Found on BBC.com
Lance Armstrong interview: An abridged transcript
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Tour de France legend, global cancer campaigner, friend of Hollywood stars and US presidents. Lance Armstrong was all of these things when he sat down opposite talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey two years ago.
But the American icon was also a liar and a cheat, as he would finally admit during an infamous interview broadcast over two nights by Winfrey’s cable network.
For some, confessing to using performance-enhancing drugs during all seven of his Tour de France wins was too little, too late; for others, it was a betrayal of epic proportions.
Sponsors dropped him, his cancer charity cut all ties, and his legal problems mounted. Not much has been heard from Armstrong since – until now.
BBC sports editor Dan Roan went to the disgraced 43-year-old’s hometown of Austin, Texas. Here is an abridged transcript of Armstrong’s first television interview since Oprah.
Oprah: The aftermath
Dan Roan: It’s been two years since you confessed to doping, what’s that time been like?
Lance Armstrong: “It’s been, as you would expect – well, maybe as you would expect, not as I expected. The fallout has been heavy, maybe heavier than I thought. And the way I told my story, through Oprah, as good a job as I think she did, it was pretty brutal afterwards.
“It’s been tough, it’s been trying, it’s required some patience, but it seems like there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.”
‘The air had already been let out of the balloon’
|Having banned Armstrong from all sports under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s remit and stripped him of his seven Tour titles in August 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency published a 200-page “reasoned decision” in October 2012. The report also had 1,000 pages of supporting evidence, including sworn statements from 11 of Armstrong’s former team-mates.|
DR: You said brutal, heavy, worse than expected – what did you expect?
LA: “In my mind, it felt that the air had already been let out of the balloon because of the report, the testimonies, books, because of a lot of things. So I felt most of it is out there. But I think the moment, especially here in the United States, when Americans heard me say it, it was tough.
“The Oprah piece was for half of the audience too much: ‘What? Doping, [blood-boosting drug] EPO and blood transfusions?’ It was too much for them.
“The other half thought: ‘That’s not enough, he stopped short, he didn’t name names.’ So you had these two sides who were both unhappy, which makes the whole room unhappy.”
DR: Would you do it differently if you could do it again?
LA: “Yeah, definitely, upon reflection I would have just waited. I just wasn’t ready to sit in that chair. There were other reasons as to why [I did it] – I’m not a patient person. I felt like Oprah was the right chair to sit across from. But it probably needed another three to six months… but maybe not, hindsight is perfect.
“None of it was going to be well accepted. People were mad and upset, and I get that, the buck stops with me.”
Forgive the bad, don’t forget the good
DR: If you were the man on the street, a cycling fan, would you forgive Lance Armstrong now?
LA: “Well, that’s really not fair. Listen, I’m not going to lie to you, selfishly I would say: ‘Yeah, we’re getting close to that time.’
“But that’s me, my word doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is ultimately what collectively those people on the street – whether that’s the cycling community, the cancer community – it matters what they think.
“Listen, of course I want to be out of timeout, what kid doesn’t?”
DR: Don’t you have the keys to your own redemption? If you could just say what people want you to say, tell the full story, co-operate, that’s there for you.
LA: “OK, but just to go back to whether it’s time. If I were looking at somebody, and I looked at the whole story and say: ‘I don’t like that this guy lied to me, that he doped. I don’t like that era that he raced [in], I don’t like any of it.’
“I would also have to think, like I would with anybody who’s been in this situation: ‘What else is part of this story? Is that all there was for them? Did they just have a sporting career and make a lot of money, or was there another side of it that I’m just not remembering, or honouring, or thinking about?’
“I spent a long time trying to build up an organisation [the Lance Armstrong Foundation that changed its name to Livestrong after his confession] to help a lot of people. And I can’t lie, it hurts that that has been put away, or almost forgotten, and almost, in some parts of the world, discounted as if it was a sham or PR. It wasn’t. That was very real. It meant a lot to me. And the deepest cut was Livestrong saying, ‘you need to step away’.”
DR: How much did that hurt?
LA: “It doesn’t get worse than that. But we are where we are. “
DR: There’s no chance of reuniting with them, that’s gone forever?
LA: “Forever is a big word. I’m not going anywhere.”
DR: And the best chance of helping people would be to have [your lifetime] ban reduced? What would that enable you to do?
LA: “It would reduce my boredom!
