Feature: Armstrong admits doping to seven Tour wins, claims 2009 return was clean
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Friday, January 18, 2013

Feature: Armstrong admits doping to seven Tour wins, claims 2009 return was clean

by Shane Stokes at 2:02 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Doping
 
Extensive account of what was said during part one of Winfrey confessional

Lance ArmstrongAdmitting for the first time that he used a variety of banned substances during his career, including EPO, growth hormone, testosterone and blood transfusions, Lance Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey that he had been doping for each of the seven Tour de France titles he won between 1999 and 2005.

Stating that he had acted like a ‘jerk’ prior to getting caught and had behaved recklessly, the 41 year old said that he began using banned substances in the mid nineties, prior to contracting cancer, and had continued to take them after his return to the sport in 1998.

However while he said that he doped right up to the date of his retirement in July 2005, he claimed that he had been a clean rider from that point and had not used any banned substances during his comeback between 2009 and January 2011.

“The only thing in that whole report that really upset me is the accusation, and they say the proof, that I doped after my comeback,” he said to his interviewer.

“The last time I crossed that line [doping] was in 2005. I didn’t do any blood doping in 2009 or 2010. Absolutely not. 2005 is the last time – that’s absolutely true.”

This is at variance with the USADA reasoned decision, which concluded on the basis of his blood profiles during that period that there was a ‘one in a million’ chance that he was racing clean.

Initial reactions to that denial have seen many suggest that Armstrong may be angling for a comeback to competition, seeking to have his ban backdated to 2005 and, in the event of him cooperating and providing sufficient information to have his lifetime ban reduced to eight years, to be able to return to triathlon competition in 2013.

Armstrong has not talked about that rumoured desire to return to competition in the first part of the two-part interview with Winfrey, rendering that interpretation as speculation for now.

However blood profiles from 2009 have been flagged by anti-doping experts as suspicious, not least the fact that his start/end haematocrit at the Giro d’Italia showed an expected five percentage point drop, while his Tour de France profile showed a slight rise, contrary to expectations.

In what was an uncomfortable but often gripping interview, the talk show host questioned Armstrong at length about many topics, including his repeated denials about doping, his bullying of critics and those who said he was using drugs, the claims that he had encouraged or coerced others into using those products, his alleged positive test at the 2001 Tour de Suisse and the suggestion that the UCI had helped him cover that up.

She also questioned him on his mindset when he gave a defiant speech on the Champs Elysees in July 2005, on the final day of his last Tour victory, claiming that his wins were clean and that he felt pity for his critics.

Answering those questions, Armstrong stated on several occasions that he had been wrong in his actions, explaining it by claiming that he was caught up in the moment and felt much regret at this point in time. He accepted that he was incorrect to treat his critics as he had and saying that he had apologised to Emma O’Reilly, Betsy and Frankie Andreu and others. He also accepted that O’Reilly had told the truth when she said that he had used a backdated therapeutic use exemption to evade a positive test for corticosteroids.

However he denied any suggestions that the UCI had helped him overcome positive tests, and also denied he had had a meeting with the lab director involved in detecting the 2001 Tour de Suisse sample.

That director, Martial Saugy, has however said that he met Armstrong and his team-manager Johan Bruyneel in 2002, and that he gave them details about how the EPO test worked. Saugy has denied that this was an error, although USADA CEO Travis Tygart and respected anti-doping researcher Michael Ashenden have described it as highly irregular.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Armstrong has insisted that he had the same weaponry as anyone else in the peloton. This statement was made despite the fact that he reportedly paid controversial doctor Michele Ferrari more than $1 million, and that his team had an exclusive arrangement with that doctor during part of his successful Tour run, something which ensured that only they had the benefit of his services.

Details of a doping admission:

The programme started with a montage of clips documenting his career and then his fall from grace, setting the scene for what would follow. Once the show shifted to the studio setting with Winfrey and Armstrong, the talk show host said that he had agreed to a no holds barred interview and that he would tell the truth. After he affirmed that would be the case, she moved to a series of questions with yes or no answers.

Oprah Winfrey: “Did you ever take banned substances?”

Lance Armstrong: “Yes.”

