Lance Armstrong's renowned temperament should probably be remembered as more than incidental to his story. It's unlikely things would have played out the way they have if not for how much of a jerk he was, by nearly all accounts. USADA wouldn't have so doggedly investigated him. His former teammates wouldn't have dimed him out so willingly. More media members would have defended him against an Ahabian pursuit.
His American success story, his comeback from cancer, his charity work—none of these are mutually exclusive to just not being a very nice person. Like Barry Bonds, Armstrong was the world's best at what he did, made no friends along the way, and when it came crumbling down there were more than a few people silently pumping their fists. None of it matters now, of course. But it's always fun to hear about another episode in the legend of Lance.
This one is regarding a long-ago interaction with American former cyclist Jonathan Vaughters, who rode on Amstrong's Tour-winning Postal Service team in 1999, before jumping to a French team the following year. Vaughters was aware of Armstrong's doping, the entire USPS team's doping, and even partook himself. The French team, Credit Agricole, was supposed to be doing things differently. No drugs, no blood doping, just clean riding. In the 14th stage of the 2001 Tour de France, Vaughters suffered a wasp sting above his right eye.
He was allergic, and the swelling was grotesque. The normal treatment, which would have put him back on the bike and been better for his safety, was a cortisone shot. The same steroidal anti-inflammatory your favorite baseball players take with impunity. But cortisone would have registered positive on UCI's "strict" drug testing. Trapped by the letter and not the spirit of the law, Vaughters planned to withdraw.
The swelling did not recede and the following morning Vaughters stepped from the team bus in Pau looking like the Elephant Man. His Tour was effectively over, but as a gesture to highlight the absurdity of the doping laws, he had decided to line up for the start and climb off his bike as soon as the flag dropped.
As he was making his way to the start line he crossed paths with the race leader, Lance Armstrong. Two years previously, during Armstrong's first Tour win in 1999, they had been team-mates at US Postal, but Vaughters had not enjoyed the experience. The win had been fuelled by doping and Vaughters had left at the end of the season and found a much saner working environment with the French team, Crédit Agricole.
Armstrong did not disguise his contempt. "Poor Jonathan and his stupid little French team," he spat. "What the fuck are you like? If you had stayed with me, this would have been taken care of but now you are not going to finish the Tour de France because of a wasp sting."
"Taken care of" is an interesting choice of words, considering the allegation that Armstrong flunked a drug test during the 2001 Tour de Suisse, just a month before the Tour de France, but was somehow able to make it go away. Armstrong "took care of it," rider Tyler Hamilton said.
You don't win races by making friends, as Vaughters learned and Armstrong could have told him. (Armstrong would win that 2001 Tour de France, and the next four. Vaughters would retire from cycling in 2003, and now serves as manager for the Garmin-Sharp team and is a vocal anti-doping advocate.) With 86 percent of Tour de France winners since 1967 having been implicated in doping, perhaps you don't win races by being a naturally gifted athlete either.