By REED ALBERGOTTI and VANESSA O’CONNELL
Former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong told the world Thursday evening that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Mr. Armstrong said that like many other cyclists of his generation, he used EPO, human-growth hormone, testosterone and other drugs to compete. “I’m a flawed character,” Mr. Armstrong said during the hour-and-a-half program. “I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.”
The taped show, which was broadcast on the Oprah Winfrey Network and on the Internet, marked the end of a dozen years of strident denials from the 41-year-old Mr. Armstrong, who faced several doping scandals during his career but had, until last summer, escaped punishment from antidoping authorities.
Looking tentative and anxious at times, Mr. Armstrong, who wore a blue sport coat and a lavender button-down shirt, said doping was so prevalent in professional cycling from the early 1990s to 2005, that saying they needed to take banned substances was like “saying we have to have air in our tires and we have to have water in our bottles.”
Mr. Armstrong admitted, without hesitation and at the top of the 90-minute show, to his own use of drugs and blood transfusions, but shied away from significant details and didn’t provide specifics about the involvement of riders, team managers and doctors in his team’s doping program.
For many cycling fans and observers of Mr. Armstrong, their biggest criticism of the fallen champion hasn’t been his doping, but his persistent attacks of those who spoke the truth about doping or chose not to participate in doping. In the interview, Mr. Armstrong repeatedly denied he ever pressured riders on his team to use drugs or gave them ultimatums to do so. He did say it would be fair to describe him as a “bully” who helped perpetuate the atmosphere of doping on the team.
Mr. Armstrong’s decision to come clean follows a saga that began in May, 2010, when he was accused of doping by his former teammate, Floyd Landis. Mr. Landis’s accusations, which were sent by email to a small group of cycling officials, were first made public by The Wall Street Journal.
In the interview, Mr. Armstrong said Mr. Landis’s accusations marked the beginning of his downfall, citing The Wall Street Journal story to Ms. Winfrey.
Mr. Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year and banned from professional sports for life by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In October, Usada chose to release to the public thousands of pages of documents supporting its decision. The documents included affidavits from roughly a dozen of his former teammates, all of whom accused him of doping.
Shortly after Usada released the documents, all of Mr. Armstrong’s major sponsors, including Nike, NKE -0.47%ended their relationship with the athlete, cutting off his major source of income.
One of Usada’s accusations was that Mr. Armstrong’s doping program was the most sophisticated in all of sports. Mr. Armstrong denied that charge. He called the USPS doping program was “very conservative, very risk-averse,” Mr. Armstrong said. He said the program was definitely nowhere near as robust as the state-sponsored doping program in East Germany during the 1970s and 1980s.
“I viewed it as very simple,” Mr. Armstrong said of the doping program. He said the program centered on using EPO and some other oxygen-boosting drugs and methods, such as blood transfusions. “My cocktail, so to speak, was only EPO—but not a lot—transfusions and testosterone.”
Mr. Armstrong said he doesn’t consider himself to be a cheater. He said he looked up the word “cheat” in the dictionary and said the definition—to gain an unfair advantage—doesn’t describe his use of performance-enhancing drugs. So many other riders were also using them, he said, that the playing field was level.
Mr. Armstrong said that “in a weird way” he justified his use of testosterone because he had lost a testicle during his battle with cancer. The testicles produce the hormone naturally. “I thought surely I’m running low,” he said.
Mr. Armstrong refused to address a story that had caused significant controversy during his career: an episode in 1996 in which some people said they had heard him admit using performance-enhancing drugs to a doctor inside an Indiana hospital room. “I’m going to put that one down,” he said.
Both Mr. Armstrong and his longtime agent and friend, Bill Stapleton, testified under oath in a 2005 arbitration case that this conversation never happened. Mr. Armstrong also attacked the source of that information, Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former teammate. He accused Ms. Andreu of lying and holding a grudge against him. He said in the interview he called her a “b—” but denied saying she was “fat.”
