PEZ Talk: Betsy Andreu
We have all heard of Betsy Andreu; whistle blower who wouldn’t and couldn’t go against her conscience when she was faced by a mountain of public opinion, money and power. In the end it has been proved she was right all along. We catch-up with Betsy to hear about her life away from the ‘Armstrong Affair’ and what her feelings are now towards the Texan.
It rumbles on, “the Armstrong Affair.”
One of the central characters is Betsy Andreu, wife of ex-Lance team mate, Frankie. We thought it was high time someone asked her some questions about her – not just; ‘what did Lance actually say?’
PEZ: How did you meet Frankie?
Betsy Andreu: A mutual friend asked me if I wanted to go out for pizza with a couple of her friends I didn’t know. I had been madly in love with someone who dumped me a couple of weeks earlier. I was picking up the pieces when I met Frankie. I wasn’t looking for love by any means; I wanted to be alone!
Frankie will tell you it was love at first sight for him. For me, I was skeptical. There was that something, that spark but I was burned and wasn’t going to let that happen again. When I first met him I thought he was cute but gay (“not that there’s anything wrong with that” a la Seinfeld) he was so skinny. I’m happy to report for my sake that he’s not gay.
PEZ: Did you realize what the wife of a professional bike rider was going to be like before you were married – were you aware of the ‘kitting up’ aspect?
I don’t even know what “kitting up” means. I knew nothing about cycling other than who Greg LeMond was. That first time I met Frankie we were all talking about life. He said he lived in Como, Italy because that’s where he worked. I had to press him. “Work? What kind of work?” He said he raced bicycles, clarifying that he raced ’10 speeds’. I asked, “You can make a living doing that?” It was an honest question.
PEZ: How long were you together before USPS began to dominate Le Tour de France?
I met Frankie in 1994 and we married in 1996. He didn’t sign with USPS until 1998.
PEZ: What are the roots of your strong aversion to doping?
You’d have to look into my childhood and the factors that made me the person I am. Having a Slavik background, alcohol was prevalent – pivo (beer) was a given. I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was from a different country. The Greeks had ouzo, the Italians had wine, the Slavs had beer. It was everywhere, not just in the neighborhood but especially in my home. Food and alcohol were offered as a sign of hospitality as well as a stress reliever from my perspective.
I hated it because I saw people act differently after they’d drink (too much of) it. It’s really no different from today where people drink to “take the edge off” if you will. Go for a walk, jog, bike ride – it’s more productive at lowering cortisol levels without the side effects of alcohol. I’ve maybe drunk alcohol five times in my life, first drinking when I was away from home on my spring break trip. I felt lightheaded and tipsy and didn’t enjoy the feeling. I’ve never been drunk; tipsy, however, yes.
My dad put the fear into me about drugs from a young age. When I was in middle school, I tried smoking cigarettes with some of my friends. One of the nosey neighbors saw me and told my dad who went nuts on me. It’s weird because he didn’t have a problem with alcohol – mainly beer which I never took a liking to – but which can be like a drug. Fast forward to high school when I was offered any drug for free if only because I was known to be the one who refused to drink and/or try pot. The more resolute I was the more people wanted me to merely try a drug.
Back then the drugs of choice were pot, ‘shrooms (mushrooms), amphetamines and my peers just couldn’t figure out why in the hell I wouldn’t take something free that would make me feel good. For me the culture of drugs was so bad (I went from eight years of Catholic school to public high school) at this new school that I hated it and finished my junior and senior years of high school at a Catholic school where the culture was extremely different. Sure, you had some burn-outs at the Catholic school but they were far fewer in number than at the public school.
For me it was a completely different environment I liked much better. Even today, I hate how people have to drink to relax or be happy – it’s a real turnoff for me. That’s not a judgement so please don’t get your knickers in a knot. My approach to alcohol is what I learned in Italy; have it to complement a meal – at least that was my experience. Our oldest is 16 and I don’t have a problem with him having a little bit of wine with a meal at home. We were in Italy and at a restaurant in Rome he had an Italian serving of wine (reasonable, not huge like in America) with his pasta amatriciana. Do you see the difference here? It’s about drinking wine to complement a meal as opposed to taking the edge off or getting smashed.
PEZ: What was your relationship like with Lance in the Motorola days?
Lance was my buddy (it’s hard to write that). He had a lot of energy. He and I hit it off the bat right away. I thought it was funny how he made fun of Frankie. The more I laughed the more he did it. Frankie is like the Larry David of cycling in that he complains; be it about the price of something or having to exert effort (walking into town after a hard day on the bike for example), or about waiting for someone or how stupid someone is. He’s a likeable curmudgeon whom Lance would call out. He coined the term “Cranky Frankie” for a reason. Lance was nice to me believe it or not. I’m sure there are some days he wishes he pushed me down the steps in Villefranche.
PEZ: Remind us how the ‘hospital expose’ came about, please.
