Friday, January 18, 2013


Disgraced cyclist icon, Lance Armstrong made a career out of manipulation and it was a version of the same dark arts he displayed even as he admitted for the first time that he doped his way to all seven of his Tour de France victories.

Oprah Winfrey started more assertively than her treacly talk-show queen reputation led us to expect. Straight up, she asked the 41-year-old Texan a series of yes or no questions. Did he ever take banned substances? Was one of those EPO, the blood-booster? Did he take cortisone, human-growth hormones, testosterone. Was he on drugs for all seven of his Tour victories?

Yes, he answered, to them all.

Did he think is was humanly possible to win that record-breaking seven Tours free from illicit stimulants? ‘Not in my opinion,’ came the reply.

There was a glint in his eye and a cocky smirk occasionally played across his lips. Some answers were, as we of course expected, delivered with a polish that told of long hours of rehearsal with slick lawyers.

Winfrey opened with six 'yes' or 'no' questions and he said:
YES to using banned substances
YES to having used EPO
YES to having blood transfusions
YES to using testosterone
YES to cheating in all seven Tour de France wins
Then said that 'not in my opinion' could you win the Tour in that era without performance enhancing substances. 

The first 'sorry' came after seven minutes - and there were only three more in 90 minutes - but Armstrong, who looked controlled and cocky, was nothing if not candid, agreeing to answer any question Winfrey threw at him. Later in the interview, it became apparent this was not the case.

Guilty: Lance Armstrong admitted to spending a large part of his career using banned substances

He described his career as a 'mythic perfect story' and admitted his confession was probably 'too late' for most people adding that it was 'his fault'. It was 'one big lie I repeated a lot of times,' he said.

Armstrong said his career was built on a cocktail of EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions: 'This story is so bad, so toxic.'

He admitted to being a 'bully' but denied ever issuing a 'directive' to team-mates ordering them to join him in breaking the rules. He did, however, accept that as the leader of the team he made it difficult for those team-mates on the US Postal and Discovery teams not to dope.

In the second part of the extraordinary programme he insisted he did not put unfair pressure on his team-mates to join him in doping.

However, he did admit: 'I was a bully. I tried to control the narrative. And if someone challenged that I would simply say “that's a lie, they are the liars”. I had a win-at-all-costs mentality. The scary thing was, though, that in those seven Tours I knew I was going to win.'

But Armstrong added: 'I didn't invent the culture but I didn't stop it either.'

Armstrong also challenged US Anti-Doping Agency's verdict that the US Postal team operated the most sophisticated drug programme in sporting history. He said it was 'no bigger than the East German programme. It's simply not true.'

There he was laying some of the groundwork for his wider argument, namely that the sport was so riddled with doping offenders that by the standards of the time he was not cheating.

Armstrong later told us that he looked up the meaning of the word ‘cheat’ in the dictionary and found it to mean having an unfair advantage over a rival, and reassured himself that he did not fit the description. ‘It was a level-playing field,’ he told Oprah.

She asked him why he was owning up now. 

‘I don’t know that I have a great answer,’ he said. We could answer for him: because he had been rumbled by 202 pages of damning evidence in the US Anti-Doping Agency’s recent report, compiled with the help of 26 witnesses including 11 former team-mates.

He admitted he 'lost' himself and added: 'I couldn't handle it and I controlled every outcome in my life.'

Armstrong confirmed a number of claims that were made in the book written by former team-mate Tyler Hamilton. One of these claims was the use of his personal gardener, nicknamed 'Motorman', to deliver drugs on a motorcycle to the team in the 1999 tour.

He said it was 'easy' to cheat because in his time there was not much out-of-competition testing, it was just a question of scheduling. 

However Armstrong insisted that when he came out of retirement in 2009 and finished third in that Tour – one place ahead of Great Britain’s Bradley Wiggins – he was not cheating. He argued: 'The last time I crossed THAT line was in 2005.'

If there were frustrating elements of the interview it was Winfrey's failure to pressure him on key issues like his relationship with disgraced Italian doctor Michele Ferarri, and claims by Betsy Andreu that he confessed to drugs in the Indiana University hospital in 1996 when he was battling cancer.

Got your back: Armstrong refused to criticise any previous acquaintances, including doctor Michele Ferrari
He continues to describe Ferrarri as a 'good man' and Winfrey allowed him to protect the Italian. She also accepted his response when he refused to neither confirm nor deny Andreu's claim that he confessed all to his cancer doctors.

But he did admit to being 'deeply flawed' and issued sincere apologies to both Andreu and Manchester-based former physio Emma O'Reilly. He has even contacted Andreu personally in a 40-minute phone conversation and attempted to contact O'Reilly to apologise.

O'Reilly claimed in the book by David Walsh, LA Confidentiel, that Armstrong escaped punishment for testing positive for cortisone by getting a team doctor to backdate a prescription. 
Firing line: Armstrong addressed the claims of Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, the Andreu family and Emma O'Reilly
Armstrong confirmed that to be true but he denied the UCI were complicit in covering up a positive for EPO at the Tour de Suisse two years later, and that his six-figure 
donation to the UCI's doping programme was in any way part of that.