“The ban doesn’t have anything to do with Livestrong or my ability to work in [the cancer] community. Perhaps it speeds it up. I don’t know the examples in Great Britain of athletes who have fallen. I know the examples in the United States – the Tiger Woods, the Michael Vicks, even the Bill Clintons – people who are still out there able to work. You come back quicker.
“So it’s tougher for me. But I don’t think that’s imperative to me starting a new movement, or revive an old movement, to help people.”
Golfer Woods apologised to his family for “transgressions” in his personal life, American footballer Vick pleaded guilty to plotting to take part in dog-fighting. Clinton’s second term as US president was tarnished by scandal.
DR: It sounds to me that it’s not the ban you’re focusing on, it’s more that you want to be forgiven?
‘It looks like we’re going to hear even more’
|The International Cycling Union, the sport’s governing body, set up a three-man panel in January 2014 to investigate cycling’s doping problems throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) has spent the past year interviewing riders, coaches and administrators, and its report is expected at the end of February/early March.|
LA: “The ban is completely out of my hands. And I think in most people’s minds, even if it’s unrealistic to them, it’s one that I left myself with no choice on.
“Not all of that is true – there’s a lot people don’t know – but let’s just say they think it’s something I brought on myself. So I don’t think that’s the key to forgiveness.
“And we all want to be forgiven. There’s a lot of really, really bad people who want to be forgiven but will never be forgiven, and I might be in that camp. But it seems like people are thinking: ‘OK, we’ve been through this for two years, we’ve heard all the stories, and it looks like we’re going to hear even more stories with the report out of [the Cycling Independent Reform Commission]. I get it, he did that, they all did that. How’s that? Some guys get no punishment, some get six months, he got life, how does that add up?’
“Ultimately, and I’m speaking as somebody else: ‘I watched seven Tours, I watched them, I kind of see who won, yet he didn’t win, nobody won, the sport is left with no winner, seven empty yellows, and yet the same years you have green jerseys from [Erik] Zabel who’s fully admitted [doping], polka-dots from [Richard] Virenque who’s fully admitted… how does this?’ I don’t think it serves our sport well.”
German Zabel won the Tour’s points classification, for the most consistent finisher, a record six straight times between 1996 and 2001, only to admit in 2013 to doping throughout most of his career. France’s Virenque won a record seven King of the Mountain titles between 1994 and 2004, but in 2000 he admitted doping after two years of denials.
Time and punishment
‘It was a terrible time, an imperfect storm’
|Armstrong’s results after his comeback from cancer in 1998 were wiped from the record books by Usada in 2012. His Tour wins have not been reassigned, though, because almost all of his rivals were also cheating.|
DR: Do you think you should get those seven titles back?
LA: “It’s not for me to say. If I’m not the winner… I think there has to be a winner. I’m just saying that as a fan.
“If you go to Wikipedia and you look at the Tour de France, there’s this huge block in World War One with no winners, and there’s another block in World War Two. And then it seems like there’s another world war. There has to be a winner.
“But I’m not trying to, you know, puff myself up. It was an unfortunate time. It was a terrible time, an imperfect storm… there needs to be a winner.
“I don’t think history is stupid. I can tell you history isn’t stupid. History ultimately rectifies a lot of these things. If you had to ask me what I think happens in 50 years, I don’t think it sits empty in 50 years. Maybe somebody else’s name is there. But you can’t leave it empty.”
DR: Do you think you’ve been made a scapegoat?
LA: “Well, my actions and reactions, and the way I treated certain scenarios, were way out of line, so I deserved some punishment. Has it gone too far? Of course I’m going to say yes. But a lot of people will say it hasn’t gone far enough.”
DR: You mentioned boredom – how big a problem is that now you can’t compete?
LA: “Well, I compete every day on a very bad level on the golf course!
“It’s frustrating in the sense that I still think I could be competing at some sport at a fairly high level, which nobody cares about. Nobody wants to hear me say that.
“But what’s really frustrating, and probably 80% of it, is that if my mum got [multiple sclerosis] tomorrow – and thank God she hasn’t – and I wanted to run the Boston Marathon to raise $100,000 (£66,500) for the MS Society, I couldn’t do it. And not just run, I couldn’t walk it, run a little bit, walk the aid stations and finish in four hours 15 minutes, but raise a hundred grand – I can’t do it.”
DR: And that’s wrong?