Aye, aye, aye… again? Doesn’t anyone who will read this already know about the hospital room?
When Lance was in the hospital for cancer treatment, Frankie and I went to visit him. Visiting him at this particular time in the said incident was his then girl friend Lisa (Shiels) Bela, Chris Carmichael and his then girl friend now wife Paige, and Lance’s personal liaison from Oakley Stephanie McIlvain.
The room was too small for a scheduled meeting with a couple of doctors so we went to a conference room. Indiana University is a research hospital – he had different doctors coming in all the time to check on him. When the two doctors/medical staff walked in, I suggested in front of everyone that we should leave to give him his privacy. He said we could stay so then I turned to Frankie and said the same thing. Frankie said, “Lance said we could stay,” so we stayed.
A few banal questions then BOOM! “Have you ever taken performance enhancing drugs?” His response was a nonchalant; “Yeah, cortisone, testosterone, epo, growth hormone, steroids.” That was my introduction to peds [performance enhancing drugs, ed.] into the world of cycling.
PEZ: You discovered Frankie was on the hot sauce and therein lay the end of Frankie’s USPS career?
Well, common sense told me there was something extremely suspicious with his performance in the ’99 Tour pulling at the front up to Sestriere on a mountain stage [Andreu not being known as a great climber. ed.]. Let me say that I had given birth two months before so I was hormonal already. To say I was angry doesn’t begin to describe the rage I felt. My temper let loose with a vengeance on the phone and then back in Nice (our home at the time). He promised me he wouldn’t ever dope again and I believe him. Just look at his results.
Yes, Frankie did wrong but I’m comforted by the fact he became a pro without any drugs, held his own clean the vast majority of his career and ended his career clean. It wasn’t until he was 29 when he first used epo. It wasn’t until he read Dan Coyle and Tyler Hamilton’s book did he come to know the doping that was going on.
PEZ: When did things begin to go sour with Lance?
It depends on which incident you’re talking about. There was one really stupid incident when I hurt his wife’s feelings when I told her a stranger on the internet said she was going to have a nanny. I kid you not. For the record, the nanny was hired before the baby was born. The second incident which was the straw that broke the camel’s back is when Kevin Livingston tattled on me to Lance that I was trying to put David Walsh [Sunday Times journalist was one of the first to expose Armstrong, ed.] in touch with Lisa Shiels, the ‘ex’ from the hospital room. Kevin’s wife and Lisa have a mutual friend in common. To say Kevin had a conniption is an understatement. He completely lost it with me on the phone. I’ve never spoken to his wife since that incident and we were close – or so I thought. Frankie got a nice email from Lance soon thereafter.
PEZ: Remind us why you had to divulge the content of what you heard in the hospital.
This question is a double-edged sword for the apologists who would have had me lie under oath to protect their fraud. SCA Promotions paid Armstrong X amount of money for winning X number of Tours. One of their lawyers picked up David Walsh and Pierre Ballester’s book “LA Confidential” which was published in 2004 and read about this hospital incident.
In the book my official on the record response was “no comment” thinking that in and of itself would answer the question of whether or not it happened. Off the record, however, Frankie, Stephanie (yes, she) and I all told David that incident did indeed happen. Bob Hamman who owns SCA then called us in the fall of 2004. It’s a long story but we were subpoenaed for a deposition. Bob didn’t think he should pay someone who defrauded him of millions. We told the truth about the hospital incident under oath in October 2005. We had gentle reminders from Lance as well as Chris Carmichael that one of Lance’s doctors – who wasn’t even in the room – Craig Nichols, was going to sign an affidavit saying the hospital incident as we know it never happened.
The rest is history.
PEZ: Your moral compass has reminded set steadfastly North through all of this – why?
One thing I’m not is a goody-two-shoe. God knows my sins and the wrong I’ve done and the sins I continue to commit. If I ever ran for public office – which I never would – I’d have someone try to list my indiscretions, which are many. There are those who would like to point out my hypocrisy that as a Christian I should forgive Armstrong et al with open arms and let bygones be bygones. I’ve spoken about this situation with die hard Christians who told me that Jesus doesn’t differentiate between sins i.e. murdering someone is no different than speaking ill of them. That’s fine. I’m not Jesus. As humans, however, we differentiate between types of wrongdoing. Anyway, there are some things where my conviction never wavers be it the breast feeding, drugs, drinking.
From my perspective, doping was cheating and unhealthy. I’m convinced that’s how Lance got his cancer. In 1998, he could have changed the whole thing around. The Festina Affair had just happened which I’d argue scared the crap out of riders and teams strengthening the argument that the peloton was a whole lot cleaner at the next year’s Tour (1999). Instead, Lance took it to a completely new level; not only doping but the corruption within that helped him get away with the doping.
Who else was giving the UCI hundreds of thousands?
Who else had the backing of their federation?
