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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn