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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project