LA: “I don’t know how anyone thinks that’s right.”
DR: But isn’t that the nature of punishment, that it has to be a deterrent to others?
LA: “At the expense of others? Nothing benefits me by running a slow marathon. I don’t think anybody thinks that’s right, if Lance Armstrong wanted to go do a ping-pong tournament, or a broomball tournament, or an archery meet, or a swim meet for fun.
“Meanwhile, where are all the other players in the story?
“I get it, I need to be punished, but we got to look at the whole. Don’t we have to look at the whole play?”
Co-operation versus coercion
DR: The critics would say you were the ringleader. It wasn’t just the doping, it was the bullying, the intimidation, the lying, betraying friends.
LA: “And some of that’s true; some of that’s not true. There was certainly a dishonesty there that I think is totally regrettable and inexcusable. The ringleading, the bullying: not totally true.”
‘I never got that call’
|Five former team-mates who testified against Armstrong were given reduced bans by Usada of just six months and returned to cycling in 2013.|
DR: But you didn’t co-operate with Usada and others did. Had you done so maybe you would have got a two-year ban or a six-month ban, who knows? We don’t know because you didn’t co-operate.
LA: “And that is a great question. And what [Usada chief executive] Travis [Tygart] would tell you, what Usada would tell you, what we have all heard a thousand times, is: ‘We gave Lance Armstrong the same opportunity as everyone else.’
“But if you go ask [former team-mates] George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson, any of them, they’re going to tell you how it went. The call goes like this: ‘You are not getting punished, here is what we need to hear.’ I never got that call.”
DR: Have you gone further with CIRC, the UCI’s independent investigation, than you did with Oprah?
LA: “I have met them twice, they have asked me not to go into details, buteverybody knows I have met with them, so that is not a secret. I think it’s safe for me to say that whatever questions they asked, I told. A lot of it is out there. So I don’t know if there’s a whole lot out there left, but I was totally honest, and I was totally transparent.
“At this point of my life, I’m not out to protect anybody. I’m out to protect seven people, and they all have the last name Armstrong.”
Armstrong has five children, three with former wife Kristin, and two with partner Anna Hansen.
DR: One of the big criticisms of your interview with Oprah, though, is that you didn’t say how it was done, how it was orchestrated.
LA: “How what was orchestrated?”
DR: The doping.
LA: “But everybody knows that, don’t they?”
DR: Well, we didn’t hear it from you.
‘You are going to answer my questions’
|Armstrong’s doping was the subject of a federal criminal investigation between 2010 and 2012. It was the abrupt closure of this inquiry that prompted Usada to push on with its own investigation.|
LA: “I don’t want to get into what they have asked, or didn’t ask. All I will say is that whatever they asked, I answered.
“But the tricky thing for them is they don’t have real power to compel people to come, to compel people to answer certain questions. The reason we are in this situation is because – forget Usada – the Department of Justice, and the [Food and Drug Administration], and federal agents, forced, let’s not say ‘forced’, compelled people with the threat of prison time to answer questions.”
DR: Aren’t we in this situation because you cheated?
LA: “Yes, of course, but I don’t think anybody else from that generation had federal agents standing at their door with a badge and a gun, saying: ‘You are going to answer my questions.'”
DR: Do you hope that CIRC will reduce your ban because of your co-operation?
LA: “I don’t think it’s their decision, they can make recommendations.”
Remorse and regrets
‘Anybody that gave me an audience, I was there’
|Former rider Filippo Simeoni angered Armstrong by testifying against his coach/doctor, Michele Ferrari, in a 2002 Italian doping case. Armstrong called him a liar and Simeoni accused him of defamation. Armstrong gained revenge by denying the Italian a stage win in the 2004 Tour, afterwards giving a ‘zip-the-lip’ gesture to the cameras. Christophe Bassons, another former rider, was a rarity in the sport in 1999 for his outspoken opposition to doping: Armstrong told him to shut up or get out. He chose the latter. Emma O’Reilly was a masseuse at Armstrong’s US Postal team. She would later provide some of the earliest details on his doping, to which Armstrong responded with legal threats and personal smears. Frankie Andreu is a former team-mate and friend of Armstrong’s but they fell out when Andreu’s wife, Betsy, threatened to leave him unless he quit doping. She would later become a source for journalists investigating Armstrong, and also testified against him in a 2005 civil suit. Armstrong reacted by making Frankie’s post-retirement life very difficult, placing huge strain on the Andreus.|
DR: But what are you hoping for?
