At a farmhouse-style kitchen table, with the Minnesota woods filling the back windows of the brick house, Linda Armstrong sat next to Greg and Kathy LeMond, searching for advice and an answer to a disturbing question: Why didn't her son feel anything? "She was worried that Lance didn't care about anything but himself," Kathy LeMond recalled. "His own mother."
This was 1994. Before the Lance Armstrong legend picked up steam. Before fame, before big money, before unfathomable hero worship — and almost 20 years before his bizarre made-for-television therapy session with Oprah. In Part II of Lance's narrative manipulation on Friday night, with Oprah as yet another enabler, he veered from the cool-hand Lance persona for an instant when discussing his 13-year-old son, Luke. As Armstrong relayed a scene to Oprah, he said he learned at Christmas that Luke had been defending him in public to people who were calling his father a drug cheat. With a quiver in his voice, Armstrong recalled his conversation with Luke, saying, "Listen, there's been a lot of questions about your dad. And I said, 'I want you to know, it's true.'" Even in his most tender moment with Oprah, Armstrong revealed a jarring lack of awareness: Luke had been defending his father for years, according to two people who know the family.
In a separate snapshot with Oprah, Lance talked emotionally about his mother, revealing that only when he saw his mom's eyes on a recent Face Time chat did he realize the toll his public fall from grace had taken on her. Only now? "He has no moral compass," said Kathy. "He says he saw his mom's face, well, get in the car and be with her. For years, she has been on a speaking circuit defending him."
If the Oprah opus served any purpose other than a ratings grab for OWN, it was that Lance, deluded to the point where he probably doesn't grasp this, exposed the dark, calculated side of his character to a worldwide public audience who until now has never witnessed what lies beneath the hero facade. For Lance, the interview was a mistake. For the public, it was a window into the mind of a lost soul. For Oprah, the big-stage empathizer, it was a lost opportunity to feel something for the victims of Armstrong's pathological meanness and force him to confront the lives he has torched.
Part of an apology is to validate the pain caused to others. Oprah never pushed him to go to that forbidden territory — letting him get away with cursory reflections on the grief he caused Betsy and Frankie Andreu, Emma O'Reilly and his cycling teammates — and she gave him a pass on the details even when she knew how ugly they were.
In the run-up to the interview, an executive producer for Oprah called the LeMonds. The producer was told the details of what anyone who had been paying attention for years already knew: Lance destroyed them emotionally and ruined them financially after Greg LeMond voiced an anti-doping stance and offered a skeptical view of Armstrong's credibility as a clean rider. Trek, the bicycle company, chose to side with Lance, their star and cash cow, and ended its lucrative deal worth tens of millions with LeMond Cycling.
"I was disappointed," says Kathy of the Oprah interview. "(Oprah's producer) knows what he did to us. I wanted Oprah to ask the next question and she didn't." Oprah gave the floor to Armstrong to do what he loves: control the situation. He orchestrated the flow of information, misinformation and transparent placements of anecdotes, including an odd reference to his ex-wife Kristin. She knew but didn't know, Armstrong equivocated, about Kristin's knowledge of his doping. Armstrong went onto explain to Oprah that Kristin, to whom he had been married from 1998 to 2003, had told him in 2009 before his comeback, "The truth will set you free.'" That moment floored Kathy LeMond, who says, "I wish she had chosen the Trek deposition for the truth to set her free."
On October 1, 2009, in a videotaped deposition for LeMond Cycling Inc., vs. Trek, Kristin referred to Lance's achievements as the product of "dedication and focus." When asked if Lance had ever been vindictive, Kristin testified, "I think he would probably be irritated, but he always had something to do and he would move on." In several instances, when Kristin was asked about her recollections of Lance's doping or related conversations with others, Armstrong's lawyer, Tim Herman, objected and instructed Kristin not to answer. She took the instruction and offered nothing. When pressed on specifics about past conversations with the LeMonds, she replied, "It's really foggy for me."
Given Kristin's 2009 deposition, why would Lance invoke her name with Oprah and risk follow-up questions? Civil and criminal statute of limitation issues. Where Lance's doping begins and ends is important in his effort to clear the seven-year bar for legal burdens. The reference to Kristin allowed Lance to mark a line in the sand: 2005. A very good year. He retired after winning the last of seven Tour de France titles, and, as he told Oprah, it was the final year he doped. Promise. Cross my heart. As proof, he told Oprah — actually, any federal prosecutors watching — that he never took performance-enhancing drugs after 2005 for one reason: Because he promised his ex-wife that his comeback in 2009 would be squeaky clean (never mind that USADA's report cited evidence that blood samples from Armstrong in the 2009 and 2010 Tours were consistent with doping). In front of millions of viewers, Armstrong used Kristin as a pawn, not to protect her, but to offer cover for himself. "What you saw," says Kathy LeMond, "was a personality disorder on display."
What do you do with a problem like Lance? Years ago, the potential for greatness and detachment already was percolating. Amid that buildup in the early 1990s, Linda Armstrong could sense trouble before the climb. She visited the LeMonds in Minnesota because she knew how the business side of glory had ruined Greg's relationship with his father. Linda didn't want to lose her son over the money that he was already earning and the invincibility he was already feeling. He was, after all, billed as The Next Greg LeMond.
The LeMonds wanted to help. They could see Lance was slipping away from reality and into a place absent of empathy. Also in 1994, the same day that Greg had dropped out of the Tour de France before the mountain stage, Lance had placed a call to Kathy at the LeMond's home in Belgium with a taunting, kick-the-champ-to-the-curb request. "It was clear to him that Greg was finished and he said, 'I'd like to rent your house,'" Kathy recalled, stunned because, at that raw point, Greg had not made a decision about his future. "I was like, what are you talking about? That's how sick he is."
Still, the LeMonds sought to find a connection for Lance. They soon invited Lance to take part in the World T.E.A.M. Games in Washington D.C., an event for disabled athletes. Nothing clicked. As Kathy recalls, he felt uncomfortable around the participants. "We came upon him standing in a room by himself," she says. "He wouldn't have any interaction. It made us cry."
What makes Lance cry? The humiliation he caused Luke, perhaps, even if he was late recognizing what trauma he has inflicted on his children. At every stage of the man Lance has become, he talks as if he's the last to know the pain he has caused. He called it a "process" to figure out why his ruthlessness overtook his compassion. He called it a "process" to understand why he became such a bully. A bully pulls your ponytail on a playground. "The guy I really know is even more evil than the guy who showed up with Oprah," says LeMond. "He's more evil than he let on."
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This article originally appeared on roopstigo.com.