Winfrey: “EPO?”

“Yes.”

Winfrey: “Blood doping/transfusions?”

“Yes”

Winfrey: “Other substances - testosterone, cortisone, HGH?”

“Yes.”

Winfrey: “In all seven victories?”

“Yes.”

Winfrey: “Was it possible to win your seven Tours de France without that?”

“Not in my opinion.”

Winfrey moved on to more detailed questions and answers, asking him when he first started.

“Earlier in my career, cortisone, then the EPO generation began. For me, mid nineties,” he answered.

She then pointed out that he had brazenly and defiantly denied doping for many, many years, asking him why he was now speaking frankly on the subject.

“I don't know that I have a great answer,” he said. “I will start by saying this is too late…too late for probably most people. That is my fault. I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. It wasn’t as if I said no and moved off it.

“While I have lived through this process, I know the truth…the truth isn’t what was out there, what I said. This story seemed so perfect for so long. You overcome the disease, you win the Tour seven times, you have a happy marriage, you have perfect children.

“But that wasn’t true…it was impossible to live up to that. Certainly I was a flawed character. I painted that picture, and a lot of people did. [But] all the fault and all the blame lands on me. Behind that, there was momentum, whether is the fans or the media…it just kept going. And I lost myself in that. I controlled every outcome in my life.

“Now the story is so bad and so toxic…a lot of it is true.”

Asked if it was possible to be successful without using drugs, he claimed that in that generation, riders couldn’t win big events without doping. “I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture. I am sorry for that,” he said. “I don’t think…I didn’t have access to anything else that nobody else did.”

In the USADA reasoned decision, the agency referred to the US Postal System as being the most sophisticated doping programme ever in sport. Asked about this by Winfrey, Armstrong questioned the veracity of that statement.

“No..not in all of sport. It wasn’t,” he said. “It was definitely professional, it was definitely smart. But it was very conservative, very risk adverse. To say that programme was bigger than the East German doping programme in the 70s and 80s – absolutely not.

“I don’t want to accuse anybody else…I made my decision, they are my mistakes. I am sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say sorry for that. The culture is what it was.”

Winfrey: “Was everyone doping during those years?”

Armstrong: “I can’t say [everybody was doing it]. There will be people who will say that. Others will say there were maybe five guys clean out of 200 and they were heroes…and they are right.

“But the idea that anybody was forced or pressured or encouraged [on his teams] is not true. I am out of the business of calling someone a liar or not, but that is not true.”

Asked about USADA’s claims that a motorbike rider nicknamed Motoman transported EPO for Armstrong and team-mates during the 1999 Tour de France, he said that this was accurate. He confirmed that the team blood doped during the race, and said that he wouldn’t deny the stories of putting used syringes in coke cans to dispose of them.

“You had oxygen boosting drugs that were incredible beneficial for endurance sports,” he said, talking abot what was used. “And that is all I needed. My cocktail was EPO, but not a lot, transfusions. And testosterone, which in a weird way I almost justified because of my history [suffering cancer and losing a testicle], running low.”

He added that there was no justification for using such substances.

Asked by Winfrey if he was afraid of getting caught, Armstrong said that there was initially little danger of that. “Drug testing has changed, evolved. In the old days they tested at the races…they didn’t come to your house, your training camps.

“In 1999, there was no testing out of competition. Theoretically there may have been, but they never came. So you were not going to get caught, because you are clean at the races…clear. It is a question of scheduling.”

More recently, he said it had become harder for riders to cheat. “The biological passport worked. I am no fan of the UCI, but they implemented it.”

That led on to the assertion which many have found most hard to believe: that he raced clean after his return to the sport.

“The only thing in that whole report that really upset me is the accusation, and they say the proof, that I doped after my comeback,” he said.

“The last time I crossed that line [doping] was in 2005. I didn’t do any blood doping in 2009 or 2010. Absolutely not. 2005 is the last time – that’s absolutely true.”

Says he didn’t coerce others to dope:

Lance Armstrong Oprah WinfreyAsked by Winfrey if he was the one in charge, he said that he was, but not the one who ran the team. “Well, I was the top rider…I was the leader of the team,” he answered, “but not the general manager, not the director.