LA: “I’m not going to tell you that because nobody wants to hear how I think I’ve been mistreated, or how I think my punishment should be lifted, or tweaked, or reduced. Nobody wants to hear me say that, nobody cares what I think about this. I get it.
“But I have done everything I said I would do. Honestly, in the last two years, I’ve made good on everything I said.
“We’ve talked about the international commission, I said I’d be the first guy through the door, I did it. For 15 years I was a complete arsehole to a dozen people. I said I would try and make it right with those people, and anybody that gave me an audience, I was there. Flying to Rome to sit with Simeoni, flying to Paris to sit with Bassons, flying to Florida to sit with Emma. Getting on the phone with Andreu and apologising.
“Other people wouldn’t take the call. So whatever I had to do, settling the numerous lawsuits, I did it. I keep doing what I said I was going to do, and I am fine with that, I should be doing that.”
DR: When it comes to the doping, would you do it again?
LA: “It’s a complicated question, and my answer is not a popular answer. If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again, because I don’t think you have to. If you take me back to 1995, when it was completely and totally pervasive, I’d probably do it again. People don’t like to hear that.”
‘That’s the man that really needed to change’
|Armstrong claims he and his team-mates started to use EPO, and other doping products, in 1995 when it became clear their rivals were doing so. EPO, or erythropoietin, is a hormone that controls the production of oxygen-bearing red blood cells. Cyclists, and other endurance athletes, started using synthetic EPO in the early 1990s, as it gave an approximate performance boost of 10% and was undetectable.|
DR: But that’s the honest answer?
“Yeah, that’s the honest answer, but it’s an answer that needs some explanation.
“When I made the decision – when my team-mates made that decision, when the whole peloton made that decision – it was a bad decision and an imperfect time. But it happened.
“When Lance Armstrong did that, I know what happened. I know what happened to cycling from 1999 to 2005. I saw its growth, I saw its expansion.
“I know what happened to the cycling industry. I know what happened to [his bike supplier and sponsor] Trek Bicycles – $100m (£66.5m) in sales, to $1bn in sales.
“I know what happened to my foundation, from raising no money to raising $500m, serving three million people. Do we want to take that away? I don’t think anybody says yes.
“I will tell you what I want to do. I would want to change the man that did those things, maybe not the decision, but the way he acted. The way he treated other people, the way he just couldn’t stop fighting. It was great to fight in training, great to fight in the race, but you don’t need to fight in a press conference, or an interview, or a personal interaction. I’d be fighting with you right now – I would be taking you on.
“That’s the man that really needed to change and can never come back. So it’s not an easy question, and I want to be honest with you. It’s not a popular answer, but what really needed to change was the way that guy acted.”
Pride and PR
DR: Look at the [yellow jerseys] on the walls [of Armstrong’s bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s]. Do you still maintain it was a level playing field?
LA: “I think that, but the better voices to answer that are the guys I raced with. Let’s ask Jan Ullrich, let’s ask Zulle, let’s ask 200 guys a year for seven years, let’s ask them.”
Swiss rider Alex Zulle finished second to Armstrong in 1999; Germany’s Ullrich was runner-up behind the American three times.
DR: But I put it to you it wasn’t a level playing field. That’s the problem with doping, EPO, to get it to work effectively, you need clinics, you need well-trained doctors, it’s very expensive. So we don’t know who is the best rider.
LA: “I think it was a level playing field, as unfortunate as it was. Our system was pretty conservative. My first Tour win, I was number 181, a wildcard entry. This was a small, low-budget, low-science team. The New York Yankees weren’t rolling in here. At the end, yes, it was a big team, but it was something we built over time.”
Armstrong’s US Postal team were one of three teams given ‘wildcard’ invites by the Tour’s organisers in 1999. The riders were numbered 1-199, with the teams’ lead riders wearing 1, 11, 21, 31 and so on.
DR: That doesn’t tally with the “most sophisticated, professionalised, successful” doping programme, as described by Usada.
LA: “Yes, but that’s not true. Lance Armstrong is not the biggest fraud in the history of world sport. US Postal was not the most sophisticated doping programme. To say that in light of all you read about the East Germans,the West Germans, the Turks, the Russians, God forbid, all the other major sports leagues in the world. No.
