First shunned, then vilified by Lance Armstrong, Mike Anderson had to move to the other side of the world to get his life back.
Now running a bike shop outside of Wellington, New Zealand, Armstrong’s former assistant watched news reports about his former boss confessing to performance-enhancing drug use with only mild interest. If Anderson never hears Armstrong’s voice again, it would be too soon.
“He gave me the firm, hard push and a shove,” Anderson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Made my life very, very unpleasant. It was an embarrassment for me and my family to be portrayed as liars, to be called a disgruntled employee, implying there was some impropriety on my part. It just hurt. It was completely uncalled for.”
Anderson is among the dozens, maybe hundreds, of former teammates, opponents and associates to receive the Armstrong treatment, presumably for not going along with the party line — that the now-disgraced, seven-time Tour de France cyclist didn’t need to cheat to win.
The penalties for failing to play along were punitive, often humiliating, and now that Armstrong has admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he’s a doper, a liar and a bully, many of those who saw their lives changed, sometime ruined, are going through a gamut of emotions.
Some feel vindicated, others remain vengeful. Some are sad, while many others are simply wrung out.
“He’s damaged a lot of people’s lives,” said Betsy Andreu, whose husband, Frankie, was culled from Armstrong’s team for not agreeing to dope. “He has damaged the sport of cycling. Frankie was fired for not getting on the program. I never thought this day would come but it’s so incredibly sad.”
Before his interview with Winfrey aired, Armstrong reached out to the Andreus to apologize but the planned reconciliation did not work. In fact, Armstrong’s interview only made things worse, when he refused to confirm what the Andreus testified to under oath — that they had heard the cyclist admit to doping while meeting with doctors treating him for cancer at an Indiana hospital in 1996.
Regardless of whether Armstrong says more about that, there’s no denying that life for the Andreus changed when they refused to go along.
“Frankie’s career was definitely cut short. His career was ruined early,” Betsy Andreu said. “You have riders out there whose careers never happened” because of Armstrong.
And some whose careers were cut short.
Filippo Simeoni was a talented, young rider who dared admit to doping and told authorities he received his instructions from physician Michele Ferrari, who also advised Armstrong during his career. After that 2002 testimony, Armstrong branded Simeoni a liar. He went so far as to humiliate Simeoni at the 2004 Tour de France, when he chased down the Italian rider during a breakaway and more or less ordered him to fall back in line. Later in the race, and with a TV camera in his face, Armstrong put his finger to his lips in a “silence” gesture. After the stage, he said he was simply protecting the interests of the peloton.
Simeoni received a different message.
“When a rider like me brushed up against a cyclist of his caliber, his fame and his worth — when I clashed with the boss — all doors were closed to me,” Simeoni said. “I was humiliated, offended, and marginalized for the rest of my career. Only I know what that feels like. It’s difficult to explain.”
Anderson certainly can.
In a story he wrote for Outside Magazine last August, Anderson detailed a business relationship with Armstrong that began in 2002 with an email from Armstrong promising he would finance Anderson’s bike shop when their work together was done. Anderson, a bike mechanic working in Armstrong’s hometown of Austin, Texas, essentially became the cyclist’s personal assistant, his responsibilities growing as the years passed. One of his tasks was making advance trips to Armstrong’s apartment in Spain to prepare it for his arrival.
Anderson says the relationship began to sour after he came upon a box in Armstrong’s bathroom labeled “Androstenedione,” the banned substance most famously linked to Mark McGwire. The box, Anderson wrote, was mysteriously gone the next time he entered the apartment.
Time passed. Anderson bore witness to more and more things that didn’t feel right. Armstrong, sensing his employee’s discomfort, became more and more distant. Finally, Anderson wrote, Armstrong severed ties, asking Anderson to sign a nondisclosure agreement “that would have made me liable for a large sum of money if I even mentioned ever having worked for Armstrong.”
Anderson’s refusal to do that led to lawyers and lawsuits — with Armstrong accusing Anderson of extortion and Anderson accusing Armstrong of wrongful dismissal, breach of contract, and defamation. The cases were eventually settled for undisclosed terms.
But Anderson took his share of hits along the way.
“Austin was not a comfortable place for me after that,” he said. “It had been my home for some years. I had enjoyed a very good reputation. I couldn’t get a job in the bicycle business, certainly not one that was a fair placement for my skill and experience.”
He ended up in New Zealand, where his wife’s brother has roots, and is doing fine, now.
“I got a fair shake from some local investors who believe in me and we’ve been at it for four years,” Anderson said. “The kids are clothed and fed and I don’t really have any complaints.”
Stories such as these — about the havoc Armstrong unleashed on people’s lives — come from seemingly every corner: bike mechanics, multimillionaire businessmen, trainers, masseuses, wives, cyclists both at the front and back of the peloton.
Tyler Hamilton was among Armstrong’s key teammates during his first three Tour de France victories. His tell-all interview on “60 Minutes” in 2011, combined with his testimony and a book he wrote last year, played a key part in the unraveling of the Armstrong myth.
Hamilton watched Armstrong’s confession with little emotion but with a modicum of hope.
“It’s been a sad story for a lot of people,” Hamilton said. “But I think we’ll look back on this period and, hopefully not too far down the road, we can say it was, in the end, a good thing for the sport of cycling.”
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2016, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved