By Brian Doogan
Lance Armstrong's nom de guerre for the journalist who became his nemesis said it all.
"David Walsh is a little troll, casting his spell on people, a liar," the disgraced cyclist, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles when he was exposed as a drugs cheat last year, said of The Sunday Times' chief sports writer David Walsh in an interview in 2004.
"I've done everything I ever could do to prove my innocence. I have done, outside of cycling, way more than anyone in the sport.
"To be somebody who's spread himself out over a lot of areas, to hopefully be somebody who people in this city, this state, this country, this world can look up to as an example.
"And you know what? They don't even know who David Walsh is. And they never will. And in 20 years nobody is going to remember him. Nobody."
This year Walsh was recognised as the UK's Journalist of the Year at the British Journalism Awards.
The judging panel cited his 13-year investigation into Armstrong, a story which took him around the world as he uncovered a mounting pile of evidence until finally he was vindicated when Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles, his reputation left in ruins.
"David Walsh became a pariah for years in his chosen sport in order to get to the truth of this story," the judges declared.
"He pursued it and pursued it. The US Anti-Doping Agency would never have taken Armstrong on if it hadn't been for David Walsh.
"It was a fine example of great investigative journalism.
"His 13-year investigation was dogged, determined and brave. He could have lost everything but persisted against all the odds."
Walsh will speak about his odyssey to uncover the real story of Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor who perpetrated the greatest fraud in the history of sport, at a unique event on Friday, April 19 at Villa Park.
Drawing on face-to-face interviews with Armstrong along with ex-teammates of the US Postal cycling team's talismanic and iconic leader and other leading witnesses such as Emma O'Reilly, Armstrong's former masseuse, Walsh will tell the inside tale of Armstrong's unprecedented fall.
He will also interact with his audience and respond to questions in a Q&A session following his presentation.
Copies of his best-selling book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong will be on offer at the special discount price of £6.
"I'm very much looking forward to coming to Villa Park to speak about a story which for 13 years has been a central part of my life," Walsh said.
"At a time when the whole world was going with the Armstrong story, you had one newspaper in Britain repeatedly saying that we think this guy's a fraud.
"The thing about the Armstrong scandal was that, even in 1999, the year of his first victory, you didn't need to be Woodward or Bernstein to get it.
"It became clear Armstrong was a fraud on the road to Saint-Flour in the Auvergne during the 1999 Tour de France.
"On the afternoon the American delivered his first great performance in the Alps, the stage to Sestriere, many journalists in the salle de presse laughed at the ease with which Armstrong ascended. He climbed with the nonchalance of the well-doped.
"I wrote a piece for The Sunday Times on the day Armstrong won his first Tour de France suggesting the achievement of the cancer survivor should not be applauded: 'There are times when it is right to celebrate, but there are other occasions when it is equally correct to keep your hands by your sides and wonder… [and in this case] the need for inquiry is overwhelming.'
"In this fight, I knew the side to be on."
In Seven Deadly Sins Walsh also revealed the heartbreaking story of the death of his eldest son who was killed on his bicycle in June 1995, just an hour before Walsh reached home after five weeks reporting from South Africa at the Rugby World Cup.
"John was a particular kid - bright, hard, questioning, truthful, stubborn," Walsh said.
"When he was seven, his teacher, Mrs Twomey, read the story of the Nativity to the class: 'And when Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus went back to Nazareth, they lived a simple life, because Joseph was just a carpenter and they had very little.'
"John couldn't let that pass. 'Miss,' he asked, 'you said Mary and Joseph were very poor, but what did they do with the gold they got from the three kings?' The poor teacher had read this story for more than 30 years and nobody had ever asked about the gold. 'To be honest, John,' she said, 'I don't know.'
"That story stayed with me, it was funny, comforting, reassuring even. Something didn't add up and John asked the question."
Armstrong was left "seething with anger" when he and Walsh had their last face-to-face encounter in 2001.
Walsh told him: "I don't believe you're clean but this is why I'm here, because I have questions.
"But the only questions I want to ask you are about doping. I won't be asking you one question about cycling outside of the context of doping."
To the questions posed by Walsh, Armstrong was ultimately compelled to confronted the truth.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey this year, the American talk show host asked the fallen idol if he would be willing to apologise to the reporter.
"Do you owe David Walsh an apology," she asked, "[a man] who for 13 years has pursued this story, who wrote for The Sunday Times, who has now written books about your story and about this entire process?"
Armstrong replied: "I'd apologise to David, yes."
*An Evening With David Walsh, UK Journalist of the Year and best-selling author of Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, Friday, April 19, 7pm at Villa Park. Admission is £10 and tickets can be purchased by contacting 0800 612 0950.