“If you are asking me if someone on the team didn’t dope, could I get them fired? Absolutely not..I never did,” he continued. “There was never a direct order you had to do this if you want to be on the team. That never happened. We were all grown men, we all made our choices.”

Reminded that former team-mate Christian Vande Velde had testified under oath that Armstrong said that he would have him kicked off the team if he didn’t keep using banned substances, he contradicted this.

“That is not true. There was a level of expectation…we expected guys to be fit, to be strong, to perform. I am not the most believable guy in the world right now but I did not do that [coerce people]. But even if I don’t say it [that they must dope], if I am the leader of the team, I am leading by example…so that’s a problem.”

He said that he understood people saying that they felt they had to dope, but that it was different to them claiming that they had to do so to stay on the team. “When those guys go on to other teams and continue in the same behaviour, I wasn’t on those teams.”

Winfrey put it to him that there was a perception that he was a bully. He accepted that. “Yeah, yeah. I was a bully. I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative,” he said. “If I didn't like what somebody said, I tried to control that…I’d say that’s a lie, they are liars.”

He also accepted that he would go on the attack when challenged by critics and others. “My entire life [I attacked]. I grew up as a fighter…my mom was young when she had me. We felt like we had our backs against the wall the whole time,” he said. “Before my diagnosis, I would say I was a competitor but not a fierce competitor. In an odd way, that [being ill] turned me into a competitor…to win at all costs.

“I said I would do anything I had to do to survive. That was good. I then took that win at all cost attitude into cycling, as I did it [returned to competition] almost immediately after that, and that was bad.”

As for the reasons why he acted like a bully, he said that it was to try to perpetuate his story and to hide the truth. However he’s accepted now that he can’t always influence things.

“This is the second time in my life when I can’t control this outcome. The first time was the disease, and now there’s this,” he said. Those are greater unknowns than the other things he dealt with, including his races. “The thing is, winning seven Tours – I knew I was going to win,” he said.

Armstrong added that he just considered doping as something that he had to do. “It was like saying we have to have air in our tyres, we have to have water in our bottles. In my view, it was part of the job,” he said.

‘Ferrari is not a monster, not evil’

For many, the controversial Italian doctor Michele Ferrari has a big part to play in the history of Lance Armstrong, not least in his chemical success. Defended for years by Armstrong as a mistaken figure and a doctor who was clean, he changed his stance about that innocence in this evening’s interview.

“It is hard to talk about some of these things and not mention names,” said Armstrong. “But there are people in this story…they are good people. We have all made mistakes. There are people in this story who are not monsters, not toxic, not evil. I viewed Michele Ferrari as a good man, a smart man.”

Winfrey: “Would you give the same response today [in denying that Ferrari had doped him and the team]?”

“No…but my response is going to be different to most of these things today. Is he the mastermind? No. But I am not comfortable talking about other people. It is all out there.”

Winfrey: “Were you reckless to engage with him?”

“From a public perception standpoint, sure. But there were plenty of other reckless things. In fact, that would be a very good way to characterise that period of my life.”

Winfrey made the point that fame can change people and amplify aspects of their character. She mentioned the words ‘jerk’ and ‘humanitarian,’ something Armstrong then picked up upon.

“I’d say I was both [of those],” he stated. “Now we are seeing more of the jerk part than the humanitarian.. I am flawed, deeply flawed. I am paying the price for this, and that is okay. I deserve it. Were there days early on when I was saying I was getting screwed here? Yes, but those days are fewer and further between. I deserve it.

“This ruthless desire to win, this win at all costs…that served me well on the bike, it served me well in the disease, but the level it went to is a flaw. Then that defiance, that attitude, that arrogance. Looking at the tape [of his SCA deposition], you can’t deny it. ‘Look at this arrogant prick…that wasn’t good.’”

Winfrey continued by playing his controversial Champs Elysees speech from the final day of the 2005 Tour de France. Armstrong stood on the podium then and told his critics that they were wrong not to believe in him and the sport, and that he felt sorry for them in not believing in miracles.

“I made some mistakes in my life, for sure. That is one of them. That was a mistake,” he responded.

