Kimmage tries hard not to become ‘the story’

Drugs in sport threw up another controversy today, this time with sports journalist Paul Kimmage at the centre of a row at a press conference for the latest stage in the comeback of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong

Fans of multiple SJA Sports Journalism award-winner Paul Kimmage will want to see his report in this week’s Sunday Times, after a stand-off between him and seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, pictured, at a press conference today for the Tour of California.

After the confrontation, Kimmage told the somewhat bemused American reporters that he had no intention of becoming the story.

Kimmage writes on cycling and drugs from an informed basis, having been a Tour de France domestique in the 1980s, an experience which has coloured his approach to sports reporting, particularly on doping matters. Kimmage’s book, Rough Ride remains a must-read for anyone who wants to understand about why sports competitors, particularly cyclists, resort to banned drugs.

Kimmage’s views on Armstrong are very clear: in a radio interview late last year he referred to Armstrong as “the cancer in cycling”, saying that the rider’s own illness was “the cloak that he hides behind all the time”.

Armstrong has never tested positive for any banned drugs, although has regularly been subject of speculation. A controversial book on the subject by Kimmage’s colleague, David Walsh, LA Confidentiel, was never published in English, although a write-off report in the Sunday Times led to legal action, an apology and settlement.

Ahead of his comeback, Armstrong had said that he would conduct his racing and training while subject to a drug-testing programme more stringent than anything imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency. However, this week, Prof Don Catlin, who was to supervise the Armstrong testing, announced that he was withdrawing from the scheme.

This week, Kimmage travelled to Sacramento seeking a one-on-one interview with Armstrong, who after a four-year retirement is making a comeback to pro cycling, with the aim of raising funds for his cancer charity. When Armstrong and his PRs refused Kimmage an interview, the Sunday Times man’s only opportunity to access the rider was at the press conference.

At today’s press conference, Kimmage chose to question Armstrong about his apparently relaxed attitude on the return of “non-repentant” dopers Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis.

“You’ve spoke recently about the return of Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis, who have returned after their suspensions, compared to David Millar – that they should be welcomed back like he was. But there was one obvious difference in that Millar admitted his doping whereas these guys have admitted to nothing,” Kimmage said.

“What is it about these guys that you seem to admire so much?”

Armstrong is renowned for knowing by name everyone in the cycling press pack and keenly remembering what they may have written about him in the past. “Lance’s very media savvy,” one US colleague advises. “He keeps score.”

At the press conference, according to somewhat astonished reports in the American media, Kimmage had spoken only a word or two before Armstrong said, “Paul?”

Kimmage had been spotted.

“When I decided to come back,” Armstrong said, “for what I think is a very noble reason, you said, ‘The cancer has been in remission for four years, our cancer has now returned’ – meaning me, that I am the cancer.

“So it goes without saying, no we are not going to sit down for an interview. You are not worth the chair you are sitting on with a statement like that, with a disease that touches everyone around the world.”

In answering Kimmage’s question, Armstrong said, “You have to consider what has happened to David Millar, who I admire a lot and who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Is it heroic that he has now confessed? Some would say so. I applaud him that he is back and I hope that he is very successful.

“Floyd, on the other hand, there is a lot of evidence against him and there is a lot of evidence in his favour. Floyd does not believe he is guilty, so to appease people like you he can’t confess.”

Armstrong was clearly still very angered by Kimmage’s cancer comments. “I’m not sure I will ever forgive you for that statement. And I’m not sure that anybody around the world affected by this disease will forgive you.”

Kimmage did not get his interview. But will we see tomorrow whether he got his story? “You don’t have a patent on cancer,” he told Armstrong. “I’m interested in the cancer of doping in cycling. That has been my life’s work. I raced as a professional and I exposed it. Then you come along and the problem disappears.”

Click here for the Kimmage archive at Times Online

Watch the Armstrong response here on YouTube , and then watch Kimmage’s explanation by clicking here

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