“Listen, I get it, Travis Tygart and Usada needed a splash. All those [words] are great. They work for PR, they create a buzz. But they’re not true. There was doping, it was dirty, it was a terrible time. All those other headlines, they’re not true.”
Can cycling be clean?
‘The real key is the cultural shift’
|Floyd Landis, another former team-mate, won the 2006 Tour, the year after Armstrong’s first retirement, only to test positive for testosterone. He maintained his innocence until 2010 but it was his decision to come clean that would spark the series of events that culminated with Armstrong’s confession.|
DR: Will doping always be a part of sport?
LA: “The temptation to cut corners will always be there, especially in an event like the Tour. It’s hard. The day they are going to do 21 days around the Champs-Elysees [the famous Paris boulevard that hosts the Tour’s finish] that might be different. It’s a hard event, very beautiful, but hard.
“I don’t want to be the Debbie Downer that says it will always be around, the temptation will always be there.
“The real key is the cultural shift that started in 2006 – how strong is it? Because it’s going to be tested. If it’s not EPO, it might be XYZ or ABC, whatever. It’s going to come along and it’s going test that culture.
“Those 200 guys rolling down the road, is that a real brotherhood? Is there a real culture there that says: ‘No, we’re not doing that, and you’re cutting into my livelihood.’ Because that’s what’s going to happen. A couple more [scandals] and this sport is in real trouble.”
DR: We haven’t got that culture now?
LA: “It’s not there yet because the structure isn’t in place. You have the UCI, which has very little power; you have [Tour de France owner] ASO, which has all the power; you have team owners, who have contracts with the sponsors that are good for maybe one to three years and then it’s done; and then you have riders who are literally riding month by month, year by year.
“So until there is some sort of collaboration, partnership or sharing of the upside, you’re going to have these elements who say ‘I’m going to do whatever I want!’ But we can fix this.
DR: You’ve lost sponsors, what has been the financial toll? Can you put a figure on it?
LA: “It’s probably possible but it is what it is. It’s significant but that’s my life. Nobody is going to feel sorry for me if I’ve lost a dollar or $100m. I’m focused on what happens tomorrow.”
DR: You’re facing a federal lawsuit [for breaching a contract with the US Postal Service]. Are you confident you will be successful defending yourself?
‘All I can do is put on the best defence’
|The action was instigated by Landis under an American law that allows a whistle-blower to come forward if a branch of the federal government, in this case the Postal Service, has been defrauded. If successful, Landis could take as much as 30% of the damages. Armstrong could lose as much as $100m as claimants are often given three times the disputed sum. TheDepartment of Justice joined the lawsuit in 2013, increasing its chances of success. The case is unlikely to see court until 2016.|
LA: “I’m not confident about anything. You have 12 jurors who decide whether or not the Postal Service was damaged to the tune of $30m. I’m confident that [the sponsorship] was beneficial to the organisation.
“By the way, I’m proud of that relationship, I’m proud of what we did. I’m proud of the fact that if you asked somebody on the street in 1998 what they thought of the Postal Service they would have given you the thumbs down. If you asked somebody who worked for the Postal Service in ’98: “What do you think of working for them?” They would have said ‘meh’, thumbs down. But from 1999 to 2004, they loved it.
“It was well documented that workplace violence within the Postal Service was almost a comedy routine, it was tragic. The phrase ‘going postal’ was commonplace. From ’99 to ’04: no incidences of workplace violence. It was an organisation that was proud of what they had going, it was something that appeared in newspapers all over the world.
“Look, I loved racing for those folks, they had great people from the top to the bottom, so I don’t know what 12 people are going to say. All I can do is put on the best defence and let a jury decide.”
DR: You said earlier that you felt we were getting close to a time when it will be appropriate for people to move on. Some would say that by forgiving you it would send the wrong message out.
LA: “And the hundreds of others? The thousands that have been forgiven? You have got to make one example? Because if that’s our system, we all agree we’re going to make one example – everybody do the same thing but we’re going to make one example – then I’ll be that guy. I don’t think everyone thinks that way. But if we think that’s OK, we’re hanging one dude, give me the noose.”
Comebacks and cover-ups
DR: Returning to the Oprah interview, you said you weren’t doping in 2009-10, do you maintain that?
LA: “Absolutely, absolutely.”
DR: Does it hurt when people say “he’s lying”?
