Lance Armstrong said he cheated by taking drugs through all of his record seven Tour de France cycling championships.
Armstrong made the statement in the first half of an interview with Oprah Winfrey that was televised tonight. The second part, taped this week at a hotel in Armstrong’s hometown of Austin, Texas, will air tomorrow night on the Oprah Winfrey Network and online.
“Yes,” Armstrong said repeatedly when asked if he had violated anti-drug rules. “I viewed this as one big lie.”
Armstrong’s acknowledgement of cheating through doping follows 13 years of emphatic denials of drug use, including verbal attacks and lawsuits aimed at his accusers. The 41-year-old American, whose survival from testicular cancer helped create the largest sports-related charity in the U.S., was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from competing in Olympic-level sports for life in October after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published a 1,000-page report in which it said it found proof he engaged in serial cheating though the use, administration and trafficking of testosterone, erythropoietin and blood transfusions.
Armstrong confirmed use of those three drugs in the interview, calling his doping regimen “professional” and “risk averse.” He said doping was endemic in his generation of riders and that he didn’t believe it would have been possible for him to win his seven Tours without using banned substances.
He said he didn’t feel he was cheating and or feel bad about it.
“I viewed it as a level playing field,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said he stopped doping after his 2005 Tour victory, the last of his seven championships. He said that, contrary to the USADA report, he wasn’t using banned substances when he placed third in the Tour in 2009 or when he rode the race again in 2010.
“Drug testing has changed, it has evolved,” Armstrong said. “Now the emphasis of the testing is out of competition.”
Armstrong also said that he didn’t expect or require his teammates to use banned substance, a condition that former teammate Christian Vande Velde stated in the USADA report. Armstrong said he understood that his doping may have made teammates feel pressure to do the same.
“Look, I was the leader of the team, and the leader of any team leads by example,” he said. “There was never a direct order or a directive to that said you have to do this if you want to do the Tour or you want to be on the team.”
Armstrong said he was a bully. He said he spent his entire life attacking people who defied him and he had a “win-at-all-costs mentality.”
“It serves me well on the bike, it served me well during the disease, but the level that it went to, for whatever reason, is a flaw,” he said. “That defiance, that attitude, that arrogance, you cannot deny it.”
Armstrong called his return to the Tour in 2009 and accusations from former teammate Floyd Landis the two “tipping points” in his belief that he could forever stifle the truth. He said his fate was sealed with the public when George Hincapie, the only teammate to ride with him in all seven Tour wins, said in the USADA report that Armstrong doped.
“They could have heard anybody say anything and if George didn’t say it, they’d say, “Well George didn’t say it, so I’m sticking with Lance,”’ he said. “And I don’t fault George at all.”
USADA, the Colorado Springs, Colorado-based overseer of U.S. Olympic-level sports drug rules, said in its October report that Armstrong’s career was “fueled start to finish by doping,” using evidence from 11 former teammates.
Armstrong’s lifetime ban from competitive cycling took effect when he chose not to fight the allegations in the USADA report. The ban includes triathlons, a sport in which he competed professionally when he was younger and returned to after retiring from cycling in 2011.
Following USADA’s report, Armstrong also severed ties with Livestrong, formerly the Lance Armstrong Foundation. That tie had made him perhaps the best-known figure in the fight against cancer. The largest athlete-founded charity has raised more than $470 million since 1997, according to its website.
Livestrong said in a statement this week that Armstrong stopped by its offices in Austin to apologize to staff members in person. The organization, whose name was removed from the stadium of Major League Soccer’s Sporting KC on Jan. 15 in a dispute over donations, said it is charting a “strong, independent course forward.”
Greg Dale, a professor of sport psychology and sports ethics at Duke University, said this week that Armstrong’s philanthropic work makes his situation unique.
“Here’s a guy that really did some great things with his ability to raise money and funding for cancer research, but someone who not only was blatantly lying, but viciously attacked and ruined the character of some people who were simply telling the truth,” Dale said in a telephone interview. “That’s something we haven’t seen.”
The American Cancer Society, another nationwide organization dedicated to helping those affected by the disease, said in a statement that it will continue to work with Livestrong. Spokesman Sabriya Rice said the organization would not be commenting immediately after Armstrong’s interview.
Armstrong was diagnosed in 1996 with stage three testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain. He returned to the Tour de France in 1999, winning the first of seven consecutive titles, six with the U.S. Postal Service team, and the final with a team sponsored by the Discovery Channel.
Armstrong is now in talks to return a portion of the millions of taxpayer dollars received by the U.S. Postal Service team, whose contract specifically banned doping, according to CBS News. The network reported this week that the U.S. Justice Department rejected a $5 million offer from the cyclist that included his willing participation in a federal investigation.