Mr. Armstrong admitted to Ms. Winfrey that he covered up a positive test in the 1999 Tour de France for corticosteroids. At the time, he said that he had tested positive because of a cream he was using for saddle sores. He admitted to Ms. Winfrey that the prescription for the cream was written after the positive test and backdated by a doctor to make it appear as if he had already been taking it.
Mr. Armstrong denied to Ms. Winfrey the accusation that he paid off the Union Cycliste Internationale, the sport’s international governing body, to get out of a positive test at the 2001 Tour de Suisse. Ms. Winfrey asked Mr. Armstrong why he made a donation of more than $100,000 to the governing body, known as the UCI. “They asked me to,” Mr. Armstrong said of the UCI. “It was not in exchange for a coverup,” Mr. Armstrong said. Even during his answer, Mr. Armstrong expressed doubts that anyone would believe him. “I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now,” he said.
Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, issued a statement after the interview Thursday evening. “Tonight, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit,” he said. “But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.”
Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France, has been a frequent target of Mr. Armstrong’s attacks. In 2001, after he spoke out against Mr. Armstrong’s relationship with Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who has been accused of administering performance-enhancing drugs, Mr. LeMond believes Mr. Armstrong set out to ruin his reputation and business. “He set out for 10 years to destroy everything that I’ve done,” he said. “I want to believe there’s a human side to him. But tonight, I didn’t see it at all.”
Mr. LeMond, who wasn’t discussed at length in the interview, said Mr. Armstrong evaded details on the show. “He’s still trying to take control like he’s the master of the universe. He still believes he has this charismatic engaging personality,” Mr. LeMond said.
Mr. Armstrong’s admission could complicate his legal troubles. He is facing a whistleblower suit filed by Mr. Landis with potential damages of roughly $100 million. He also could face civil suits from an insurance company that paid his Tour de France bonus money and the Sunday Times, a British newspaper that Mr. Armstrong sued for libel. The Times, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp NWSA +1.76% .
Jeffrey M. Tillotson, a lawyer in Dallas who represents SCA Promotions, a sports-insurance company that once paid Mr. Armstrong $12.5 million in bonuses for his Tour de France wins, said Mr. Armstrong admitted so much that Mr. Tillotson believes Armstrong should return the bonus money. “We paid this guy $12 million and we want the money back. If we don’t get the money back we’ll be filing a lawsuit next week,” he said.
A spokesman for Mr. Armstrong declined to comment on the former cyclists’s reaction to the interview.
“There is no way he pulled off the biggest fraud in the history of sports by himself,” said Ms. Andreu after the interview. She said that to be redeemed, Mr. Armstrong needed to tell the whole truth to Usada or the World Anti-Doping Agency and talk about others who aided and abetted him in doping. During the interview, Mr. Armstrong shied away from talking about others.
“I think it’s a good start,” said Jonathan Vaughters, a former teammate of Mr. Armstrong’s on the U.S. Postal Service team. “The truth is the best way forward.” Mr. Vaughters accused Mr. Armstrong of doping in a sworn affidavit sent to Usada. Mr. Vaughters is currently chief executive of Boulder-based cycling Team Garmin-Sharp.
“I thought it was a fair effort on his part and well within what people could expect or hope for,” said Joe Papp, a former professional cyclist who was caught doping in 2006 and suspended from the sport. “Any kind of confession is such a radical departure from Lance’s past behavior,” added Mr. Papp, who became an antidoping advocate.
“Maybe he downplayed the significance of the influence he had over other riders,” Mr. Papp said.
“Lance appears to be in the early stages of recognizing the damage he has done. I certainly hope it is not an act,” said Kenny Labbe, who rode with the U.S. Postal Service team with Mr. Armstrong from 2000 to 2004. “Lance is confirming all that is out there. Not saying anything new.”
The Livestrong Foundation, the cancer charity formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, issued a statement after the interview saying it was “disappointed” that Mr. Armstrong lied. “Even in the wake of our disappointment, we also express our gratitude to Lance as a survivor for the drive, devotion and spirit he brought to serving cancer patients and the entire cancer community.
Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal