Is Greg LeMond a crusader out to save cycling or one massively bitter maniac?
Credit: Gabriel Bouys / AFP / Getty Images
Only about eight people know for sure what happened in a certain Indiana cancer ward on October 27, 1996, the supposed date of Armstrong's alleged hospital room confession. Armstrong watchers, cycling obsessives, and conspiracy theorists have argued about it, analyzed it, and blogged it to death, and no one would be surprised if it were to reemerge in LeMond's suit against Trek, triggering a new flood of gossip.

The issue first came to light in the 2004 French book 'L.A. Confidentiel,' written by David Walsh, based on his London Times piece. Drawing on interviews with former teammates and support staff – and the LeMonds, who are thanked in the credits – Walsh alleges that Armstrong had used performance-enhancing substances both before and after he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996. "I don't know how long [Lance] can continue to convince everybody of his innocence," LeMond told a French daily in July 2004, on the publication of 'L.A. Confidentiel' (Walsh updated the book and published it in English as 'From Lance to Landis' in 2007).

Though she's not named as the source, it later emerged that Betsy Andreu, wife of former Armstrong friend and teammate Frankie Andreu, told Walsh that in October 1996, she and her husband were present in Armstrong's hospital room when he told doctors he had used EPO, human growth hormone, and testosterone. Others there that day denied Armstrong had said any such thing, including Armstrong's doctor, his coach, and a rep for Oakley sunglasses named Stephanie McIlvain, who worked with Armstrong and had also worked with LeMond. But the allegations led to a legal dispute between Armstrong and a company called SCA Promotions, which had promised a $5 million bonus if Armstrong won a sixth Tour. When Armstrong won a sixth time, SCA withheld the payment until an investigation could be completed.

LeMond was not in the room that day, but he ended up advising SCA and looking into the incident on his own. In 2002 he surreptitiously recorded a phone call with McIlvain, with whom he hadn't spoken in years. "You're not taping this, are you, Greg?" she asks jokingly on the recording (which is available online). "No, no," he says, before leading her circuitously to the subject of the hospital room. "I was in that room," she says. "I heard it. I definitely won't lie."

But McIlvain later testified that she hadn't heard Armstrong admit to using any performance drugs. The LeMond tape was inadmissible as evidence, in part because recordings obtained without the subject's consent are illegal in California, where McIlvain lives. Reached by phone, McIlvain declined to comment.

"Why would an icon of world sports do that?" Armstrong wonders about LeMond's stealth recordings. "If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did that to Michael Jordan, we would think he was the craziest guy alive!"

"The police suggested I start taping conversations," LeMond counters. "I felt really afraid, and not just financially. That period was not a fun period."

SCA president Bob Hamman says LeMond's comments and testimony "pretty much convinced us we should pursue the case" against Armstrong. But in the end, SCA ended up settling, in February 2006, for $5 million, plus another $2.5 million in interest and fees. Despite the parade of witnesses, the arbitrators never ruled on whether or not Armstrong had doped.