In a special Freakonomics Radio episode previewing the show’s Sports series this fall, Stephen Dubner sat down with Lance Armstrong for a career-spanning interview covering his career, his mistakes, and the problems he sees in professional cycling today. Here’s what he had to say:
Whether current Tour De France riders are doping (and whether himself held to a double standard):
I don’t know if doping is or is not involved. The situation with Chris Froome involved his asthma inhaler. I mean this is a far cry from a gallon of EPO. This is very very different. So, nonetheless, it was twice the allowed limit which got him in the hot water. And look, Chris Froome has won four Tours. He’s trying to win a fifth. The rider that I kept referring to there, Yoann Offredo, he hasn’t won his neighborhood criterium. So, it’s obvious, we all know that the biggest, as I said in that clip, the tallest trees catch the wind. I try not to, and it may come off like I am, but I try not to relate these things to me. You know, half of — not half, but a huge chunk of my competitors are driving team cars, and working for sponsors, and working for the organizer of the Tour de France. But none of them won seven Tours… And so I do get frustrated with that. But let’s just get straight to the point here of what is wrong with the system, and if the aim in 2012 was to finally fix the system they didn’t, they absolutely didn’t.
The recent interaction that made him finally confront what he had done:
I had a longtime employee at Livestrong finally reach out to me after, oddly enough, she rode the whole wave of this thing and then absolutely hated my guts. Somebody came to her and said “Let’s listen to his podcast. I don’t know. This guy sounds a little different.” And so she listened to a couple and she started to come around and then she reached out and she said, “Can we go have coffee?” and I said “Absolutely.” I asked her about the process of what was happening at Livestrong while all the accusations were there and there was a lot of smoke – and then eventually there was fire. She walked me through the whole thing, and she said, “You know, at the end of the day we all felt really complicit.” It changed my life. Look, “betrayal” is a terrible word… Complicit is 100 x. And, for me, I had already started to get my mind and my heart around the fact that people had suffered this tremendous amount of betrayal, and then I was hit with complicit. And it just — it rocked me to the core. But it was, I tell you, it was the greatest. It was the greatest, Her name is Melissa, is the greatest gift that anybody has given me the last six years.
His frustrations watching fellow doper Alex Rodriguez enjoy a comeback:
I woke up one day, and – I was in Austin alone and I woke up. And it was on my mind. And I went crazy. I was literally running around the house. And I said, “OK, I’m going to ask five of the smartest people I know what they think the difference is between Alex Rodriguez and myself.” And the answers were pretty consistent. The one key thing is that Alex Rodriguez was allowed to come back and play. And Alex Rodriguez was part of a team sport. And thirdly, Alex Rodriguez never stood for anything else other than baseball.
The fans who will never forgive him:
Nobody wants to hear that a certain segment of any population is pissed at them or hates them or whatever. And for a long, long time that really, really affected me and bothered me. And I just want to be honest with you and the listeners. I understand. How could you not be?
This interview was conducted as part of an upcoming Freakonomics Radio series that will explore the hidden side of sports. It will include interviews with athletes, coaches, owners, agents, academics, and historians, including:
- Simone Manuel, Olympic gold medalist in swimming
- Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner
- Brandon McCarthy, Atlanta Braves pitcher
- DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Union
- Richard Thaler, Nobel Prize-winning economist
- The CEO, GM, head coach, and many players on the San Francisco 49ers, who try to turn their roller-coaster 2017 season into a championship.
- and more…
The series will begin running in early September.