Who else had the backing of their doctors, sponsors, heads of state, their namesake charity which tugged at one’s emotions to support him? And a massive amount of support from fans?
A new era had begun in 1999 and then again in 2001 with Armstrong at the helm. I don’t think you had to dope to compete, but I’d argue you had to dope if you wanted a spot on Armstrong’s Tour team. Shame on Frankie for caving earlier but kudos to him for righting that wrong and even getting fired for not partaking on the doping program. Then you have Bob Hamman who owns SCA. Is it right that he was swindled out of millions? If you were swindled out of money wouldn’t you want someone to help you get it back?
I saw the corruption. There was no place to turn in the beginning – no USADA, no WADA. I thought the entire media was on his side (except for David Walsh who came knocking on my door in 2003). It was wrong for so many reasons. What about the message it sends to up-and-coming clean athletes in all sports? What about the kids? That message gets lost.
PEZ: The ‘Lance Thing’ seems from the outside to be all consuming – how do you find time to live your life, look after your kids, buy the groceries. . .
Armstrong is but a blip in my life. Yes, at one time I was obsessed with telling the truth and worked hard to make sure the truth was known when he was casting aspersions on me and tarnishing my reputation. At that time, I did spend a lot of time working tirelessly just to say I wasn’t lying. That’s screwed up – to have to defend yourself because you told the truth. It took a lot of time away from my children when they were small and that’s time I can never get back. I have a flip phone by choice so when I’m not at my computer, I’m not connected. I’m not at my computer way more than I am at it so it’s pretty easy. If someone wants/needs to talk to me, they call. There’s no nanny here so like millions of other moms who are raising three children plus their husband, the fourth child, so it was a juggling act.
PEZ: What do you like to do when you’re not ‘talking Lance?’
Yell at Frankie and eat bon bons all day. Hello?!
In summer, I spend a lot of time with the kids – they’d argue I’m ‘annoying’ them. I like to go on hikes, explore small towns in Michigan, read and cook – I’m a food snob. I like to go out to eat with girlfriends too. I have piles of laundry that have to be ironed. Sometimes I feel more like a maid than a mom. There are a lot of moms who feel that way. Michigan football season (University of Michigan my alma mater) is coming up so my Saturdays will be busy. A year and a half ago I took it upon myself to have my son’s high school be the first school in the state of Michigan to sign USADA’s TrueSport pledge which is an initiative geared towards children in school. It’s about competing clean and with integrity. They were all on board and then nothing happened. I’m going back to the school again because this is important and it’s a no-brainer. Sure, everything starts at home but if that don’t-cut-corners-to-win mentality is nurtured at school. I think it makes what is learned at home that much more impactful.
Last l year I embarked on having a very honest and open dialogue with the parents of our son’s school on race. Given our son goes to a school where half the kids are black and half the kids are white I saw a need to have a no-holds barred conversation on race. I initiated this, bringing it up to another parent but nothing happened so I’m taking it upon myself with the school to hopefully have something happen where completely honest dialogue occurs without insults being hurled from each side. These two initiatives take time and it’s hard to get something like this done when you have to rely on other people. But I’ll still try.
PEZ: You were meant to meet Lance, post Oprah but he called off – what would you have said to him?
I had a feeling that he was going to chicken out, hence, my emails to him making sure he’d meet. That’s one of the reasons I agreed to go to Austin for the anti-doping forum. (University of Texas Austin had an anti-doping forum which included me,the LeMonds, Bill Bock USADA’s legal counsel, and Reed Albergotti from the WSJ in April of 2013). Funny but sad on how afraid he was to meet with me. When he refused to meet with me, we went back and forth via text and I told him he didn’t have to talk about anything that would put him in trouble. I had made copies of photos of our children as babies when we lived in Nice that I wanted to give him as a good will gesture. All I wanted him to do was look in my eyes and I look in his. I wanted him to see that although he wanted my head on a platter I was extending the olive branch. Instead, he broke it and has been continuing on his path of relentless lies.
PEZ: Lance apart, did you lose many friends through the affair?
Yes, I did lose friends but I suppose those weren’t friends to begin with. The only “friends” I lost were in cycling. I got a lot of flak from people within the family who wanted to me shut up and let it go. I was blamed, if you can believe it, for Frankie losing work, for “not letting it go”. Let me just say the only one of our parents to offer emotional and mental support was my mom. Not having the backing of your own family was like putting salt on a wound. On a positive note, however, I have some wonderful friends who were there to support me and Frankie whether they talked to David Walsh for his research or signing an affidavit for USADA. They will forever and always be my truest friends in every sense of the word. A positive outcome is some of the friends I have made. Kathy LeMond has become one of my closest friends because of it.
PEZ: How would you like to see the ‘Lance affair’ end?
Ideally, I really think he should be in prison. That said, once this is adjudicated and the truth of my story is out there it’ll be over and done forever and I’ll not be compelled to respond to his endless lies.
How he ends up is up to him.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.