LA: “I got patience on that. Because we are going to be in a time and place where there is a rock-solid test for blood transfusions, and the first person they say ‘let’s test’ will be Lance Armstrong.
“So I can tell you that I didn’t dope in 09-10, and the day a lab, a scientist or a group of people come up with a definitive test for blood transfusions, I’ll be the first man to give my samples. And not just one of them: I’ll give them all. From those years there must be 100 samples, if not more.
“That one, I just have to be patient on. That one, I’ll be proved right on.”
The man at the top of cycling
|Hein Verbruggen led the UCI from 1991 to 2005. The Dutchman has been accused of covering up a positive test by Armstrong at the 1999 Tour, as well as subsequent tests at the Tour of Switzerland in 2001. He deniesthese claims. A test for EPO was not developed until 2000, and even then it was relatively easy to sidestep.|
DR: Did Hein Verbruggen know about your doping and cover it up?
LA: “He never asked me, he never said: ‘Hey, what are you guys doing? That sounds good!’ It was never that blatant.
“Did Hein know? He would have to have known about what was going on in cycling. That would have started in the late 80s, early 90s. You would have to know.
“But as imperfect and, in my view, as unlikeable as Hein is, which is easy for me to say, what was he going to do? He didn’t have science on his side. Yeah, he knew, but he couldn’t do anything about it until, what, 2000 or 2001?
“For 10 years or more he had to put [plasters] on it. We’re going to do the haematocrit test, we’re going to do the on/off score. He was in a tough position. People really fault him, and I’m not trying to defend him because he and I are not close, but I don’t know what he could have done.”
The haematocrit test measures the percentage of the volume of blood that is made up of oxygen-bearing red blood cells. The on/off score measures the percentage of immature red blood cells in the blood. These checks were attempts to control blood-doping in the absence of a robust test against it. They were very blunt tools, with the haematocrit test effectively setting a cap on how much riders could dope.
‘I’ve tried… I get it’
|David Walsh is the author and Sunday Times journalist who waged a long and at times lonely campaign to have Armstrong revealed as a fraud. Armstrong sued the Sunday Times for libel in 2004. The paper counter-sued in 2013, and they have since reached a confidential settlement. A three-time winner of the Tour, Greg LeMond has been feuding with his fellow American ever since he voiced public doubts about Armstrong’s achievements. LeMond believes the feud cost him his bike company, after Armstrong used his influence in the industry against him.|
DR: How do you feel about the people who were involved in your downfall? The David Walshs, the Andreus, the Greg Lemonds?
LA: “A lot of that I get, some I get more than others. As I said earlier, whether it’s a personal and emotional sort of balancing of things, I’ve tried. Sometimes it’s a financial rebalancing. I get it. I get it.
“I enjoy getting certain confirmations from certain people – I don’t think I’m overstepping here – when a text from Emma O’Reilly pops up about some random thing. I love it when Filipo Simeoni sends me an email. That says I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. Others? We’ll never get there.”
DR: You have yourself to blame for that, though. Take Betsy Andreu, you were criticised for the answers you gave Oprah about the hospital confession. It was effectively a “no comment”. Can you shed any light on that now?
‘I needed to apologise for that’
|A key chapter in the Armstrong story, the hospital confession is supposed to have happened in 1996 when the rider’s oncologist asked him if he used any performance-enhancing drugs. The Andreus, and others, were in the room, visiting Armstrong during his treatment for advanced testicular cancer. Betsy has always maintained Armstrong listed EPO, human growth hormone and other drugs, and testified to this in a 2005 civil case between Armstrong and an insurance company that did not want to pay his Tour-winning bonuses. Armstrong denied this under oath, and declined to discuss it with Oprah.|
LA: “Well, Betsy was the first call I made. And [Frankie and her] were in the car together so I effectively spoke to both of them. My behaviour and my answers to her, the way I treated them in interviews and personally, was unacceptable, and I needed to apologise for that. If my kids acted in that way, they’d be…”
DR: But what she wanted, more than anything else, was for you to validate what she said.
LA: “Right, and I get that.”
DR: Can you not do that now?
LA: “But if I have no recollection? If what happened 18 years ago in a hospital room, 24 hours after multiple brain surgeries, heavily medicated, if I don’t have a specific memory of it, I can’t just say this is good for me, I’m going to say it happened. That’s what I should have told Oprah.
“Betsy doesn’t like that answer. But that’s my answer and it doesn’t change the fact that I was a complete **** to her. I called her and said: ‘I am sorry, and I mean that I’m sorry.’