Justice Department officials have recommended the U.S. government join a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by Landis in 2010, according to the New York Daily News. The lawsuit, which claims Armstrong and U.S. Postal team executives used taxpayer dollars to fund the squad’s doping, is aimed at recovering the roughly $30 million that the Postal Service paid Armstrong’s former team.
Under the False Claims Act, should they be found guilty, Armstrong and others could be forced to repay triple the amount paid to them in the contract, more than $90 million.
Investment banker Thomas Weisel, chairman of Tailwind Sports, the holding company for the U.S. Postal Service team, told the New York Times that he was unaware of Armstrong’s doping. The 71-year-old founder of Montgomery Securities and Thomas Weisel Partners said it was not until the USADA report that he realized rumors of Armstrong’s cheating may be correct, according to the newspaper.
The whistle-blower lawsuit isn’t the only legal ramification of Armstrong’s doping and years of denial.
Armstrong and his backers might face a $12 million lawsuit from Dallas-based SCA Promotions Inc., which insured bonuses Armstrong received for winning the Tour from 2002-04, and was sued by Armstrong and U.S. Postal Service team owner Tailwind Sports in 2004 for failing to pay a $5 million bonus owed to the cyclist. The company agreed in 2006 to pay the $5 million and $2.5 million in interest and legal fees.
Armstrong also faces a lawsuit of around $1.5 million from the Sunday Times, a British newspaper, which is trying to recoup money from a 2006 libel settlement. In addition, the Australian state of South Australia is seeking damages or compensation from Armstrong for “several million dollars” of appearance fees from its Tour Down Under, ESPN reported this week citing state Premier Jay Weatherill.
Armstrong’s net worth was estimated at $125 million in August by Forbes Magazine, which said at the time that he earns more than $10 million per year in speaking and endorsement deals. Last year, he took out a $1.85 million line of credit, secured by his home in Austin, which is valued at more than $3 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Following the USADA report, Armstrong was dropped by sponsors including Nike Inc., Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley Inc., Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Trek Bicycle Corp., and energy supplement makers FRS and Honey Stinger. In total the cyclist lost as much as $200 million in earning potential as a result of the lost sponsorships, according to market analysts.
“His past sponsors, including Nike, Anheuser-Busch and even smaller brands like FRS and Honey Stinger, could potentially sue him for brand damages associated with his admission,” Chicago-based attorney Andrew Stoltmann said in an e-mail. “The people he attacked when defending his reputation could have actionable civil slander claims against him.”
Armstrong verbally attacked anyone who questioned the validity of his achievements for years. Those included three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, the first U.S. champion of the race; Emma O’Reilly, a former masseuse with his team who told of doping and cover-up strategies; and Betsy Andreu, the wife of one-time teammate Frankie Andreu, who testified that she heard Armstrong acknowledge doping before his cancer diagnosis.
Armstrong said that O’Reilly’s claims were accurate and that he tried to reach out to her to apologize. He called her “one of those people that got run over.”
He said he spoke with Betsy Andreu recently on the phone for 40 minutes and apologized to her as well. He did not comment on whether or not her specific allegations were accurate, saying his public, personal attacks on O’Reilly and Andreu were a product of his competitive and bullying nature.
“I was just on the attack, Oprah,” he said. “Territory being threaten, team being threatened, reputation being threaten, I’m going to attack.”
“For the past eight years, we have been a public target of Lance,” Betsy Andreu said in an interview with ESPN this week. “I can’t explain what it’s like to live on a daily basis almost to defend my honor, to say that I’ve never lied about this. Lance would call me bitter, jealous, vindictive. It would trickle down.”
The bullying is further chronicled in a 2012 book co-written by Tyler Hamilton, Armstrong’s former teammate on Postal Service. In the book, “The Secret Race,” Hamilton details allegations of doping activity by Armstrong and recounts Armstrong’s efforts to silence those who spoke out against him. Many of Hamilton’s assertions were supported in USADA’s report.
Travis Tygart, USADA’s executive director, said in interview with Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports” last week that Armstrong had too much influence in the world of professional cycling. Armstrong made a $100,000 donation to the International Cycling Union, or UCI, in 2002 and, according to Tygart, USADA rejected a proposed donation from Armstrong’s representatives of around $250,000 in 2004.
“It was a clear conflict of interest for USADA and we had no hesitation in rejecting that offer,” he said.
Armstrong has no chance of competing again in sports if he doesn’t divulge every detail of his drug use, World Anti-Doping Agency Director General David Howman said this week. The International Olympic Committee stripped Armstrong of the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, and wrote to the cyclist yesterday asking for its return.
The teaser for the second half of the interview hinted that parts of tomorrow’s portion will focus on Lance’s relationship with Livestrong and his sponsors. It also said Armstrong will address his plans for the future.
-- With assistance from Mason Levinson and Erik Matuszewski in New York. Editors: Michael Sillup, Larry Siddons.