Phil Liggett: 'I had no reason not to believe Lance'

The 'voice of cycling' on deception, vendettas and the fall of a champion

He has been one of Lance Armstrong's staunchest supporters, watched every wheel-turn that took the American to his record seven Tour de France wins – victories likely to be torn from him in Geneva tomorrow – and defended him publicly as the allegations mounted that the rider had only achieved so much with the aid of a wide-scale doping programme. Now Phil Liggett, the voice of cycling in this country, accepts that the man he placed on a pedestal deserves to be hauled down from it.

Liggett, who has commentated on 40 Tours, including the moment Bradley Wiggins secured a first British win this summer, has been criticised for being an unapologetic defender of Armstrong, but the sheer weight of evidence – the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) report runs to 1,000 pages including testimony from 11 of his former team-mates – can no longer be denied, and it hurts.

"I hate the thought that I built these people into superstars in the minds of the public when they cheated," said Liggett. "But if you look deeper down, they all seemed to have been cheating.

"I'm totally bemused by the whole thing now. I cannot believe it was so endemic – I didn't know it was going on.

"I'm not a friend of Lance's but I have been close to him in that I have worked with him on his cancer gigs. I have seen the other side of him when he has been so deeply embroiled in fighting cancer and helping others fight it. His other side is of course pretty evident too – that the whole team has taken drugs to succeed.

"He told me to my face in 2003 that he didn't do drugs. His words to me were that he'd been on his deathbed and he wasn't going back. I had no reason not to believe him."

On Friday Armstrong spoke in public for the first time since the Usada evidence was revealed, addressing 1,500 people at a dinner in Texas to mark the 15th anniversary of the Livestrong anti-cancer charity he founded. "It's been a difficult couple of weeks for me and my family, my friends and this foundation," he said, having resigned from it as chairman two days earlier.

"I say, 'I've been better, but I've also been worse'," he added.

Liggett has shared the stage with Armstrong at previous Livestrong events, though he denies having any business dealings with him, as has previously been reported.

"The people I met by doing these events, in Canada and South Africa, I have seen them begin to believe in themselves again," Liggett said. "Lance, if he's anything, is a terrific motivator. Lance will be very, very sad inside that he had to walk away from that foundation. That will hurt more than anything else."

Prior to the publication of Usada's report, Liggett had described that body as a "nefarious drug agency", and there is still an obstinacy attached to what appears to be a belief that the agency have pursued Armstrong almost as a vendetta, a view regularly floated within the American's circle.

"I think Usada only wanted one man – they wanted to bring down Lance Armstrong and everyone else has come down with him," he said.

Tomorrow, cycling's governing body, the UCI, will announce their response to Usada's report and Pat McQuaid, the UCI's president, will answer questions on the affair for the first time. The UCI would appear to have little option but to agree with Usada and confirm that Armstrong will be stripped of his titles. Beyond that there is a need for the governing body to accept a degree of responsibility for those dark days.

"Absolutely they do," said Liggett. "On the other hand, they did work hard to try and make the sport transparent. They have had their moments, they have been argumentative with the two agencies [the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and Usada] because… they are jealously guarding their corner."

One course of action Liggett believes should happen is for the UCI to cut their links with Hein Verbruggen, the honorary president and the man in charge during the Armstrong era. "He has never walked away, and that is a mistake. He should have gone when his term [as president] ended but he didn't want to let go. We have got to see a new direction from the top and we've got to see them willing not to turn any sort of blind eye but to go in all guns firing to sort this out."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain