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A Conversation With Bill Strickland: Part 5: The Damning Quote

Posted by bikezilla on May 5, 2011


Part 1, Emma O’Reilly’s Anger at Bill Strickland, Part 2, Part 3, Bill Strickland’s NPR Interview, Part 4, Part 5, Postscript

This is possibly the one quote that is most fervently believed to indicate that Bill Strickland had specific and unequivocal knowledge that Lance Armstrong doped, but that Bill buried that information to protect his connections and access to Armstrong, and to enrich himself and further his career.

It’s from “Tour de Lance” on page 10.

Bill Strickland:

“And I’d sat on some more serious revelations, things Bruyneel told me about the inner workings of the sport but also things I’d heard from team directors, riders, coaches, and other people who assumed that because I was close to Bruyneel I must have already known what they were talking about. I was surprised to find out that this information was even easier to keep to myself. I knew things to be true that I wished I’d never been told. I knew many more things that could never be proved true or false, and I wanted even more to never have been told those. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about such matters, and so it was that Bruyneel trusted me.”

His thoughts on that passage, from the Podium Cafe interview: (Again, I recommend that you read the full PC interview. It’s much more extensive than this conversation.)

“You know, it’s been interesting how many people have read that passage as a not-so-veiled reference that I have the keys to pro cycling’s secret palace of doping. I knew that some of the surmising about the secret stuff would focus on doping but how quickly and intensely the field of vision narrowed to wonder almost exclusively about doping surprised me – though I guess it shouldn’t have.

The contract I signed (to co-write “We Might as Well Win” — Bikezilla) includes a confidentiality agreement … I can tell you what Johan and I didn’t talk about, though. We never talked specifically about doping.

From time to time we had some exchanges about how the system worked, or how directors might deal with certain riders. Sometimes after a positive was announced, I would ask him if he thought other riders or other directors knew this guy or that guy had been doping, and he gave me what I considered authentic answers.

Most of the off-limits stuff he told me was, for instance, something that might embarrass someone who didn’t deserve it on such a wide scale, or maybe harm someone’s reputation for no really good reason, or be acceptable in one-on-one talk but if fixed in print would come across as gossipy or catty.

One example of the sort of thing he told me were some hilarious, crude initiation rites that established riders put rookies through on some of his old teams, and how certain riders reacted the opposite of what the fans would expect, whether it was the tough, stoic guys wigging out or the seemingly mild-mannered ones standing up.

Sometimes he might tell me about agreements on the road between teams or riders, and in some instances that was really dispiriting. We all know it happens, and I think it’s a fascinating part of the sport and integral in its way, but some of the exchanges I wish I hadn’t heard about. I enjoyed thinking of the races the way I’d seen them.”

What I grabbed onto from that was “Most of the off-limits stuff” and that he was specifically addressing only information that was given to him by Johan Bruyneel. This seemed to ignore that there was other information and that some of it came from sources other than Bruyneel.

What I saw was more hedging, more obfuscating.

This is a link to a defense of Strickland by “Shakes133 at Velociped Salon. Bill says the guys name is Chris and that he used to work for Bicycling magazine.

Shakes133 / Chris:

” . . . he never saw a single questionable thing. He had the inside stories, he was in the rooms after/before races, he was there weeks before on training rides. He was around for casual banter, heard hushed whispers. Imagine having unprecedented access to RadioShack (Astana — Bikezilla), with Contador and Lance for months, being there during the tour, and despite countless rumors in the media, never once seeing a shred of evidence?

No….Bill believed Lance was clean. No doubt in my mind. Exact same way Loren Mooney believed Floyd Landis was clean. He looked her in the eyes over a glass of whiskey and swore on his family.

And let’s face it, at one point we all thought the same thing.”

Bikezilla:

I interpret that as saying, “Yes, Bill heard things, private things, indicative things, things that none of us have ever heard and probably never will. But there was never any PHYSICAL evidence, and without physical evidence, he wasn’t going to judge Lance a doper.”

Is that an accurate interpretation? That you heard things, from Lance, from Johan, from others, that indicated that LA doped, or may have doped, but that you would not make that judgement without physical evidence?

If so, it’s something that I can understand in one sense, but that goes against all logic in another sense. Right there is where the “willful” or “feigned” ignorance would come in, especially if any of those stories came from LA, Johan or their inner circle.

I mean, ok, if you’re Lance’s friend, that’s pretty much the ultimate friend thing to do, believing in your friend beyond reason, until his wrong-doing is literally in your face.

Bill the Friend of Lance can get a pass on that. But Bill the Journalist?

It’s tough to get my head around that enough to accept it.

Bill Strickland:

“I am not friends with Lance. He’d laugh if I ever described myself that way.

He knows me. I know him.”

And:

“I understand that you think this kind of clarity is something that needs to be, or at least ought to be, said. But from years of being in this muck, I can tell you that public explanations of my methods or of my experiences doing the book almost never change the mind of anyone set in their beliefs about me, Armstrong, doping, whatever. I no longer expect it to.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s nothing to be gained from saying this, and I wouldn’t offer it on my own, but you keep asking — like a good dogged journablogger — so, here it is.

From all of the riders, staff and people otherwise associated with or remotely involved with the team at the time I followed them, without fail I never did hear one snippet that Lance had doped. I never saw one shady thing involving him. When I (or someone else who happened to be there as I observed) would even come close to broaching the subject, it was refuted in a way that it wasn’t when the topic of some other riders came up. I heard some awful stories, poisonous stuff about [OTHER RIDERS — Bikezilla].

But whenever the subject edged toward Lance, all I got was admiration for his physical ability and willpower, and adamant disavowal that he doped. Either they knew and lied to me, or themselves didn’t know. Either way, it tells me just how closed that final, inner circle would have to have been.

So it wasn’t that I heard suspicious things from the main characters themselves but dismissed them until I could get physical evidence; it was that I felt a personal obligation to be absolutely certain, without even one percent of doubt, whether that would come from physical evidence, a confession, a legal judgment, separate corroborated accounts, or whatever that something is that finally tells you a thing you really don’t want to believe.

For those who are reading this who have ever been cheated on in an ongoing way, it’s sort of like that: you’re suspicious, you convince yourself you’re crazy, you deliberately go along not knowing, then you might really not know for a bit, then even though you know you still want that thing, so you go mad and you look for the phone call in the log, or try to piece together the faded distintegrated note you found in the washing machine, or you hide in the shrubs across the street from someone’s house.

Betsy Andreu compared it to finally admitting you know Santa Claus isn’t real, which I thought was a good parallel in a lot of ways. I was going to use that in my story at one point. But my daughter still believes — this is about her last year, I bet — and I didn’t know if she’d read the story or not.”

That’s about as plain it’ll ever get.

For many readers even that will not be enough. For some the only thing that will ring true, the only statement that will be accepted from Strickland is something along the lines of: “Ok, yeah, I got it. I figured it out. I knew what was what. But I sold it all a different way, because that’s what was in my best interest at the time.”

Because it’s so damned hard, in fact for some it’s even impossible, to understand how we can reach a conclusion with our limited information, yet Bill can honestly reach a different conclusion with greater information.

The statement above, that he never “heard one snippet that Lance doped” and “never saw one shady thing involving him” is as much as there is right now. It’s likely as much as there will ever be.

It’s left up to us, the readers, fans and haters, to accept or reject, to believe Bill or to continue thinking he’s a liar.

If you’ve read his philosophy on the nature of the writer / reader relationship, you know that he’s genuinely ok with whatever conclusion we come to.

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