“She’s retracted the acceptance of my apology, that’s fine. But it doesn’t change that I’m still sorry. I can’t say I’m sorry forever. Or maybe we have to do that, but that seems a little extreme, too. I was and always will be sorry.”
The future and the past
DR: You mentioned earlier that you focus on tomorrow. What are your hopes for the future, apart from lowering your golf handicap?
LA: “I would love to lower my handicap. For me, life is thinning out, but there are still things hanging over me that I need to get rid of. I look forward to a time when lawyers aren’t in the top three calls every day, and all you care about is how your kids are doing in school or what the weather’s like and the great day you had with your family.
“But I would love to be in a place, and I may never get there, where I can help people. It’s something that I never really cared to advertise. It got advertised. I still do it on one-on-one level almost daily.”
Despite his separation from Livestrong, Armstrong continues to visit cancer sufferers, advise them on treatment and send messages of support.
DR: You can still inspire and help people, regardless of what’s happened?
LA: “Yeah, they tell me that. Maybe they’re lying! There are still those people out there. Maybe that audience is smaller than it was before, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t need a field of a thousand people. Anybody can tell you that whoever needs help, I’m happy to help.”
DR: So many memories, what is the highlight of your career?
‘I hated 2003 – but looking back it was special’
|The 2003 Tour was the only one of Armstrong’s victories that was close, and is remembered for a number of dramatic moments, including Armstrong’s detour to avoid a stricken Joseba Beloki on a fast descent, and his own crash and recovery after tangling with a spectator’s bag on a climb. At the time these incidents simply added to his legend.|
“Hard to say, you had seven years, you had 150 stages. It’s funny, I hated 2003, that close year with Jan [Ullrich], riding through the field [to avoid Beloki’s crash], or crashing on Luz Ardiden. I didn’t like any of that. But as you get older and you look back on it; that ends up being the most special year.
“There were other moments, winning the prologue in 1999, putting on your first yellow jersey, beating Jan on Alpe d’Huez in 2001, winning the sixth Tour in 2004, ending a career with a seventh Tour, catching Jan in the prologue in 2005: there’s a lot of good memories.
“And that’s the thing, I feel like I won those Tours. A lot of people don’t think I won. They think no-one did. They think those Tours didn’t happen. I get that, I’m good with that.
“But when I think about why I raced… those jerseys are on the wall because they’re on the wall, it’s not as if I say ‘they have to be on the wall’ and I stand here [clapping]… that’s not why they’re there.”
DR: But you’re proud of them?
LA: “Of course, and I have an identical set of seven hanging at my house, but there are not images of my racing career all over the house.
“I raced because I was paid to do a job and I felt like I had to do the job. Number two: I raced because I loved the process, I loved training, getting ready for the race, I loved all of that. And number three I raced for my memories. Regardless of what somebody wants to give or take away, you can’t take my memories, all the memories I have of racing against my rivals, sitting on the bus with my team-mates, having dinner with my team-mates, the intimate moments with Johan [Bruyneel], you can’t take that away.
“I’d leave the Tour every year and I never once thought: ‘I can’t wait to be back here in 40 years and be standing around at the finish with people going ‘hey, that old guy Armstrong, he won seven Tours’.
“I don’t care about that. I didn’t want it then and I don’t want it now. I got the three things I wanted. I did my job, I worked hard in the process, and I cherish the memories, and they’re mine.”
DR: The alternative to doping, going back home, is that true? Could you not have succeeded at something else? A cleaner sport, perhaps, like triathlon?
LA: “Sure, something else, maybe triathlon. Or I could have stayed in cycling and potentially been backfill, but I wasn’t cut out for that. I wanted to win the Tour de France. And when I won it once, I wanted to do it again, and again, and again, it just kept going. So there wasn’t another competitive environment.”
Armstrong was a national triathlon champion as a teenager before moving to the more lucrative sport of road cycling. He returned to triathlon in 2011 and was hoping to become Ironman world champion when Usada banned him.
The real cost
DR: What is a bad day for you now?
LA: “I can’t get out of bed… I’m kidding. Listen, everything in my life is in perspective. OK, perspective ebbs and flows. I’ve had bad days, but they weren’t in the last two or three years. A bad day is 2 October 1996: ‘We’ve got bad news for you, you’ve got advanced testicular cancer and you’ve got a coin’s toss chance of survival.’ That’s a bad day. But a bad day [now] certainly involves some legal nonsense, some legal BS.”
