If Oprah’s regular audience switched on her interview with Lance Armstrong last night hoping for tears, they’ll have found it disappointing. But for her new audience from the global cycling community, the encounter was anything but.
With his very first answers of the evening, the shamed cyclist confessed that he used performance enhancing substances throughout most of his sporting career, including in all seven of his Tour de France victories. His life as a champion who had overcome cancer to win clean was "a perfect, mythic story," he said. "And it wasn't true."
Armstrong also said he believed his feat of seven consecutive Tour wins from 1999 to 2005 would have been impossible without doping, revealing that his personal preferred "cocktail" was EPO, blood doping and testosterone. He described the US Postal Service team's doping programme as "professional", though he rejected USADA's claims that it was " the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen." No team members were ever forced to take part in doping, he claimed, though he did admit: "I was a bully."
At the time, said the Texan, he didn't consider his actions to be cheating, because so many other cyclists were also using drugs. "I viewed it as a level playing field," he said. He did, however, deny having doped during his comeback Tours in 2009 and 2010, in which he placed third and 23rd respectively. The last time he used performance enhancing substances, he insisted, was in 2005.
Indeed, Armstrong believes that his 2009 comeback was what led to his downfall. If he had decided to remain in retirement, he told Winfrey, "We wouldn't be sitting here." But his former teammate, Floyd Landis – who was stripped of his own Tour title for doping in 2006 – was unhappy about Armstrong's decision to return to cycling. Landis accused Armstrong of doping in an interview with the US news programme Nightline in 2010, accusations which led to an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Winfrey, whom some had feared would go easy on Armstrong, appeared well briefed for the interview, with a finer recollection of some incidents than the shamed cyclist himself. The second half of the conversation, which was recorded at a hotel in Austin on Monday, will be broadcast tonight at 2am GMT. The pair are expected to discuss Armstrong's family and his cancer foundation Livestrong, as well as what the future holds for the disgraced athlete.
Armstrong said that he would be keen to help clean up the sport and its image. "It's not my place to say, 'Hey guys, let's clean up cycling!' But if they had a truth and reconciliation commission... I'd be the first through the door." Offering his apologies to anyone to whom he had lied or sued, Armstrong described himself as "deeply flawed". Whether those victims or the cycling community will ever forgive him for his misdeeds, is a question that only they can answer.