Sunday, 1 March 2015

Interview with Emma O' Reilly - The Race To Truth (Part One)

You don't often to get the opportunity to talk to someone who was has been in the epicentre of a global media circus.  If you followed the fall from grace of Lance Armstrong, you'll know the name Emma O' Reilly  The former soigneur to Armstrong was a pivotal figure in his now famous downfall, someone on the inside who saw the inner workings of the US Postal team up to her departure in 2000.

Last year O' Reilly published a book detailing her side of the Armstrong affair, I recently caught up with her after reading the book. There were some things that stood out with me as interesting which would be good to gain some further insight on.

The interview comes in two parts, the first part can be found below: -

PJ = Phil Jones
EOR = Emma O' Reilly
LA = Lance Armstrong

PJ - So, the big thing that smacks you in the eyes as you open the book up is that Lance Armstrong has written the foreword.  After all he had done.  In your darkest hours, when you were faced with vitriolic hate from LA, he called you a whore and an alcoholic, did you ever imagine there would be a time when you would have a book and LA would have written the foreword?

EOR - "No, never.  In my darkest hours I wasn't thinking that far ahead, it was more about getting through the latest version of whatever he might have launched at me, I never thought I would do a book anyway.  I never thought that him and I would ever, ever  sit in a room together again, nor did I want to.  

Why would I want to spend time with somebody who called me those names?   Especially when the accusations were so untrue.  No one - at the time - seemed to point out that he didn't call me a liar directly, the most obvious thing to do would have been to call me a liar, but he never called me a liar."

PJ - Where did the idea for the book come from?  At what point did you say, I've got to do a book?

EOR - "I never ever said I've got to do a book, in fairness, it would never have been my intention to do a book.  I was offered all sorts of opportunities like films and  documentaries when it all came out that I was telling the truth, the book was offered to me initially in October 2012 but it didn't interest me.  

Around a year later I met Giles from Transworld, offers for books had continued to come forward and by then I'd had enough time to start forgiving Lance.  By this stage, I didn't want to do a sports book, I wanted a human book and Transworld were prepared to go with me on that one.  If didn't want a book about hate, I wanted a book which described the journey and also to put the side of the riders.  

For someone who wasn't a rider to say here's the situation the lads were in, they're not baddies, they're not drug addicts they're not pure cheaters.  Yes they cheated, but the bottom line was they cheated or went home. 

Sometimes good people do bad things, I wanted to get away from all the hate and the nonsense, I wanted the human story put out there.  We're all human.  I came from the inside to the outside, so I could give all angles of the story so that people could hear everything, then decide."

PJ - Another thing that I thought reading the book was about David Walsh.  He was a big part of the whole story, but as the book unravels, your opinion of him begins to subside and - at one point - you describe him as 'devious'.  How would you sum up your relationship with David Walsh now?

EOR - "It's non-existent now.  I put the book out to let other people make the decisions, I wanted it to be nuanced, that was important to me.  It's a shame because David and I have been through this journey together and - in all fairness - he didn't know that Lance was going to be quite so angry and quite so aggressive.  

But, he's a journalist and I'm not, he did give me the impression that other people were going to speak out and other names were mentioned.  If those names had come forward, so much pressure would have been off me. He pushed the envelope to get the job done but I would still give him the interview again because I thought he was the best vehicle to constructively get the story out that there's a really really corrupt system going on that exploits bike riders and puts them in a position that they shouldn't be in.  

It's less about the riders, more the sport but unfortunately David made it more about Lance than I originally thought he was going to make it.  The intention was to get out there that was something corrupt going on, from the top down."

PJ - At the point when the book L.A. Confidential same out, there were lots of times when you needed to speak to David and your calls simply weren't getting answered. It read like you were hung out to dry.  Did you feel let down and manipulated?

EOR - "I guess a bit but I was naive.  I was idealistic and I'm not from that world.  Don't  get me wrong David was under an awful lot of pressure, most journalists haven't been under that sort of pressure.  I guess I was some ordinary person in the middle of this huge storm, both of us were in uncharted waters but I didn't have the Sunday Times office to go into, their lawyers to speak to or an editor to speak to.  David had to be my support system but it didn't really happen how I thought it would."

PJ - Your book unravels the complex relationships that at times exist between the team management and the riders.  Johan Bruyneel is a big part of the story and, if this was a Christmas panto, he'd be casted as the villain who everyone would boo when he came on stage.  He seemed to be a bully, highly controlling, a meglomaniac at times.  In this entire affair, he has had the spotlight on him but perhaps nowhere near as bright as Lance Armstong.  What's your opinion about that?

EOR - "Johan isn't Lance.  Lance is Lance.  He started Livestrong, has his 3.5M followers etc.  Johan - with all due respect to him - is a Director, he's a coach/manager/director and in all fairness taking away the USADA report he's probably one of the most successful Director Sportifs ever.  In many ways, his back is against the wall more than Lance.  

Lance is against a different wall due to the many sponsorship and other lawsuits he faces.  Lance will come back, he will re-invent himself.  Johan has been really affected by all of this. He definitely, definitely was not one of the nicest guys to be around when I worked for the team, and I'm not making excuses for him, but (he got caught up in the bubble of bike racing where some people seem to think its as important as saving lives) in the bubble of bike racing you get caught up in it all.   

While he was in it, he turned into a bit of a monster, winning and being on top became everything and people (I feel) were just commodities to him.  However I think time has let him reflect and the Johan I met had done some serious reflection.  I'm very uncomfortable with people who can't ever put things in perspective.   

We've all done things we're not proud of but does that makes us bad people.  Johan did things I'm sure he's not proud of but does that give us the right to judge him forever on his behaviour 10 years ago, I don't think it does. It doesn't mean people have to forget but a bit of perspective and understanding goes a long way.  Plus if we can't do that well then we're no better than the bully, are we?

It's funny, Johan and I met up last Christmas, just after I'd met up with Lance.  One of the strangest things is I used to think Johan was huge, much bigger than me, yet when we met it didn't seem that way anymore.  For so many years he had been a bully towards me but all of a sudden he's been turned into this big baddy by the public.  He's still a human being after all of it.

The two of us really didn't get on.  We worked together for two years and for a year and half of it, we didn't talk, although he was meant to be my boss.  We're both strong characters and neither would back down.  Last year when we sat down for the lunch and made up, it became evident that he didn't have as much people management skills as we all thought, particularly around managing someone like me.  He'd gone from being a rider to a Director in the sport very quickly.  But I did think afterwards the problem he faced of having to manage someone like me who wouldn't back down, who won't engage in conversation with you, though I did try for quite some time.  My reflection was I wasn't the easiest person to manage, so was part of the problem."

Coming next.  Part two where we cover The Omerta, The Oprah interview and Forgiveness.

The Race To Truth is available via good book stores and via Amazon.  Emma O' Reilly now practices sports physiotherapy in a clinic in Cheshire and is one of the people behind Cheshire indoor cycling centre - ProSpin Cycle club. 

No comments:

Post a Comment