DR: You said brutal earlier on…
LA: “Well, I was loose with that word. It would be interesting to ask the people closest to me. I have my view of things. Our lives went from 100mph down the highway, where you’re supposed to go 55, they went to 10. I didn’t like 100, and I don’t really like 10. I’d be happy with 50, 55 maybe.”
DR: How worried were your friends about you?
LA: “I’m sure they were worried. I know my mum was worried. I don’t see her every day, I don’t see her every week. But I know it’s her nature, it’s probably every parent’s nature. But I think we’ve held up well.
“My biggest fear was I’d have that day when one of my older kids would… my two youngest ones are too young to even know, or for their classmates to know… but you’d have that day when a 13-year-old or a 15-year-old would come home and just be in pieces. ‘Dad, I heard this in the hallway, or I read this on social media, is this true?’ It’s never happened, and…”
DR: The one time you seemed to get emotional in the Oprah interview is when you talked about telling your 13-year-old son not to defend you any more…
LA: “Right, and it hasn’t happened since then.”
DR: Are you ready for when it does?
LA: “Yeah, yeah, but it hasn’t happened yet. And not through any credit to me. I think it is a testament to the community we have here in Austin, to their schools, their classmates, their teachers. But, yeah, that would rock me.”
Tough choices, bad decisions
Armstrong retired from cycling after his seventh Tour win in 2005, butreturned to the sport in 2009. He would finish third at the Tour that year, but quit for good in 2010 after finishing 23rd.
DR: How much do you regret coming back in 2009?
LA: “A lot.”
DR: Because you got caught?
LA: “No… well, it was the bridge to the past. If I didn’t come back the view over the water is too far. The comeback was the bridge.
“But that was my decision, so I have to be responsible for that. It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life and I don’t have a good reason for why I wanted to come back, I don’t have a good reason for doing it all. But without the comeback we are not sitting here having this conversation.”
DR: But that will reinforce, Lance, those critics who say you are sorry for getting caught, not for doing it in the first place. And without that contrition they’re reluctant to forgive. Do you understand that?
LA: “I get that, and we talked about the decision that seemingly the collective group made.
“Listen, if I go back to 1995 – and some started earlier, some a little later, but let’s take that as ground zero – I think we’re all sorry. And do you know what we’re sorry for? We’re sorry that we were put in that place. None of us wanted to be in that place. We all would have loved to have competed man on man, bread, water, naturally clean, whatever you want call it.
“We’re sorry, yeah, we’re sorry that we were put in a place and we looked around as desperate kids and thought: ‘God, I’ve got to go back to Plano and maybe go back to school, or get a job, or work in a bike shop or work in a factory.’ Or a kid goes back to Australia, or Eastern Europe, or the fields of France…”
DR: Anything wrong with that? OK, you don’t have the glamorous career, but at least you’ve got your integrity.
LA: “Well, maybe not. I know very few people that are left with their integrity, then.”
DR: But some were. That’s the sad thing.
”He’s a great guy… a close friend’
|American Scott Mercier rode for US Postal in 1997 but refused to dope and left the sport. He has since built a successful career in finance.|
LA: “Yeah, there were a few. Scott Mercier is a great example. He’s somebody I raced with before, during, and after. And he’s one of my closest friends now, so Scott and I have these conversations all the time. Scott, who’s a great guy, had already been to college, had already been to business school. There was no field waiting for Scott Mercier, no factory waiting, Wall Street was waiting.
“Listen, I’m not trying to justify myself, or say I’m not sorry, or not contrite. I am. But as I’ve said, I’m sorry we were all put in that position.
“But all those people in that position, none of them was an arsehole to anybody else, I was. That’s the thing I feel I really need to be truly sorry for. To treat people the way I did. Totally unacceptable, inexcusable. That’s something I need to spend the rest of my life trying to make right.
“What we all did in the trenches, we did. Nobody liked it, nobody saw it coming, but we all jumped in.”
Additional reporting by Matt Slater
A 30-minute documentary, Lance Armstrong: The Road Ahead, will be broadcast on BBC News at 20:30 GMT on Thursday, 29 January, and again over the following days on that channel and BBC World News. An extended edit of Dan Roan’s interview will also be available on the BBC iPlayer.