He said: 'That story isn't true, there was no positive test.'
Perhaps more frustrating was his refusal to discuss the allegation made by Betsy 

Firing line: Armstrong addressed the claims of Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, the Andreu family and Emma O'Reilly
Andreu in the same Walsh book. He simply would not discuss whether he had rattled off a list of banned substances to doctors and Winfrey's acceptance of that was weak and disappointing.

That is what we all had to keep on reminding ourselves throughout this staged mea cupla. 

His contrition was forced upon him. Just a few weeks ago Armstrong’s lawyer Tim Herman was calling USADA’s report a ‘one-sided hatchet job’. That was before it published and revealed him to be at the centre of ‘the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme sport has ever seen.’

That judgment did not leave Armstrong with much option but to acknowledge his transgressions after years of bullying those who sought to expose him.

Even this morning he pointed out that the East German drugs regime of the Seventies and Eighties was worse. Perhaps so, but that was a desperate piece of moral relativity.

A few times he stroked his chin and scratched his face but for the most part it seemed all too easy for him.

Oprah, for her part, perhaps should have let him finish his answers to lure him into a self-condemning ramble rather than repeatedly cut him short with her next question.

He admitted that he ‘lied’ and had for so long ‘not moved off that lie’. He sought to mitigate his deceit by talking of how there was ‘momentum’ to ‘this perfect story’ of the guy who beat cancer to win the toughest cycling race in the world. Almost contradicting himself he added: ‘All the blame falls on me.’

Then another half-admission, half-excuse. 'I didn’t invent the culture (of drug cheating),' he said. 'I didn’t stop the culture either. The sport is paying the price for this.'

Oprah got Armstrong to admit that he started cheating in the ‘mid Nineties’ – a bit vague. 

Oprah also went easy on his connections to Michele Ferrari, the Italian doctor prosecuted for his significant role in the doping imbroglio. She asked Armstrong if Ferrari was the 'mastermind'. He declined to say so.

We watched an old video of Armstrong testifying under oath that Ferrari was a good man. The cocky smirk on Armstrong’s face as he lied and evaded in those days was a few degrees more self-satisfied than it was in this pre-recorded interview.

In fact, as USADA point out, Armstrong’s connections to Ferrari were close even when the bad doctor was found guilty of systematic wrongdoing. He paid a total of $1million for Ferrari’s assistance.

Armstrong took issue with USADA’s finding that his post-retirement return to the Tour in 2009 and 2010 was drug-fuelled. But do we believe him?

Every answer was weighed up for it legal consequences with potential lawsuits from sponsors, the US government for funding his Postal Service team, a sued newspaper and race organisers.

Armstrong’s malevolence ran deeper than being the team leader under whose controlling influence syringes and vials were smuggled past fans mid-race in Coke cans. He was also a bully and intimidator. You question him and he would sue.

He gave us some schmaltzy rubbish about being a fighter like his mum. How the ‘ruthless, relentless, win-at-all-costs’ spirit he brought to his fight against ‘the disease’ was carried out in his cycling.

He retaliated or intimidated Filippo Simeoni, Tyler Hamilton, Levi Leipheimer, Betsy Andreu, Prentice Steffen, Jonathan Vaughters, Christophe Bassons, Floyd Landis. The list of friends and team-mates turned persecuted whistle-blowers goes on.

Armstrong was clever here as well. He talked of being ‘deeply flawed’, as though it was almost an external force for which he could not be held responsible. But he did admit: 

‘I was a bully. I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative.’

Rather than appear under oath again as USADA want, he was still trying to do so in front of Oprah with her questions contained on a wad of blue paper.

He even invited pity by saying: ‘I’m paying the price for this and that’s OK.’ He played his good against his bad, admitting he was a ‘jerk’ but also a ‘philanthropist and humanitarian’.

But the most revealing line was perhaps this: ‘I viewed it as very simple. You had a thing that was oxygen-boosting drugs that were benefical for endurance sports, and that’s all you needed.’

That was Lance Edward Armstrong’s mantra for as long as he could get away with it. It was the credo of a cheat. And what the shamed icon said to Oprah, having been flushed out, embarrassed and left fighting to keep hold of his £60million fortune, was merely convenience and contrivance. As it ever was. 

 Summarily The tens of millions of fans watching saw Armstrong reveal:
* he took performance-enhancing drugs in each of his Tour wins from 1999-2005
*doping was "part of the process required to win the Tour"
*he did not feel he was cheating at the time and viewed it as a "level playing field"
*he did not fear getting caught
*"all the fault and blame" should lie with him
*he was a bully who "turned on" people he did not like
*his cancer fight in the mid-1990s gave him a "win-at-all costs" attitude
*he would now co-operate with official inquiries into doping in cycling

In response the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) called for Armstrong to detail "under oath" the full extent of his doping.

Cycling's governing body the UCI welcomed Armstrong's decision "to come clean and confess", and said the interview had confirmed it was not part of a "collusion or conspiracy".

Last year Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles after being labelled a "serial cheat" by USADA. 

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