I've been having these dreams. Covid dreams. Sorry, have I mentioned them before? I'm on the road. Travelling. Familiar faces. Strange events. But not recently. Not Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday. Not one dream. Not one restful night. Just tossing and turning and swearing and angst:
Some days are forever engraved in your mind, like the last Wednesday of April, 2016. Another bad night. Tossing. Turning. Thinking. I wake at seven, shower and change - jeans, blue jacket, white shirt - and take a bus from Montreux to Vevey. There's a small café near the station. I grab a coffee and an almond croissant and arrive at the courthouse at 8:45. What am I doing in Switzerland?
It's where Hein Verbruggen lives.
Hein doesn't care for me, and I don't much care for him. In 2011, he took umbrage at an interview I did with Floyd Landis, and some comments I made to L'Equipe about his relationship with Lance Armstrong, and he's been chasing me through the Swiss courts ever since.
I've got two large ring-binders heaving with correspondence from his blue-chip lawyers in Lausanne. It's my second trip to the courthouse in a year (flight to Geneva, train to Montreux, dinner, hotel) and it doesn't come cheap. So it's fair to say I'm not enjoying it, but it's just a game to him.
He's sitting with his lawyer on the left side of the room when I enter the courthouse. It's a public hearing and I look around, expecting to see some journalists or a camera, but the place is almost deserted. Twenty-six years have passed since Rough Ride was published. Four years have passed since Lance went down. The moment hits like a kick in the crotch.
Nobody fucking cares.
The hearing is an absolute shambles. Hein calls six of his pals as 'witnesses' and they sit like nodding dogs, parroting the same lines about my negative views on the sport and the pain I've inflicted on the greatest leader the UCI has ever had. The nub of my case - the whitewash of Armstrong's positive test for cortisone at the Tour de France in 1999 - is never addressed. Because it never happened.
Here's Verbruggen in 2011: "Lance Armstrong has never used doping. Never. Never. Never."
Here's McQuaid in 2014: "The fact of the matter is that Armstrong was never positive. He was treated the same as everyone else."
And I'm done up like a kipper. Here's the report in The Irish Times a month after the hearing: "Left vulnerable after a legal fund to support him was stolen, journalist and former pro rider Paul Kimmage has lost a libel case taken against him by former UCI president Hein Verbruggen. Kimmage tweeted images on Friday of the ruling from the court in Vevey, Switzerland. It came exactly a month after the hearing.
According to the judgement, he must pay libel damages of 12,000 Swiss francs (€10,900) to Verbruggen, as well as various legal costs. These include the costs of another former UCI president, Pat McQuaid, plus the UCI. All three had launched legal action against Kimmage in January 2012, although only Verbruggen ultimately persisted.
"The action followed articles printed in The Sunday Times, L'Equipe and the American cycling website NYVelocity, in which Kimmage questioned their behaviour in relation to anti-doping and disgraced rider Lance Armstrong. Rather than suing the publications concerned, they targeted Kimmage, who had just lost his job with The Sunday Times."
Here's McQuaid in The Outer Line in 2017: "There were even accusations that we were in collusion with the dopers, but all of that was rubbish, and it was eventually disproven in the courts. However, this didn't get almost any coverage in the media. I would have to say that I think too many journalists write stories about doping and accuse UCI of failing to do this, that, or the other thing without ever actually coming to Aigle and sitting down with the UCI to see our side of the story as well."
Here's Callum Murray in an interview with Verbruggen a month before he died: "Verbruggen has a formidable record of going to court to defend his reputation. Last year he won costs of SFr12,000 in a lawsuit against Sunday Times journalist and former rider Paul Kimmage, with the judge in a Swiss court prohibiting Kimmage from claiming that Verbruggen knowingly tolerated doping, hid controls, is dishonest, did not behave responsibly, did not apply the same rules for all, and did not pursue Armstrong after he had provided the ante-dated TUE certificate (in 1999)."
Here's a tribute to Verbruggen from McQuaid: "He was a very proud man and this is reflected in the way he defended himself regularly when he believed people misrepresented the situation, and made untrue accusations against him and/or the UCI. The fact is that he won those cases and appeals . . . It is easy for a whistleblower to come out with a statement that UCI hid this or that but the evidence proves otherwise."
But what if Swiss law was an ass?
Here's Charles Pelkey, a former American journalist, talking to Marina Zenovich in her new documentary on Lance: "Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid looked the other way when it was pretty obvious that Armstrong had been doping."
Here's what happens when she asks McQuaid: "There were media complaints that . . . emm . . . Lance was . . . ehhh . . . (shuffles uncomfortably in the chair) . . . he was a favoured rider of Hein's and was helping the sport become a global sport. And so Hein at that time would have thought Lance was, you know, a great star and . . . emmm (swallows) that he was good for the sport."
Here's what happens when she puts the question to Lance: "The question is how much did you have Hein Verbruggen in your pocket . . . there's a lot of different ways to answer that - financially, zero. Did Hein - and he's no longer with us to answer this question himself - but do I believe that Hein wanted to protect the sport? Yes. Protect me? Yes, because that protects the sport.
"He was coming off the back of Festina (the Festina doping scandal in '98); the world is following the story of this cancer survivor and then 'Bam!', the headline, cortisone found in his urine sample."
Here's the small American news clip from the '99 Tour that she cuts to next: "A number of publications including a leading French sports journal have insinuated that Armstrong is on performance enhancing drugs. That a cancer survivor could not possibly be strong enough to lead the world's toughest bike race."
Here's what happens when she cuts back to Lance: "There was a sample that came back that had traces of a particular type of cortisone which I had taken intramuscularly (cue syringe entering a thigh). That type of cortisone was available a lot of different ways; you could inject it . . . you could have eye drops . . . you could have a nasal spray or you could have a cream: 'He's using a cream for saddle sores!' And Hein just (mimics Verbruggen washing his hands) . . . That's it!'"
I rewind the clip and watch it again and again. It's the pivotal moment in the Armstrong lie because if Verbruggen flags the violation, and nails Armstrong for the positive test, it's over before it begins. There's no fairytale. Lance never wins the Tour and the sport is in a better place. But he didn't. And it's dead.