LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Disgraced cycling legend Lance Armstrong’s fierce defence of his record finally collapsed on Thursday as he admitted that his seven Tour de France titles were fueled by an array of drugs.
“I made my decisions. They’re my mistake,” Armstrong told United States talk show host Oprah Winfrey, in his first interview since he was stripped of his record yellow jersey haul and banned from sport for life.
“And I’m sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that,” Armstrong admitted. “I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.”
“Certainly, I’m a flawed character,” said Armstrong, who was once revered as a cancer survivor who beat the odds to succeed on cycling’s greatest stage, then used his fame to help others fighting the disease.
“It’s just this mythic, perfect story,” he said. “And it wasn’t true.”
Winfrey’s much-anticipated interview opened with a rapid-fire series of “yes” or “no” questions that saw Armstrong admit to using the blood-booster EPO, blood-doping transfusions, testosterone and human growth hormone.
All were listed by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) in the damning report on which it based the 41-year-old American’s life ban.
Armstrong confirmed details contained in the report such as the existence of the shadowy courier known as “Motoman” who delivered EPO to riders.
At the time he told himself his cancer history justified his reliance on a “cocktail” of EPO, blood transfusions and testosterone.
“All the fault and all the blame here falls on me, but behind that picture and behind that story there’s momentum, momentum,” Armstrong said.
“And whether it’s fans or whether it’s the media...it just gets going and I lost myself in all that.”
In those years he won the tour from 1999 to 2005, Armstrong said, he didn’t even think of himself as cheating. He didn’t feel he was doing something wrong.
“Scary,” Armstrong said.
He admitted he bullied people who didn’t go along with the “narrative” he constructed, but categorically denied forcing team-mates to dope.
He declined to characterise Italian doctor Michele Ferrari as the mastermind of the doping program on the US Postal Service cycling team and took issue with other points in the Usada report.
Armstrong said he didn’t believe the doping program on the US Postal Service team was the biggest in the history of sport, and that it couldn’t compare to the state-sponsored doping program in the former East Germany, for example.
He denied that the International Cycling Union (UCI) covered up a positive drug test from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland, and he denied that he used banned drugs when he returned from retirement in 2009.
Had he not come out of retirement, Armstrong said, he doubted anti-doping officials would have ever caught up with him, although the allegations would have followed him forever.
When a federal criminal investigation into his possible role in doping in the sport ended with no charges in early 2012 he thought he was “out of the woods”.
Now that Usada have made their case stick, however, Armstrong said he’d be happy to play a role in a “truth and reconciliation” period in cycling.
“If they have it and I’m invited, I’ll be the first man in the door,” Armstrong said, while acknowledging that he had “no moral platform” from which to pursue a clean-up of the sport.
Since the interview was taped, speculation has swirled as to whether he would implicate others – such as members of the UCI.
Armstrong said he didn’t want to accuse others.
“I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture, and that’s my mistake and that’s what I have to be sorry for, and the sport is now paying the price because of that, and so I am sorry for that.”