Belfast Telegraph

How gutsy Betsy Andreu put a spoke in Tour de France cheat Lance Armstrong's wheel

By Mike Gilson

Betsy Andreu. What a gal! Just two words to her name, but mention them to any professional cyclist from the dark doping days of the Tour de France and the power of them will send shivers down their spines.

You see Betsy is a superhero. A feisty, gutsy American dame who took on a corrupted, testosterone-fuelled, male-dominated sport and beat it hands down.

That it is cleaner today is primarily down to the pretty-on-the-outside, tough-as-old-boots- on-the-inside Betsy.

She didn't need to inject dodgy substances into her veins to perform better. Driven by a simple sense of what is right and what is wrong, she won the race for cycling's soul because she was even braver than the clean men who pedal up mountains for a living.

I'd only vaguely heard of her until last week, when two fantastic films about the downfall of seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong were shown on TV.

The story of the cheating, bullying Armstrong is one of the most dramatic narratives of modern times. Armstrong lied and lied right out in the open.

He was doped to the eyeballs when he won his seven Tours and even before that, as a young sportsman, he cheated to win his races.

No matter about his genuinely heroic battle against cancer, he was, and frankly, because of his only half-acceptance of the full magnitude of his wrongs, still is, rotten to the core.

While he mingled with celebrities and presidents and bathed in the adorations of millions, a small group of truth-seekers led by Betsy, but including cyclists and journalists like Irishman David Walsh, were trying to get their voices heard.

In both documentaries the bravery and determination of Betsy Andreu shines like a beacon. She and her husband Frankie, who was on Armstrong's US Postal Service team when they began their domination of the Tour, were originally good friends with the Texan. From the start the team's success was achieved by injecting illegal substances that gave them an unfair advantage.

When Betsy found out that Frankie was joining in the fun, she went bonkers. Ballistic Betsy would be some sight.

A chastened Frankie left the team and cleaned up. He's been careful not to get on the wrong side of her ever since.

But remember those times. An alpha male symbol of the American Dream and cancer survivor winning the Tour, millions of pounds flooding into cycling, a governing body which was either useless, or connived in the corruption of the sport, and a public holding on for a hero. All these things were ranged against Betsy.

Armstrong would bad mouth her in public, calling her a "fat, ugly liar", bit by bit supporters who were weaker than her dropped away, but she stuck to her guns for more than 10 years.

Testosterone was in the ether in the sport, not just illegally injected to power performance, and few male cyclists had the gumption to challenge the biggest gorillas in the jungle. It was one big, dangerous charabanc powered by omerta.

At any time, the 47-year-old, with a name as American as apple pie, but with her parents' Eastern European obstinacy running in her veins, could have given up, but didn't.

In the end, this pocket battleship won and the Armstrong myth came toppling down. Without her, we would still be living a lie.

Even now she won't let Armstrong backslide on his guilt, as the films show he is want to do. And she is continuing her campaign against drugs in sport.

Betsy Andreu, you are one heck of a woman.

  • Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph

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