Photo by Eric Kriel
He's ridden in two Olympic Games and nine Tour De France races, but perhaps the biggest footnote of Frankie Andreu's professional cycling career will be the role he and his wife, Betsy, played in helping to expose the culture of doping in the sport. For almost a decade, Betsy openly challenged her husband's former friend and teammate, Lance Armstrong, over his use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Armstrong defended himself by trashing the couple's reputation, and Andreu's career took a hit.
A year after Armstrong finally admitted to doping through his (now-stripped) seven tour victories, the Andreus find themselves on the upside of the story. Andreu, who now works full-time as the team director for 5-Hour ENERGY Pro Cycling, comes to town Feb. 1 to speak at the Richmond Endurance Athlete Symposium and Expo at the Westin Richmond. For more information on the event, visit richmondendurancesymposium.com .
RM: You raced through Richmond in the 1994 Tour DuPont — do you have any lingering memories of your ride here?
FA: I do remember definitely coming through Richmond. There was a parking garage that had people on every level — they were all over the place cheering for us. We also had to go up this cobbled climb, kind of in the middle of the city. It was a steep, hard, cobbled climb. From what I remember from racing there in Richmond it was a tough circuit. It was hard, but it was the spectators that made the event. It was fantastic.
RM: You'll be here to help support the UCI World Road Cycling Championships coming to Richmond in 2015. What do you think about Richmond as the site for a major cycling event like this?
FA: To be able to bring it to the United States is monumental. The last time the Worlds have been in the U.S. was in 1986, in Colorado Springs. It's very far in between when it comes over. The spectators, the community, the endurance [sports] focus — from my time there in Richmond, they seem very supportive, which is a huge part of having a successful event.
RM: Do you expect it to have any lasting effect on cycling in the United States?
FA: It should bring a lot of exposure to this elite level of cycling and bring a lot of exposure to the "new" cycling — the new sport in stead of the "old" sport, which has been in the headlines. There are a lot of good, young Americans that are doing very well and are becoming some of the top professionals in the world. The economic benefit is there also. You're going to have the Belgians, the Swiss, the Italians — people look forward to the world championships all year. They're all going to fly in and stay in hotels and eat at the restaurants. I think it's a great opportunity for Richmond to show off itself.
RM: As a preview to your remarks here next month, what message do you hope to leave with endurance athletes in Richmond?
FA: My current job right now is I manage the 5-Hour ENERGY Pro Cycling team. With the Richmond Symposium, I'm coming to talk about about mental strategies to doing well in endurance events.
I've ridden the [Tour De France] nine times, and there are a lot of mental struggles when you're trying to get over the mountains. When you have a big challenge ahead of you, don't look at it in the larger picture. Break it down into smaller segments so that you're able to handle it and process it easier — so that you're not overwhelmed. If I ride the Tour De France, I get this book with 21 days of [maps] of all these mountains. I can't look at all that stuff. It's overwhelming — you just get discouraged by it. So, you know, take it one day at a time to try to get through that.
Another thing that a lot of people don't realize when they're out there competing: The guys in the first group who are up the road in front of you are suffering, and they're suffering sometimes just as much as you are, even though you might be in the last group. The difference at certain points is your genetic makeup or your physical fitness, but that degree of suffering and being able to mentally push through and be strong is the same. That's something that a lot of weekend warriors or amateur athletes should recognize — mentally, they're as tough as some of the top professionals.
RM: In 2006, you admitted to a New York Times reporter that you briefly used EPO [erythropoietin, to boost the body's red blood cells] while training for the 1999 Tour De France. You've run the full spectrum from the act to the confession. What would you to tell ambitious athletes who are considering a similar bargain to boost their own performance?
FA: Obviously, my number one reaction would be don't do it. Those decisions will come back to bite you. If it's cheating, it will come back to get you in sanctions. Also, there's the health risks that are involved in it. I hope most people don't get put into a situation where they feel like they don't have a choice. It shouldn't even be an option.
That's a big reason why I came forward. People complain, "Why are you digging in the past?" And the point is to prove that you might think you're getting away with something or taking a shortcut, but eventually people know. Testing catches up to yo u . It's not worth letting down your friends, your family, your colleagues. If people think they can get away with it, then the next group coming up is going to say, well, this guy was doing all this stuff and he never got caught, so I'm going to do the same thing. All of a sudden it trickles down to where we had juniors taking PEDs because they thought it was common, it was OK and that was they only way they were going to be able to make it into the pro ranks. We've seen that with other sports, with baseball and football, where it trickles down into ranks below.
RM: Although she's not a pro cyclist, your wife, Betsy, played a vocal and active role in challenging the culture of doping in professional cycling — as well as Lance Armstrong specifically. Would your own actions have been different without her conscience on your shoulder?
FA: Yes, my actions would have been different without her on my wing, for sure. When I came out [admitting to EPO use] she was by my side and encouraging that. That was a big part of it. And she has been very vocal. And over the past 10 years there have been plenty of arguments between us with me complaining maybe she's been too vocal, because I was still trying to make my living in the sport of cycling. Armstrong was just out to completely ruin me, so it was hard doing business in the sport of cycling. It was a very tough balance there. But she was determined to clear her name and to prove that both of us didn't lie about what went on in that hospital room [when Armstrong admitted PED use to his doctors in 1996] and everything else that went on. To that, I give her credit and to that, many times I knew what she was doing and I supported her. I might not have been the vocal one, but I supported her in what she was doing in trying to bring out the truth.
She — I don't want to say single-handedly — but she stood up to Lance and did not want to bend to the pressure that he was putting on her and the bad names and trying to ruin her reputation, and mine. Because of that, the truth has been exposed about what went on back then. That has put a lot more pressure on the governing bodies and other cyclists that the old ways aren't accepted anymore She's been a big proponent in working with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to clean up the sport of cycling. Hopefully, that trickles down other sports, that they learn from this.
RM: What are you doing personally to promote a cleaner sport?
I'm very vocal with my team, and with the riders on my team. I encourage them to be very vocal to any of their clients — a lot of them have coaching businesses.
RM: Do you think that real change is happening in cleaning up the sport, or is it still mostly lip service?
I think we're beyond lip service. The devastation of Floyd Landis, with his positive [tests for PEDs], of Tyler Hamilton and, of course, Lance, has been a major wrecking ball coming into the sport of cycling. To clarify, a lot of what's coming out is stuff that happened 10 or 12 years ago, and since then, there's been a lot of changes — definitely from the media side of things, from the [team] management side, from riders. In all of those aspects, it's definitely a cleaner sport. Recently, now that we've gotten rid of the crooked management of [Pat] McQuaid, [former president of Union Cycliste Internationale], that's the last critical step in being able to have, let's say, smoother sailing with cleaning things up. It's not accepted and tolerated anymore. If somebody sees or hears something, they'll jump all over you. Before, they just turned a blind eye.