Lance Armstrong says 'sorry' on Oprah's sofa

Was it a PR stunt or a moment of redemption? Whatever the truth, his apology left his reputation more exposed than ever

Los Angeles

Lance Armstrong's emotional apology to the staff of his Livestrong cancer foundation – delivered in person shortly before he met Oprah Winfrey for their interview – is said to have brought several of the workers to tears.

But if viewers expected Winfrey's soft-sofa interview technique to push the disgraced cyclist into issuing a weepy onscreen apology, they will have been disappointed.

Armstrong appeared calm and collected throughout the encounter in a bland Austin hotel room, as he picked at the remaining threads of his own reputation. In the first part of the interview, screened on Thursday evening in the US, the Texan confessed that he had used performance enhancing substances for most of his sporting career, including in all seven of his Tour de France victories. Anyone who predicted that Winfrey would begin with a gentle question turned out to have been mistaken. "Yes or no," the veteran TV interviewer demanded: "Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?"

Armstrong, sitting cross-legged in an open-necked blue shirt and blazer, shifted his eyes momentarily from hers, before he nodded once, almost smirking: "Yes."

His life as a champion who had overcome cancer to win clean was "a perfect, mythic story," he said. "And it wasn't true."

He said his feat of seven consecutive Tour wins from 1999 to 2005 would have been impossible without doping, and he revealed 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 the US Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) claims that it was "the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen."

No team members were forced to dope, Armstrong said, though he admitted he was a "bully" whose battle against cancer gave him a "win-at-all-costs" mentality.

Armstrong's demeanour was not so much remorseful as relieved. At times, he even attempted levity. But if Winfrey found him amusing, it didn't show.

At the time of his Tour wins, Armstrong said 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. He insisted the last time he used performance enhancing substances was in 2005: a claim many will find difficult to swallow. "I'm not the most believable guy in the world right now," Armstrong admitted.

Armstrong is convinced that his 2009 comeback led to his downfall. If he had decided to remain in retirement, "we wouldn't be sitting here", he told Winfrey. 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 competitive cycling. Landis accused Armstrong of doping in an interview with the US news programme Nightline in 2010, accusations which led finally to an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Though he failed to co-operate with that investigation, or with the USADA investigation that followed, Armstrong told Winfrey that he would now 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 whom he had lied to or sued, Armstrong described himself as "deeply flawed". His victims may find other words to describe him. Whether they or the cycling community at large will ever forgive him for his misdeeds, is a question that only they can answer.

Drugs and Cancer: the connection

Lance Armstrong admitted to taking four drugs: human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone and cortisone – all of which help increase muscle strength – and EPO which boosts the body's oxygen-carrying capacity.

When he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 the age of 25, it was rumoured it might have been caused by doping. Now, he has said he was taking drugs when he received the diagnosis. While HGH, testosterone and cortisone bulk up muscles, they can also fuel tumour growth and reduce the body's immunity. Doping may not have caused Armstrong's cancer, but it may have speeded its development.

EPO (erythropoietin), his chief drug of choice, is a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to produce extra red blood cells, increasing the blood's capacity to carry oxygen – a big advantage in endurance sports. But EPO also thickens the blood increasing the risk of blood clots, heart disease and strokes. To avoid detection, Armstrong had blood transfusions, removing a half-litre of his blood, waiting a month while his body regenerated it, and then re-infusing it before a race. That too carries risks if it is not handled properly.

Jeremy Laurance

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher, full time supply role, Thanet Academy

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The School Randstad are proud to...

Science Teacher, full time supply role, Thanet Academy

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The School Randstad are proud to...

English Teacher, full time supply role, Isle of Sheppey

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job: Our client school is lo...

ICT Teacher, full time supply role, Isle of Sheppey

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job: Our client school is lo...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week