Cycling: Lance Armstrong in his own weasel words
Banned rider admits taking drugs for the first time but the number of gaps in his story mean that questions and condemnation are quick to follow
Friday 18 January 2013
In the first of his two-part interview broadcast today, Lance Armstrong admitted doping in all seven of his Tour de France wins – calling it "one big lie" – but denied having taken any banned substances since 2005. He claims he rode clean in the 2009 and 2010 Tours, despite US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) suggesting otherwise. The 41-year-old also refused to name names or give any significant detail on what Usada labelled the "most sophisticated doping programme the sport has ever seen".
It is the first time Armstrong has admitted using banned substances and could lead to the instigation of lawsuits totalling over $40m (£25m) in the coming weeks. Last night the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) said his confession "makes no difference to his status as a life-time banned athlete". A reduction in his ban has been suggested as a reason for his decision to confess after so many years of vehement denial. Armstrong said he would be willing to talk to a "truth and reconciliation commission" despite having only recently refused an invitation from Usada to speak to them under oath.
Armstrong said he never failed a test during his career and that suggestions he had paid cycling's world governing body, UCI, to facilitate the cover-up of a positive test at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland were untrue. Armstrong claimed UCI had asked him for a donation because "they didn't have a lot of money". He added: "There were things that were a little shady, this was not one."
He made two donations to UCI – a highly irregular practice for an athlete – one of $25,000 in 2002 and later one of $100,000. UCI says that initially Armstrong promised a donation and it reminded him of it rather than solicited the money. Like Armstrong, UCI denies any cover-up.
"Previously it was accepted that he had offered a donation but now he has put it that he was asked for a donation," said Brian Cookson, chair of British Cycling and part of UCI's management committee. "That's potentially quite an important difference. I want to know what the actual circumstances were and what other people in seniority have to say about that."
Cookson wants evidence of any payments to UCI revealed. He said: "Let's see the evidence. If there were payments then how illegal, untoward and appropriate were they. We want to know who is involved. Let's follow the money and see what did happen."
UCI was quick to take Armstrong's word that there was no cover-up. Its president Pat McQuaid said: "Lance Armstrong has confirmed there was no collusion or conspiracy between the UCI and Lance Armstrong. There were no positive tests which were covered up and he has confirmed that the donations made to the UCI were to assist in the fight against doping."
Hein Verbruggen, UCI president from 1991 to 2005, also welcomed Armstrong's denial. He said: "After years of suspicion, I'm happy that this conspiracy was in the end nothing more than an unsubstantiated theory. Nothing was ever hidden."
Wada, whose senior figures have condemned UCI's attempts to set up an independent commission into Armstrong and doping as "useless", does not believe UCI is vindicated. David Howman, Wada's director general, said: "There were two donations, the details of which have always been hazy. I don't think any clarification was given in the interview. It is a very inappropriate thing for an athlete to make donations and this is the only time in our history that we are aware of any athlete in any sport doing such a thing."
Travis Tygart, Usada's CEO and the man behind their successful pursuit of Armstrong, accepted it was a "small step forward" but urged Armstrong, if "he is sincere", to disclose full details. Thomas Bach, who oversees the International Olympic Committee's anti-doping investigations, followed that line. He said: "This is too little, too late. If he really loves his sport and wants to regain at least some credibility, then he should tell the whole truth and cooperate with the relevant sports bodies."
During the interview, Armstrong said doping was so prevalent in his era that it was "like saying we have to have air in our tyres, we have to have water in our bottles". He said it would have been impossible to win the Tour without doping.
There was no shortage of condemnation for Armstrong. Nicole Cooke, Britain's 2008 Olympic road-race winner, said: "He's got no morals and he's a disgusting human being."
There was a more nuanced response from another Briton, the rider David Millar, who himself has served a drug ban. Millar said: "I can't help but empathise with him… but sympathise is too strong a word. I like to think I am a compassionate person and no matter what he did, I do feel for him. His life is never going to be the same. He's got kids and they're going to have to go to school. A couple of years ago their dad was the best in the world and now he's a pariah."
Armstrong's immediate challenge will be a legal one. SCA Promotions, a Texas-based company, are due to file legal papers in pursuit of $12m paid to him in bonuses for winning the Tour. He also faces a federal whistleblower case brought by his former team-mate Floyd Landis over the alleged misuse of US Postal money in sponsoring the team that carried that name. The claim is for around $30m.
A former federal prosecutor believes that defamation cases could follow Armstrong's admissions on the Oprah Winfrey show.
"From a legal perspective, his issues are becoming more difficult, not less," said Matt Orwig. "I think he opened the door on others."
Unanswered questions: What we need to know
Oprah: Can you explain the culture to us? Was everybody doing it?
