Lance Armstrong says he acted like “a dick” when he denied he was his doping – but he added that he did not regret taking EPO, pointing out that most of his rivals were taking the banned blood booster, too.
The seven-time Tour de France winner, who was stripped of those titles and handed a lifetime ban in 2012, made the admission in a wide-ranging interview with ‘shock jock’ Howard Stern on Sirius XM radio.
During his career, Armstrong regularly responded aggressively to journalists and others – including fellow professional cyclists – who questioned whether he was riding clean.
After confessing to doping in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey in early 2013, Armstrong reached an out-of-court settlement with The Sunday Times, which he had successfully sued for libel as a result of a 2004 article by then chief sports writer David Walsh.
The Irish writer, who won the Sports Journalist of the Year and Journalist of the Year awards in 2012 for his work in helping bring Armstrong to justice, had been one of the Texan’s chief accusers, with his 2004 book LA Confidentiel, co-written with Pierre Ballester, exposing the rider’s cheating.
Another former Sunday Times journalist, ex-pro cyclist Paul Kimmage, clashed with Armstrong in a press conference at the Tour of California in 2009 after he likened him to “a cancer” on cycling – the disease that had nearly claimed his life in the late 1990s.
Armstrong told Stern: “ “The way I acted, the vehement denials and the way I went about defending myself … buddy the ultimate Lance Armstrong torture is put him in front of a laptop, pull up YouTube and make him what some of those press conferences.
“Just such a dick. The way I acted was by far the worst part.”
Another regret Armstrong had was his decision to make a comeback with Astana in 2009, which he suggested provided “a bridge from the past to the future” – the implication being that had he not returned to the sport, he would never have been convicted of doping and would still be recognised as Tour de France champion for those seven editions from 1999 to 2005.
His return to the sport came after the emergence of social media and Twitter in particular allowed fans, journalists and riders to interact in a way never previously possible, throwing fresh suspicion on his achievements.
Speaking to Stern, he passed on a message for his online detractors, saying: “We live in an age where people don’t have to come up to your face to criticise me.
“No one has ever come up to my face in the last five years and done that.
“But to people who do it on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, you know what I say; I understand.
“I can’t change it. All I can do is walk this walk I’m on. If I’m at an airport, a bike race, if people criticise me, I’d say I totally understand. I’m sorry.”
Referring to his doping, he said: “EPO is what changed the game. That came in to our sport at exactly the time my generation came into the sport.
“I’m not trying to justify it or make excuses, but it was a long time ago and the culture of the sport was so crazy.
“I wanted to win and I wanted to be the best. I knew I needed a knife as I was going into a knife fight.
“EPO was so powerful. You get a little EPO in your life … it was wow. We had a choice and we made that choice. Nearly everyone made that choice as well.
“There was no test at the time. We made that decision. No excuses.
“Everyone was riding this wave. I was riding it, my team was riding it, my foundations were riding it. You are trying to keep this thing going,” he added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.