainly believe that hope and inspiration for people afflicted with cancer is a huge service that you can't put a dollar amount on. But hope is worth millions. Matt

  • jeff spencer

    Lying and exploiting the suffering of others is ok if someone found hope in the lies?

    How large does the crime have to be for it not to be OK?

    • Kimmi

      Jeff – Have you been directly lied to and exploited by LA? Be careful when you paint the community that volunteers and the community that has been helped by Armstrongs organization with such broad brush strokes. My family and I plus quite a few friends have received REAL support and guidance through the cancer maze by his foundation. For that I am forever grateful.

      Read JKCVT's post again and think about this –
      "I firmly believe that LA has no right to use his foundation and the work he does with cancer as a "shield" against the doping allegations, but Lance haters (for lack of a better term) also shouldn't use the doping allegations as a weapon against everything associated with LA. LA's cancer survival, the TdF wins, and the doping allegations are a complex web, and LA with always be connected with LiveStrong, but it's time that everyone separated the charity from the negativity. Let these people continue to help those in need in peace. I certainly hope that LiveStrong will survive whatever the outcome of the federal investigation, and that the foundation continues to thrive. "

      Oh, and Twisted I respect your thoughtful, honest post even though the CN Clinic Cess Pool says you drank the koolaid. That's how I got here. Funny I didn't read your post that way. Will continue to follow Twisted Spoke..

  • berzin

    So your twisted logic excuses Armstrong lying to cancer patients about putting potentially toxic and life-threatening drugs in his body because the ends justify the means.

    What an abysmal moral compass you possess.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Berzin, there are few things I appreciate more than high quality moral indignation. Nice to know I deserve the very best and abysmal moral compass is clearly something I can be proud of. I always find that people with closed minds don't read anything prepared to listen or engage in conversation, they're just looking for another excuse to launch into a rant. Seeing the world in simplistic black and white saves them the hard work of dealing with all those human shades of gray. Keep the indignation coming, baby. Matt

  • Mike Schwartz

    Given the news of the last 24 hours, I am sure that many who will take the time to read the details of the report may reconsider their opinions. What has interested me about this saga was the manner in which Armstrong and Bruyneel have treated those who have dared to suggest that the emperor may only be partly dressed. This vindictive behavior must have been well-known, but rarely spoken about. So the manner in which the doping unfolded as documented by the report is no surprise. It is reflective of the personality and vindictiveness of the two leaders of the team. A quote from LeMond today seems to me to be one of the more important parts of this story “In the months or years to come there will be a lot of stuff, probably,
    revealed. It’s not going to be just a black period for doping. … He’s
    destroyed people. If you go against him he tries to destroy you. He’s
    been trying that for 10 years with me.” Given Bill’s previous profile of LeMond, it must be a cathartic experience for him to utter these words and be believed.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Lemond was a loud voice in the darkness and I’m sure he’s happy to be vindicated. He suffered years of abuse from Armstrong and now everything he ever said about Lance has turned out to be truth. Matt