Armstrong "I didn't know everybody. I didn't live and train with everybody. I didn't race with everybody. I can't say that."
What we need to know The culture may already have been there but Armstrong refined it within his teams. Was it his idea to dope in the first place? Was it his idea for the entire team to dope? How did the system work? And, above all, name names – who helped the system run as smoothly as it did, how did they get round the authorities?
Armstrong said he did not have "access to anything else that nobody else did". That statement in itself suggests a wider knowledge of what was going on within the peloton. He insisted he did not want to name names, but without greater detail any confession is worthless, either for Armstrong or the sport.
Oprah: Were you afraid of getting caught?
Armstrong "No. Testing has evolved. Back then they didn't come to your house and for most of my career there wasn't that much out-of-competition testing, so you're not going to get caught, because you clean up for the races."
What we need to know Where did that confidence come from? The fact that Armstrong was tested so regularly and passed so regularly needs to be explained. How did he evade exposure? Was he tipped off about tests? There was out-of-competition testing during his career but that did nothing to stop him or his team – why not?
There is evidence he did not clean up during races. In 1999 he tested positive for cortisone during the Tour de France and produced a doctor's note saying it was due to cream for treating a rash. The UCI accepted this. Was he clean during races? How was it possible to evade testers or positive tests during races?
Oprah: When you placed third in [the] 2009 [Tour de France], you did not dope?
Armstrong "The last time I crossed that line was 2005."
What we need to know Armstrong also said he did not dope in 2010, his last tour. There is evidence in the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) report that he did blood dope in 2009 and 2010. Why did he decide not to dope on his comeback in 2009? Or is this just another Lance lie?
Oprah: You never offered [performance-enhancing drugs] to [team-mates], [or] suggested they see Dr Michele Ferrari?
Armstrong "There are people in this story, they are good people, we've all made mistakes, they are not toxic and evil. I viewed Dr Michele Ferrari as a good man and I still do."
What we need to know Which riders does Armstrong know followed Ferrari's doping programmes? How did he start with Ferrari? What did Ferrari do for him?
Oprah: What about [failing a dope test at] the Tour de Suisse [in 2001]?
Armstrong "That story isn't true. There was no positive test. No paying off of the lab. The UCI did not make that go away. I'm no fan of the UCI."
What we need to know Armstrong said during the interview that he never failed a test – which means something went very wrong somewhere. Again details are required – how did he get away with it? As for the UCI, the sport's governing body, see below.
Oprah: You made a donation to the UCI and said that donation was about helping anti-doping efforts. Obviously it was not. Why did you make that donation?
Armstrong "It was not in exchange for help. They called and said they didn't have a lot of money – I did. They asked if I would make a donation so I did."
What we need to know Armstrong made two donations to the UCI, one in 2002 for $25,000, the other in 2005 for $100,000. In 2005 Armstrong retired unexpectedly. There have also been reports of meetings at the UCI around the time of the first donation. Both parties deny this had anything to do with any cover-up. If Armstrong's version is true, then who rang to ask for this first donation? Who rang to ask for the second donation? This requires further scrutiny, although the UCI believes it is settled on the word of a confessed liar.
Oprah: Will you co-operate with Usada to help clear up the sport of cycling?
Armstrong "I love cycling… If there was a truth and reconciliation commission and I'm invited I'll be the first man through the door."
What we need to know He has already turned down several invitations to talk under oath to Usada. Will he finally face up to his pursuers and tell every detail under oath?
'He should suffer': Reaction from sporting world
"It's a disgrace for the sport to have an athlete like this. He cheated the sport. They should take his titles away. He should suffer for his lies."
"I think it's just a really sad story, sad for sport itself. I'm happy that our sport is as clean as it can be and that we're constantly tested."
"We just need to forgive Lance Armstrong. And move on. It takes balls to tell the truth. And Lance Armstrong only has one. Give him a break."
"He used his platform to call many good ppl liars. The selfishly bad things [he] did also allowed him to do many good things for others. #ironic."
"We need to look to the future and move on. It's hugely frustrating to have to defend your sport because of the greed & deception of a small minority."
Sir Chris Hoy
"I commend @lancearmstrong for courageously coming forward, but I am disappointed that he let down the sport and his fans."
"I think I am still a fan of Lance Armstrong. Level playing field I believe in the Tour. They were all doing it, he just did it better."
"Armstrong was living in his own horrible world. If he was trying to convince himself like that, he's got no morals – he is a disgusting human being."
"It was disturbing to watch him describe a litany of offences including doping throughout his career, bullying, lying.. and producing a backdated medical prescription to justify a test result."
UCI president Pat McQuaid
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