After more than a decade of angry denials and baseless lawsuits, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that performance-enhancing drugs fueled his ride to seven Tour de France victories, telling Oprah Winfrey in a much anticipated interview that he used EPO, testosterone, human growth hormone and other banned substances during his career.
But the disgraced cyclist challenged some of the charges levied in the explosive U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that was released in October, and his guarded and unpersuasive performance is unlikely to convince officials to rescind his lifetime ban from sports.
Armstrong denied he was a drug kingpin and claimed he stopped doping in 2005 and competed clean in 2009 and 2010, after his comeback. He tried to paint himself as just another rider who was forced to use PEDs in order to compete in a grueling and drug-soaked sport.
“I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture, and that’s my mistake, and that’s what I have to be sorry for, and that’s what something and the sport is now paying the price because of that,” he added. “So I am sorry for that. I don’t think — I didn’t have access to anything else that nobody else did.”
He clammed up when Winfrey asked him if Betsy Andreu, the wife of former teammate Frankie Andreu, told the truth when she testified in a 2006 deposition that she overheard him tell doctors who were treating his cancer that he had used performance-enhancing drugs.
“I’m going to lay down on that one,” said Armstrong, who acknowledged that the Andreus were among the people he called this week to apologize for a decade of bullying and intimidating critics.
Armstrong denied USADA’s allegation that he ran the most sophisticated doping ring in sports history, saying his team paled compared to the East German steroid program of the 1970s. He said he never fired anybody because they refused to use banned drugs. “The idea that anyone was forced or pressured or encouraged — that is not true,” Armstrong said.
Anti-doping rules permit officials to ease penalties for athletes who display contrition and offer substantial cooperation, and Armstrong reportedly wants to return to triathlons and other sports sanctioned by organizations that adhere to the World Anti-Doping Code.
“Tonight, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit,” USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart said. “His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction. But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.”
Armstrong claimed that he didn’t dope after 2004 and said he was in clean during the comeback years of 2009 and 2010. That is a direct attack on the credibility of the USADA report, which maintains that blood samples from those years indeed suggest he continued to use banned substances.
Officials at Livestrong, Armstrong’s cancer charity, issued a statement shortly after the interview aired: “We at the LIVESTRONG Foundation are disappointed by the news that Lance Armstrong misled people during and after his cycling career, including us.”
Armstrong said he never felt like he was cheating during the years he used banned drugs to win the Tour de France seven times.
“I had this exercise because I kept hearing I’m a drug cheat. I’m a cheat. I’m a cheater,” Armstrong said. “And I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat. . . . And the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”