Yet on balance Armstrong's rise helped LeMond, by spurring interest in cycling to unprecedented levels. Sales of his road bikes jumped from less than $8 million in '98 to more than $15 million, where it's stayed until recently. It also benefited LeMond Fitness, which makes stationary bicycles and accessories. "I had everything to gain from him winning the Tour," LeMond says. "But I couldn't support him."
The reason, he says, dates back to the 2000 Tour, when his former mechanic Julian DeVriese, who'd gone to work for Armstrong, told him that Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team was experimenting with some sort of superior blood-doping product, more powerful than EPO, that cleared out of an athlete's body within 48 hours and was thus undetectable. "'This isn't cycling anymore,'" LeMond testified that DeVriese had told him. It was competitive pharmacology. ("Absolutely, 100 percent not true," Armstrong says; DeVriese later signed an affidavit denying he'd said any such thing.)
LeMond says he was devastated. All of a sudden it made sense why he couldn't seem to finish the Tour after 1991, and why his old teammate Philippe Casado had left for an Italian team that reputedly had an EPO program – and then died at age 30.
LeMond had had a squeaky-clean reputation as a racer, and in 1988, he quit his team when a teammate tested positive for testosterone. Even so, a whisper campaign alleging that he, too, used drugs during his career started around the time he first came to blows with Armstrong and continues online to this day. The case against LeMond goes something like this: He always used the most advanced cycling equipment. He was also a serious student of training and nutrition. Wouldn't such an "early adopter" be drawn to a new miracle substance such as EPO? Especially if it hadn't yet been banned from cycling? (EPO was officially forbidden in 1990 but couldn't be reliably tested for until 2001.)
"What pissed me off about Lance's accusations was his idea that my comeback was a 'miracle,'" LeMond says. "Was I on a doping program at 15? When I was 16, I was the best bike rider in the United States."
Others point to his final time trial in 1989, when he made up a 50-second deficit to leader Laurent Fignon in just 15 miles, ripping through the course at 34 mph and setting a Tour de France time-trial record that stood for 16 years – well into the EPO era. It's still the third-fastest long time trial ever, surpassing all of Armstrong's blazing-fast rides. Then there was the incident from the Giro d'Italia in that same year, when LeMond was struggling. In front of a VeloNews reporter, LeMond received three injections – of iron, he insists, nothing illegal. Nevertheless, his performance improved dramatically.
LeMond is launching into a long, complicated analysis of VO2 max, genetics, and aerodynamic handlebars when Kathy interrupts. "I think the one thing that's indicative that you weren't on the forefront of EPO is that you fell off the map!" she says. "You were beating your head against the wall!"
To that her husband has nothing to add.