Lance Armstrong, seemingly unbowed by a 1000-page US Anti-Doping Agency report detailing his doping over more than a decade, tweeted a photo of himself in November relaxing on his couch, gazing up at seven framed Tour de France yellow jerseys.
“Back in Austin and just layin’ around,” Armstrong wrote on the tweet.
On Monday, Armstrong took a seat on America’s couch, sitting down with Oprah Winfrey for his first interview since the USADA report’s October release.
The interview, in which Winfrey said Armstrong acknowledged doping, will be televised in primetime on Thursday (Friday AEDT) and Friday and is the first step in his bid to rebuild his reputation.
Longtime Armstrong associates, fans, benefactors for his Livestrong foundation, legal scholars and anti-doping officials claim the interview is also a pivotal moment in the biggest doping scandal in international sports history.
“The first of many steps toward redemption,” said Steven Ungerleider, a longtime Armstrong acquaintance who has served on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s ethics and education committee.
The Winfrey interview and Armstrong talks with USADA and WADA officials could also mark significant steps forward for cycling as the sport attempts to crawl out from beneath the wreckage of what retiring Olympic cycling champion Nicole Cooke of Great Britain this week described as “the time of Lance and all of the dreadful tragedy that the abuses surrounding him have brought to my sport.”
Cooke is among the many sceptics who question whether the Winfrey interview is a genuine act of contrition by Armstrong or just another calculated public relations ploy.
“Lance is nothing if not publicity savvy,” said Bob Babbitt, the longtime co-publisher of Competitor magazine, who has known Armstrong since the Texan was 15.
“The question I have … is he genuinely sorry or does he rationalise doping as something I had to do because I wanted to win?”
Yet in attempting to reshape his image and lay the groundwork for a possible reduction in USADA’s lifetime ban from competition, Armstrong has recklessly opened himself up to the likelihood of civil lawsuits, criminal charges and possibly even prison, said Peter Keane, dean emeritus at San Francisco’s Golden Gate School of Law.
“He’s totally overcome by his own arrogance, his belief that somehow his personality can overcome this criminal and civil jeopardy he’s dug himself into these last 15 years,” Keane said.
“It shows a huge ego.”
For more than a decade Armstrong, Babbitt said, “has lived on his own little planet,” propelled by a universal storyline that resonated well beyond his sport.
Which is why Armstrong’s fall is even more dramatic than other disgraced sports superstars such as Ben Johnson, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, all linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
It is also why Armstrong faces a higher bar in the court of public opinion.
Armstrong, the cancer survivor who went on to conquer the world’s most storied endurance competition a record seven times, just didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, he sold hope.
“I remember during the Tour de France you would go to his trailer and it would be surrounded by cancer survivors or the parents of children with cancer,” Babbitt said.
“They just wanted Lance to put his hand on them. They wanted him to touch them with hope.”
“I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles,” Armstrong said of sceptics in his victory speech after his final Tour victory in 2005.
Armstrong and his story helped Livestrong raise $US500 million ($A475 million) for research and other cancer-related projects. There was, however, no miracle.
Rather Armstrong, as first claimed by former US Postal teammate Floyd Landis and later by other former teammates and associates, was aided by an elaborate doping program of which he was at the centre, the USADA report found.
“…At some point, people have to tell their kids that Santa Claus isn’t real. I hate to be the guy to do it, but it’s just not real,” Landis said in an interview with Nightline.
Coming clean about the extent of his doping, is critical not only in Armstrong’s bid to rehabilitate his image but in his quest to convince USADA and WADA officials to reduce his lifetime ban.
Armstrong would like to resume his triathlon career, something he is currently prevented from doing at the international level because of the ban.
But Armstrong is in a unique position to expose just how widespread doping was and is in cycling, a scandal that many believe extends even to the offices of the Union Cycliste International, the sport’s global governing body.
Talks are already underway with WADA officials that would lay the ground work for a reduction in Armstrong’s ban in return for his cooperation with investigators, Ungerleider said.
“I could definitely, definitely believe he could receive a mitigation or lessening (of the ban),” Ungerleider said.
Landis, in an email to USA Cycling officials, obtained by the Orange County Register in 2010, said Armstrong was tipped off by UCI officials to a new test for the banned blood boosting drug EPO.
Landis also alleged that Armstrong tested positive for EPO during the 2001 Tour de Suisse but the test was covered up after Armstrong paid a $US100,000 ($A95,000) bribe to UCI officials.
UCI officials denied the cover-up. The head of the Swiss drug testing lab conducting the Tour de Suisse said Armstrong’s test from the 2001 race was “suspect” but did not prove the use of EPO.
Doctor Martial Saugy is the director of the WADA-accredited drug testing lab in Lausanne not far from the International Olympic Committee headquarters.
Saugy this week confirmed that he met with Armstrong and US Postal team director Johan Bruyneel in 2002 to explain EPO testing but denied that there was anything inappropriate about the meeting.
Former US Postal rider David Zabriskie told USADA officials he suspected the team was tipped off about when to expect drug tests.
“Johan always seemed to know when drug testers were coming at races,” Zabriskie said in an affidavit. “This warning that ‘they’re coming tomorrow’ came on more than one occasion.”
But the more Armstrong details his and others doping and circumstances that allowed it to continue the more he further exposes his already vulnerable position legally.
Armstrong is already the target of a federal whistleblower suit filed by Landis that alleges government money was used to purchase doping products for Armstrong and his US Postal teammates.
A loss in the case could cost Armstrong as much as $US100 million ($A95 million). The Sunday Times, a London newspaper, plans to sue Armstrong for $US1.6 million ($A1.52 million).
The Times paid Armstrong $US485,000 ($A460,000) in an out-of-court settlement in his 2006 libel suit against the paper.
A Dallas promotions company is also expected to sue Armstrong, alleging he lied about his doping in a deposition in a 2006 lawsuit over the company’s refusal to pay Armstrong a $US7.5 million ($A7.12 million) bonus for winning his sixth Tour de France because of doping accusations.
Armstrong legally, Keane said, faces “enormous risk both in civil and criminal court.”
After years of denying his involvement in doping in court cases, Armstrong with the Winfrey interview, Keane said, “is playing (legal) Russian roulette with six bullets in the chamber.”
Saying there’s a pretty good chance Armstrong could face jail time, Keane said the interview is another example of Armstrong’s belief that he can talk his way out of anything, that the rules don’t apply to him.
Babbitt will also be questioning Armstrong’s motivation when he watches the Winfrey interview.
Will he see the man who reached out to thousands of cancer patients? Or the bully who attacked viciously and relentlessly his critics for more than a decade, ruining dozens of careers and reputations along the way.
“He was the biggest bully for the last 10 years … what does he have to say to those who he used his power, influence and money to destroy and besmirch?”
Play The Roar’s exclusive Lance Armstring drinking game while watching his interview with Oprah!