'Lance Armstrong is a bully. I could not let him win,' says whistle-blower Betsy Andreu
She has suffered six years of personal hell, having her reputation, her emotions and even her weight ridiculed. But the more Lance Armstrong attacked her, the more Betsy Andreu stayed firm.
The more Armstrong attacked her husband Frankie, the angrier she became. And, as the rest of the world discovered the breathtaking extent of Armstrong’s deception, she was finally vindicated.
Her response was to cry. Then she put on a CD of a favourite song, listened to it over and over again, and cried some more.
It was the end of an ordeal that had begun in 1996, when she had been in a hospital room with Armstrong as he told doctors that he had taken an array of performance-enhancing drugs including EPO, testosterone, growth hormone and cortisone.
Armstrong made the confession because he had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was about to undergo surgery. Andreu had been present because her fiancé (now husband) Frankie was a professional cyclist and one of Armstrong’s most valued team-mates.
For several years, the confession was known only to the six people who heard it. But when Andreu, who was so fiercely opposed to drug-taking that she had told Frankie she would not marry him if she found he had doped, helped to make the story public, she was subjected to sustained abuse and bullying by Armstrong and those around him, who sustained the myth of his heroism until it was so dramatically exposed over the past few weeks.
Other cyclists’ wives have been accused of being complicit in the drugs culture: Tyler Hamilton claimed his former wife, Haven, would tip him off when the drug-testers had arrived; Armstrong’s ex-wife Kristin is said to have babysat the EPO in their fridge, calling it “butter”, but Betsy was one of the few people on the inside who expressed opposition to doping. “I was that nagging wife: I kept nagging Frankie 'you better not do that s---, it is so stupid’.”
As a result, Frankie and his team-mates kept their doping secret; it was many years before she realised they had been lying to her.
Betsy is a sparky woman, the daughter of a Serbian jeweller and a Slovakian librarian. She grew up in Michigan and met Frankie in April 1994 over a pizza. He was a lanky cyclist with a sweet smile living in Como, Italy. She was preparing to open an Italian-themed coffee shop.
Two months later Frankie introduced her to Armstrong. “I thought this guy is the epitome of a Texan: loud, brash and really fun,” Betsy Andreu told Telegraph Sport this week.
Frankie was best friends with Lance, and Betsy became close to him, too. Then came the hospital admission that would change their lives. She remembers it clearly – and what she said to Frankie. “I told him I am not f------ marrying you if you are doing that s---.
“It boggles my mind he has been able to get away with this huge con job. It was common sense to me that drugs cause cancers. But Frankie said to me, 'I will prove to you I am not doing all that stuff’. He tried to reassure me but I was hesitant to believe everything. It was a very big fight.”
Betsy and Frankie married two months later. “I married him even though I felt some doubt. I thought it might be just Lance. He’s big, loud and brash. Frankie is different and even Frankie’s grandma had told me Frankie hasn’t that desire to win at all costs. I just thought, 'OK that’s Lance’s thing, that’s what he’s doing. What he did in 1996, hopefully that was isolated’.”
But in 1999, she found a Thermos of EPO in Frankie’s fridge. She would later recount: “I thought it was best for him to get off Lance’s team. Frankie promised me he would not use EPO anymore. Frankie then refused to go on the extensive doping programme written for most of his team-mates by [disgraced doctor] Michele Ferrari. Indeed Frankie’s refusal to follow Ferrari’s methods meant he was cast off the team in 2000.”
The relationship with Armstrong became even more bitter as he sought to persuade her to sign a false statement, denying the hospital confession had taken place.
“The more dismissed I got, the more Frankie got dismissed in cycling and when it affects Frankie, it affects me,’’ Betsy said. “Frankie didn’t try and stifle me, he respected me to be the vocal person. You have to do the right thing, imagine if I had lied, how would my reputation be now?”
Prompted by his wife, Frankie admitted doping. That was when the harassment and attempted intimidation by Armstrong ramped up. In an email, Armstrong warned Frankie he should keep Betsy quiet: “By helping to bring me down is not going to help y’alls situation at all. There is a direct link to all of our success here. I suggest you remind her of that,” Armstrong wrote.
Armstrong ridiculed Betsy at every opportunity. "The worst day was in 2006 when my deposition [about the hospital evidence] was leaked and Frankie had left that day to go to France so I was left here alone,” she said. “I was being described by Lance as fat and ugly. That doesn’t matter, but the crux of the matter is people believed him that I was crazy and unhinged and they just bumped me.
“But it didn’t put pressure on our marriage. The pressure was on Frankie and on his jobs drying up. It wasn’t going to break us, in fact it made us stronger.
“We had to make a decision as a family whether to be on the Lance Armstrong financial gravy train or tighten our belts and have peace of mind within. Frankie is a fabulous saver, he is quite frugal and Lance would chide him for being cheap. We just cut back on everything, we couldn’t spend.’’
Now Andreu can enjoy the afterglow of having been right, news which has even reached her children’s school playground.
“A girl in my son’s class was wearing a yellow bracelet and another boy said to her, 'Do you know what a cheat that guy is?’ and she took it off voluntarily. My message is that if you give in to peer pressure you can still redeem yourself. If you do wrong, you can then make a choice to do right. My story is that you can stand up to a bully. Don’t let the bully win, never let the bully win.’’
By Jacquelin Magnay Telegraph.co.uk