Last updated: January 18, 2013 2:19 pm

Armstrong confession cuts little ice

Lance Armstrong is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in Austin, Texas©Reuters

Lance Armstrong is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in Austin, Texas

Lance Armstrong’s drug-taking admission and his willingness to appear before a truth and reconciliation hearing received guarded welcomes from cycling anti-doping bodies, but his confession cut little ice with past and present athletes.

The disgraced ex-cyclist admitted to using banned substances and doping during all seven of his Tour de France victories in the first part of a high-profile television interview with Oprah Winfrey.

After more than a decade of staunch denial, Armstrong unequivocally admitted his drug use and said it began in the mid-1990s, before his much-publicised fight with testicular cancer.

The pressure on the 41-year-old Texan to come clean had mounted in recent months after a US Anti-Doping Agency issued a damning report, citing nearly a dozen of his former teammates, which accused Armstrong of “extensive” drug use and of helping to run a doping programme for the US Postal Service cycling team.

Shortly after, the Union Cycliste Internationale, cycling’s international body, stripped him of his Tour de France victories and banned him from the sport for life. Even as the reports were published, Mr Armstrong vehemently denied the allegations.

Travis Tygart, Usada chief executive, said he had “finally acknowledged that [Armstrong’s] cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit”.

He described the admission as 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,” Tygart said.


Lance Armstrong

May 2010 Floyd Landis makes doping allegations Armstrong, his former team mate, which he denies

May 2011 Further allegations levelled by another team-mate, Tyler Hamilton, again denied by Armstrong

February 2012 Two-year Federal investigation into Armstrong and doping allegations is closed

June 2012 US Anti-Doping Agency announces intention to file doping charges

August 2012 Armstrong fails in legal action against Usada and says he will not contest its doping charges

October 2012 Usada publishes allegations against Armstrong, based on evidence from former team mates, accusing him of “serial cheating”. Usada claims 11 of Armstrong's former team-mates testified against him

October 22 Cycling governing body UCI endorses Usada’s decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and impose life ban

October 17 Nike ends its 16-year sponsorship of Armstrong, joining a list of sponsors to desert him

November 2012 Armstrong resigns as chairman of Livestrong cancer charity

January 2013 Armstrong admits to doping in Oprah Winfrey interview

Armstrong said in his interview he would be “first man through the door” if there was a truth and reconciliation commission.

An independent commission set up by the UCI this week said it would hold such a hearing in London in April. The UCI, despite opposing the idea, said it welcomed Mr Armstrong’s willingness to participate.

Pat McQuaid, UCI president, said the Texan’s decision to confront his past was “an important step forward on the long road to repairing the damage that has been caused to cycling and to restoring confidence in the sport”.

Armstrong confirmed he took EPO, a blood booster, cortisone and testosterone and said he used blood transfusions in an effort to boost his performance. “It was a mythic, perfect story and it wasn’t true,” he said. “All the blame and fault was on me . . . Now the story is so bad and so toxic and a lot of it is true.”

He explained the choices as being driven by “a ruthless desire to win; win at all costs, truly”.

The admission invited a torrent of condemnation from athletes, while cycling observers said it lacked crucial detail, particularly about others involved in doping. Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic said it was “a disgrace for the sport to have an athlete like this”, adding the ex-cyclist “should suffer for his lies all these years”.

To Nicole Cooke, the British cycling road racer who retired this week, Armstrong was an athlete who had stolen the livelihoods and careers of clean riders. “He’s got no morals and he’s a disgusting human being,” the 2008 Olympic champion told the BBC.

Armstrong, who is estimated to be worth more than $100m, helped to bring cycling to the mainstream and was sponsored by Nike, RadioShack and Trek among others. The majority of his high-profile sponsors broke ties after the October report.

He also cut ties with his cancer charity, Livestrong, in an effort to preserve its integrity.

Winfrey presented Armstrong with written and video evidence of his drug use and his previous denials. He confirmed some of the more outrageous stories, including hiring a man on a motorcycle dubbed Motoman to deliver drugs during the course of the Tour.

He continued to deny that he ever forced anyone on his team or others to dope, which the Usada suit alleged. “The evidence is overwhelming that Lance Armstrong did not just use performance enhancing drugs, he supplied them to his teammates,” the October report said.

But Armstrong said he never asked for anyone to be fired because they would not agree to dope. “There was never a direct order or directive that you have to do this to do the Tour or be on the team,” he said. “We were all grown men and we all made our choices.”

It’s a disgrace for the sport to have an athlete like this

- Novak Djokovic

Mr McQuaid expressed satisfaction that Mr Armstrong gave no hint of collusion or conspiracy between him and the governing body. Mr Armstrong said he did not pay a donation to the UCI in exchange for help but because he was asked for one.

Armstrong apologised to former friends and colleagues that he “bullied” in the course of his years of denials. He characterised himself as “ruthless” and said he frequently went on the offensive to discredit others.

The Winfrey interview will air a second instalment on Friday that will address Armstrong’s affiliation with Livestrong and what he plans to do next.

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