Winfrey: “Were you trying to rub in the face of those who came out against you?”

“Not so much. I don’t know [why I said it]. That was the first year that they gave the mic to the winner of the Tour. I said [to myself] ‘what the hell will I say?’ I didn’t have any time to decide that I’ll shove it into their faces…that is just what came out.

“I am definitely embarrassed. Listen, that was the last time I won the Tour..that was my last day, I retired immediately after that. That is how you leave it? You can leave with better than that, Lance. That was lame,” he said, speaking about himself in the third person.

Asked if he experienced happiness in winning, he said that that emotion was felt more before those Tours.

“There was more happiness in the process, the build, the preparation. The winning was almost phoned in”

Winfrey: “Did it [doping] feel wrong?”

“At the time, no. Scary.”

Winfrey: “Did you feel bad about it?”

“No. Even scarier.”

Winfrey: “Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?

“No, scariest.”

“At the time, I kept hearing I was cheater. I looked up the definition of a cheat. The definition of a cheat was gaining an unfair advantage over a rival or a foe. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

Asked if he appreciated what he had at the time, and the extent of the faith and adulation of fans and cancer survivors, he said that he didn’t take it all in. “I didn’t know what I had. I look at the fallout now. I didn’t understand the magnitude of that following…we see it now..

“The important thing is that I am beginning to understand that. It is not from seeing clips…I see the anger in people, the betrayal. These are people who supported me, believed me, believed in me. They have every right to feel betrayed. It is my fault. Some people are gone forever, but I will spend the rest of my life trying to apologise people and earn back their trust.

“At the time, it was easy, it just flowed. I was in the zone like athletes get. I wasn’t exactly a perfect world, that wasn’t the happiest time of my life. I can tell you today that I am happier today than all those times.”

Winfrey seemed surprised at this, given that he had faced a lot of pressure over recent months and been stripped of all of his results from 1998.

“I said I’m happier today, not yesterday,” he clarified.

Denial of bribery claims:

Lance ArmstrongOne of the most potentially damaging details in the USADA report was the claim made by Armstrong’s team-mates Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton that the rider had told them he was protected by Hein Verbruggen when he tested positive in the 2001 Tour de Suisse.

Verbruggen was the-then UCI president and, as emerged this week, had business dealings with the company of the US Postal Service team owner Thom Weisel at the time.

Despite admissions by the UCI and by the Lausanne lab director that Armstrong had met with the latter after he provided a urine sample during that Tour de Suisse which had suspicious levels of EPO in it, Armstrong maintained that the story was not true.

“I didn’t fail a test [ever]” he insisted. “Okay, retroactively tested…technically, I failed those [the 1999 retests announced as positive in 2005]. But the hundreds and hundreds of tests I took, I passed those…because there was nothing in the system.”

Winfrey played a video clip of Floyd Landis saying that Armstrong had tested positive in that Tour de Suisse, and another with Tyler Hamilton repeating the same point. He denied those charges, and denied that a €100,000 donation to the UCI was suspect.

“I am going to tell you what is true and not true. That story isn’t true. There was no positive test. There was no paying off the lab. There was no secret meeting with the lab director,” he insisted.

Winfrey: “Did the UCI make it go away?”

“No. I am no fan of the UCI, but that did not happen.”

Winfrey: “Why did you make that donation?”

“Because they asked me to. This is impossible for me to have anybody believe it, but it was not for me to have a cover up.

“They called and said they didn’t have a lot of money. I was retired and had a lot of money. They said ‘would you give a donation?’ and I said, ‘sure.’”

“There was the retroactive stuff later on, which at the time was a huge story.”

Armstrong’s account is at variance with the UCI’s own recollection of the matter. The governing body said he had pledged the donation in 2001, although he didn’t pay it until several years later. In contrast, he said that he was first approached on the matter after he retired in 2005.

Even though Armstrong rejects the suggestions that he tested positive for EPO in 2001, he accepted Winfrey’s point that he had been positive for corticosteroids during the 1999 Tour and was able to escape sanction due to a backdated therapeutic use exemption.

