LOS ANGELES, USA January 18 – Disgraced cycling legend Lance Armstrong’s fierce defence of his record finally collapsed as he admitted that his seven Tour de France titles were fueled by an array of drugs.
“I made my decisions. They’re my mistake,” Armstrong told US talk show host Oprah Winfrey, in his first interview since he was stripped of his record yellow jersey haul and banned from sport for life late last year.
“And I’m sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that,” said Armstrong, who kept any emotions in check as he described years of cheating, lying, and attacking those who had the temerity to doubt him.
“I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times,” he said.
“Certainly, I’m a flawed character,” said Armstrong, who was once revered as a cancer survivor who beat the odds to succeed on cycling’s greatest stage, and then used his fame to help others fighting the disease.
“It’s just this mythic, perfect story,” he said. “And it wasn’t true.”
Winfrey’s interview opened with a rapid-fire series of “yes” or “no” questions that saw Armstrong admit with terse “yes” answers to using the blood-booster EPO, blood-doping transfusions, testosterone and human growth hormone.
All were listed by the US Anti-Doping Agency in the damning report on which it based the 41-year-old American’s life ban and the loss of all his cycling achievements since August 1998.
Armstrong confirmed details contained in the report such as the existence of the shadowy courier known as “Motoman” who delivered EPO to riders.
But he took issue with other USADA assertions, saying he didn’t believe the doping program on the US Postal Service team was the biggest in the history of sport, and that it couldn’t compare to the state-sponsored doping program in the former East Germany, for example.
He denied that the International Cycling Union (UCI) covered up a positive drug test from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland, and he denied that he used banned drugs when he returned from retirement and raced in the 2009 and 2010 Tours de France.
For many of his admissions, Armstrong related the justifications he made to himself, saying that in the years that he won the Tour from 1999-2005, he did not believe it was possible to capture cycling’s greatest race without doping.
Back then, Armstrong said, he didn’t even think of himself as cheating. He didn’t feel he was doing something wrong.
“Scary,” said Armstrong, who went so far as to look up the definition of “cheating” in the dictionary.
“And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe,” he said. “I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”
He described his favored “cocktail” of EPO, blood transfusions and testosterone, recalling that at the time he told himself that his history of testicular cancer somehow justified it.
“All the fault and all the blame here falls on me,” Armstrong said. “Whether it’s fans or whether it’s the media … it just gets going and I lost myself in all that.”
He admitted he bullied people who didn’t go along with the “narrative” he constructed, and said some of those most hurt, such as former team-mate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, may never forgive him.
Asked by Winfrey about whether he’d sued a particular nay-sayer, he said his camp sued so many people he couldn’t even be sure.
Armstrong — who was stripped of his 2000 Olympic bronze medal hours before the airing of the interview — denied forcing team-mates to dope, but admitted that they may have felt pressure to follow his example.
Had he not come out of retirement in 2009, Armstrong said, he doubted anti-doping officials would have ever caught up with him.
He said he was worried when accusations against him by former team-mate Floyd Landis sparked a US federal criminal probe in 2010. When it ended in 2012 with no charges, Armstrong thought he was “out of the woods”.
Now that USADA have made their case stick, however, Armstrong said he’d be happy to play a role in a “truth and reconciliation” period in cycling.
“If they have it and I’m invited, I’ll be the first man in the door,” Armstrong said, while acknowledging that he had “no moral platform” from which to pursue a clean-up of the sport.
USADA chief Travis Tygart reiterated after the interview that Armstrong must tell his story under oath to have any chance of reducing his life ban.
But first will come the second installment of his talk with Winfrey on Friday, when he’ll talk about the repercussions of his spectacular fall from grace.