Cycling: Lance Armstrong would race clean now but not in 1995

LONDON (Reuters) - Banned cyclist Lance Armstrong says he would not have needed to resort to doping in the sport's current era and what happened years ago should be seen in the context of the times.

"If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn't do it again because I don't think you have to," the Texan told the BBC in an interview on Monday. "If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive, I would probably do it again."

A cancer survivor and once a hero to millions, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories and banned for life from racing in 2012 by the US Anti-Doping Agency after it accused him in a report of engineering one of the most sophisticated doping schemes in sports.

Following his return from cancer in the late 1990s, Armstrong was regularly subjected to claims of doping, which he stoutly refuted until the release of USADA's "reasoned decision".

The 200-page document - supported by a further 1,000 pages of evidence - finally led to Armstrong's confession in an interview with US chat-show host Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.

"When I made the decision (to dope in 1995), when my team made that decision, when the whole peloton made that decision, it was a bad decision and an imperfect time," he said. "But it happened. And I know what happened because of that. I know what happened to the sport, I saw its growth."

Armstrong said he regretted the "unacceptable and inexcusable" behaviour with which he subjected other riders and figures within the sport during numerous attempts to rubbish their allegations of doping.

"I would want to change the man that did those things, maybe not the decision, but the way he acted," he continued. "The way he treated people, the way he couldn't stop fighting. It was unacceptable, inexcusable."

His seven Tour victories between 1999 and 2005 have been rescinded but not assigned to anyone else because of the prevalence of doping at the time. The American was resolute when asked about the titles.

"I think there has to be a winner," he said. "I'm just saying that as a fan. I don't think it sits empty... I feel like I won those Tours."

He is pondering reengaging with the cancer charity he stepped away from at the height of the scandal and is still lobbying to have his ban decreased so he can compete in sports like triathlon.

Asked if people were ready for his return to public life, he said: "Selfishly, I would say 'yeah, we're getting close to that time'.