That claim was originally made by former team soigeur Emma O’Reilly, a woman who Armstrong had originally enjoyed a good professional relationship with but who was later slated by him and essentially labelled a whore.

“She is one of these people that I have to apologise to. She is one of these people who got run over, got bullied,” he said.

Winfrey: “You sued her…”

“To be honest, we sued so many people…I am sure we did. I have reached out to her and tried to make those amends on my own.

Winfrey: “When many others were saying things, you were going on the attack. You are suing them but you know it is the truth. Why is that?”

“It is a major flaw and it is a guy who expected to get what he wanted and to control every outcome,” he answered. “It is inexcusable. When I saw there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I know that. This is the start of a process for me. I want to say to those people ‘I am sorry…I was wrong and you were right.’

Winfrey: “Did you call Betsy Andreu?”

“Yeah.”

Winfrey: “Did she take your call?”

“She did.”

Winfrey: “Was she telling the truth about the Indiana hospital?”

“I am not going to take that on. I am going to put that [question] on hold. She asked me and I asked her not to talk about that. It is a private conversation. I spoke to Frankie [Andreu] as well.

Winfrey: “Did you make peace?”

“No, because they have been hurt too badly. A 40 minute conversation isn’t enough.”

Winfrey: “You called her names, said she was crazy…”

“I did call her crazy. I think she’s be okay with me saying this…I told her ‘I called you crazy, I called you a bitch, I called you all these things…but I never called you fat.’”

Winfrey: “With Emma O’Reilly, you used the whore word. How do you feel?”

“Not good. I was just on the attack, Oprah. Territory being threatened, team being threatened, reputation being threatened. I went on the attack.”

Landis's role in Armstrong’s fall from grace:

For many, the Texan would likely have escaped all detection had Floyd Landis not come forward in early 2010 and said that Armstrong and others on the team had all used banned substances.

Those allegations led to the interest of federal agents and USADA, and while the federal investigation was ended for reasons unknown in early 2012, the anti-doping agency stepped forward and was able to build an unbeatable case against the rider.

Winfrey made the point that Landis was a catalyst for what was to follow, and that many see him as the real tipping point.

Armstrong doesn’t dispute her point. “I would agree with that. I might back it up a little and talk about the comeback. I don’t think the comeback sat well with Floyd and all that period began this.”

Winfrey: “Where were you when you heard Floyd was going to talk?”

“I was in a hotel room at the [2010] Tour of California. Actually Floyd had been sending me these text messages, saying he had videoed everything and would put it on Youtube. I ended up saying ‘just do what you got to do, just leave me alone’

“He didn’t go that route, he went to the Wall Street Journal.”

Armstrong denied rebuffing Landis, saying that he had never been antagonistic towards him, either before he tested positive and lost his 2006 Tour title, or after.

“We didn’t give him a spot on the team, which he wanted. That was not entirely my decision,” he said. “But if that is a blowoff, yes. I tried to keep him on board because he knew. But to say I shunned him, put him out – no.

“Obviously he felt I did. But I think he felt the sport itself did the same…that the sport didn’t want him coming back.”

The big question is if Armstrong regretted coming back to pro cycling, four years after he retired and got away with his reputation mostly intact?

“I do,” he answered. “We wouldn’t be sitting here if I hadn’t come back.”

Winfrey: “Would you have got away with it?”

“It is impossible to say. I’d have had much better chances [of that]….but I didn’t [get away with it].”

As regards the repeated denials amid growing whispers, news claims and evidence, Winfrey wanted to know if he believed he could get away with things.

“I just assumed the stories would continue for a long time,” he answered. “This isn’t an issue of news stories and interviews. We are sitting here because there was a two year criminal investigation. Everybody was called in, there was a gun and a badge and the consequences were serious.

“Then USADA started, again with the same..well, not equal pressure, but similar pressure. Guys were offered deals. Okay, fine, that is the way it works.”

It was pointed out to him by Winfrey that the federal case against him was suddenly dropped last year. Asked if he had any influence in that, he denied that he did.

“No, none. That is very difficult to influence,” he insisted.

Winfrey: “When they drooped the case, did you think finally done, over, victory?”

