Armstrong admits doping, but mea culpa poses more questions

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Lance Armstrong discusses his history of doping on Oprah (Image: Supplied)

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It has finally happened – Lance Armstrong has publicly admitted to doping to achieve his seven Tour de France titles.

Asked by Oprah Winfrey at the commencement of their interview to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question that he doped during his career, Armstrong answered in the affirmative.

It finally drew to an end to an episode which for people like British investigative journalist David Walsh was akin to like shaking hands with smoke – you could see it, taste it and smell it but you couldn’t get your hands on it

Early on in the interview there was the occasional Lance smirk, something that has often been his visage when under questioning. It is not always a look that endears his answers with the conviction of his words.

He was at times very candid when discussing his reign of error – saying, ‘The story was so perfect for so long … a mythic perfect story and it wasn’t true. I am a flawed character. All the fault and blame lies on me.’

Tellingly, when asked by Oprah Winfrey why he was choosing to come out and tell the truth now, his response left a lot to be desired – ‘I don’t have a great answer … It is too late for most people … I view this situation as one big lie.’

One big lie it certainly was, but one would have thought that Armstrong would have given strong consideration to answering that key question – why now?

He has been quoted as saying that he wanted to come clean – so to speak – so he could continue to compete in elite triathlon events, his current choice of sporting competition.

Some have theorised his mea culpa has come as a result of pressure from those involved in his cancer inspired Livestrong Foundation.

But, after part one of the interview with Winfrey, we are none the wiser as to what his current motivation is and that is a shame.

Simply saying ‘I don’t have a great answer’, as to why now still leaves his motivation a mystery.

It may come out in the second half of the interview but it does seem strange that he could not give a definitive answer as to his motivation at this point of his life first-up.

What he did admit to was that his ‘cocktail’ of choice was EPO, blood transfusions and testosterone. He confirmed that he commenced using EPO in the mid-1990s but stated that he last took drugs during his last Tour de France victory in 2005.

He was adamant that when he returned to competition at the 2009 and 2010 Tours he was completely drug free.

The manner with which he spoke about drug use was to compare it to ‘putting air in your tyres or water in your bottles’ – such was the apparent climate he perceived existed during his reign as the sport’s biggest star.

He confessed that he did not feel he would have had the same success at the Tour had he not doped but added that he never had ‘access to anything that others didn’t’.

Armstrong stated that his personality underwent a transformation as a result of his battle with testicular cancer.

He said that the attitude that he used to fight off cancer was the attitude that he then took back onto the bike – ‘basically I would do anything to win’.

He even made a throwaway line that the cancer had left him with a lower than usual level of testosterone, almost a way of validating that he took a synthetic form of that hormone as part of his doping regime.

When asked if was a bully – an accusation leveled at him by all manner of people who have had dealings with him – he said, ‘I tried to control the narrative … if someone was disloyal or a friend turning on me, I tried to control that’.

However, he flatly denied that he ever verbally coerced teammates to dope, contradicting an accusation made by former teammate and close friend, fellow American Christian Vande Velde.

He stated that he did not wish to talk about others from that generation – something that he was publicly scathing about previously when two former teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis broke the peloton’s omertà – stating, ‘it is not my call to say whether everyone was doing it’.

When asked how the doping regime operated within the teams he led, he responded with a laugh, saying it would take a long time to explain.

Interestingly, when asked if he was ever afraid of being caught, his response was a short, sharp ‘no’.

He expanded, saying ‘For most of my career there was not much out of competition testing, so you’re not going to get caught. You were clear.’

He supported the UCI’s move to the biological passport system whereby the profile of an athlete’s normal blood and urine levels were recorded regularly so that any spike would be a potential marker of drug use.

One of the more bizarre things Armstrong said was that he viewed disgraced Italian doctor Michele Ferrari as ‘a good man and I still do’.

Ferrari has been banned from having any dealings with elite athletes in any sport having been found to be heavily involved in constructing and monitoring the drug protocols for myriad athletes.

It was during the now infamous 2005 sworn deposition given by Armstrong that he stated that he had severed all ties with Ferrari only to be undone later when USADA uncovered a money trail that led from Armstrong to the Italian medico.

Looking back now at vision of his 2005 testimony, Armstrong says you can see that ‘defiance, that arrogance. You cannot deny it.’

Several times during the inquisition he stated that he was not a fan of the UCI.

Whilst Armstrong repeatedly said that he did not want to mention names or cast aspersions on former teammates or rivals, he did say that should the sport call for a truth and reconciliation commission and he was invited to attend he would be the ‘first man to the door’.

That comment may have the likes of current UCI president, Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen concerned as both men have been in the firing line over the way the sport’s governing body has handled the doping scandals that have beset it.

One of the main pieces of evidence that has been thrown up against Armstrong in recent times is the so-called confession he made to his doctors at the time of being treated for his cancer in an Indiana hospital in 1996.

Betsy Andreu, wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie, says that the Tour winner, when asked if he had ever taken performance enhancing drugs by a treating physician, replied by reeling off a cocktail of substances.

Armstrong, when asked today, refused to say whether Betsy Andreu’s recollection of events was truthful. Not quite everything was on the table, as previously promised.

He said the two shared a recent 40-minute phone call where he said he apologised but both agreed that they would not disclose the conversation publicly, including on Armstrong’s behalf an admission or denial of her earlier claims.

He also admitted to having treated his former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly very badly after she came out and made some explosive allegations about his drug use – allegations he now says were true.

One of O’Reilly’s assertions was that team doctors had backdated a prescription to allow Armstrong to avoid a suspension after testing positive for a corticoid at the 1999 Tour de France.

Armstrong having vilified O’Reilly for her accusations in the past – including referring to her as a prostitute with a drinking problem – has now confessed that she was in fact telling the truth.

Armstrong said he believed the tipping point in the whole saga came when Landis, a former teammate who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory for failing a drug test, went public with his claims of what had happened within the team when he raced alongside Armstrong.

His ‘fate was sealed’ when his trusted lieutenant Hincapie, the only man to ride alongside Armstrong for all seven of his Tour wins, came out and aired his dirty linen to USADA investigators.

As for the $250,000 ‘donation’ that Armstrong made to the UCI during his career to be used for improving doping controls, he says he was rung by cycling officials and requested to make the payment – this will be another contentious issue for McQuaid and Heinbruggen to respond to.

Winfrey asked him at one point did he ever feel bad, to which he said ‘no’.

Did he feel bad about it? ‘No’.

Did you feel you were cheating? ‘No, that’s scariest.’

When asked about his comeback in 2009 and whether he now regretted it, the answer was ‘I do. We wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t comeback.’ This admission posed more questions. His regret was that he was caught.

Armstrong says he will spend the rest of his life trying to speak to people to apologise.

I wish him luck, for it is a Sisyphean task.

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.