“It is hard to define victory, but I thought I was out of the woods…”

Winfrey: “…The wolves had left the door…”

“Yes, and those are serious wolves.”

Hincapie as a turning point, and a missed opportunity:

Prior to the reasoned decision, many of Armstrong’s fans clung on to their belief that he was clean, despite rising evidence and continuing reports that others from the US Postal Service team had implicated him.

One standard response was that riders such as Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton had axes to grind and were themselves unreliable because they had tested positive.

However once it emerged that George Hincapie had testified against Armstrong, he realised that things were going to be very difficult. He tried to get USADA’s action blocked in a Federal court but when that judge rejected his bid, Armstrong walked away and said that he wouldn’t contest the charges against him.

Looking back now, he said that he made a mistake not to engage with the agency at the time. “My reaction then was the same that it always had been. Coming in on my territory, I will fight back,” he said. “But I would do anything to go back to that day.”

Winfrey: “Why?”

“Because I wouldn’t fight it, I wouldn't sue them. I would listen.”

Armstrong said he wasn’t treated the same as the other riders, in that they were approached first and offered reduced sanctions if they opened up about their doping and gave evidence about others, including Armstrong. That ended up being a key tactic and helped build serious evidence against him.

“They [USADA] came to me and said okay, what are you going to do? In hindsight, I would say give me three days, let me call some people,” he said. “Let me call my family, my mother, my sponsors, my foundation.

“I wish I could do that [turn back time and own up at that point]. But I can’t.”

USADA has called on him to provide evidence to it, and suggested that it could consider a reduction in his lifetime ban if he spoke honestly, cooperated fully and gave evidence against others. This has been echoed by WADA, who even told VeloNation that his ban could be reduced to less than eight years.

So, the key question is will he cooperate?

“Look, I love cycling. I really do,” he answered. “And I say that knowing that I sound like…people will see me as someone who has disrespected the sport, the yellow jersey. I disrespected the rules. Regardless about what anybody says about that generation, that was my decision.

“But if there was an truth and reconciliation commission…I can’t call for that, I have no cred [credibility] but if they have it and I am invited, I will be the first man in the door.”

Armstrong concluded the first half of the Winfrey interview by accepting that once Hincapie testified against him, that the deck of cards was certain to fall.

“Well, my fate was sealed [then]. I think for those people that were my supporters, who I am assuming have left, they could have heard anybody say anything. But if George didn’t say it, they would have said ‘George didn’t say it, so I am sticking with Lance.’

“I am not blaming George. But he was the most credible voice in all of this. We did all seven Tours together, we were best of friends. We are still friends, we talk once a week. But I don’t blame him.”

Verdict from part one of Winfrey interview:

Using Twitter as a barometer for the sentiment of fans and the media, there has been little sympathy thus far for Armstrong. Many have pointed out the implausibility of his claims to have raced clean in 2009, 2010 and the early part of 2011, using USADA’s report, his published blood values, his abandoned anti-doping programme with Don Catlin and the half hour delay an AFLD tester had to tolerate when he arrived at Armstrong’s then-French base in early 2010 as the basis for that.

Armstrong’s insistence that he didn’t have a failed or suspicious test in 2001 has also been regarded with doubt, as have his assertions that he didn’t meet the head of the Lausanne anti-doping lab, despite that particular official and the UCI confirming that was the case.

Those inconsistencies have meant that there is some scepticism about his sincerity in the first half of Winfrey’s interview, even if his performance was polished, seemed self-critical and contained the first-ever admission that he had cheated for much of his career.

Some of his supporters may however choose to applaud his belated decision to finally admit both his faults and his breaking of the rules.

It remains to be seen if the interview will earn him some sympathy with the general public or with disillusioned Livestrong supporters, who may not have the same knowledge of the background details or of the sport itself.

Whatever opinion people have formed, many will tune in to Winfrey’s second show on Friday night, watching and weighing up what Armstrong has to say about the loss of his sponsors and standing down from his Livestrong Foundation, the reactions his mother, his children and others have had to his admission to them, his reported desire to compete again and whatever other questions and answers arise.


Also see: Armstrong/Oprah Interview Day II - I had to tell the truth for my children

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