Lance Armstrong confesses to doping, reports US media - and may testify against UCI officials

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It was the day many believed would never come. Lance Armstrong, who last autumn brazened it out and insisted he had never doped even as his reputation was torn to shreds and he was banned from sport for life and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, yesterday reportedly confessed to doping during his interview with Oprah Winfrey to be broadcast on Thursday. It is also being reported that he may be willing to testify against others involved with doping - if true, one of the more surprising twists in the long saga, and one that could prove very uncomfortable for those close to the Texan in the past.

The latter claim was made by CBS News, however the New York Times has a slightly different story saying that Armstrong will testify against senior UCI officials but not against other riders - it is also unclear from the NYT report whether this is something Armstrong did during the Oprah interview or that that those close to him have put out in to the public domain.

According to CBS Armstrong is in negotiations with the US government to return some of the millions of dollars in sponsorship secured by his former US Postal Service team. It adds that the US Department of Justice is considering joining Floyd Landis's 'whistleblower' action regarding the misuse of federal funds - in this case, the use of sponsorship money from the public mail service to finance the team's doping programme.

The Wall Street Journal cites lawyers operating in that field as saying that in order to establish a case against Armstrong and any other potential defendants, it wouldn't need to be shown that the United States Postal Service actually lost money - only that any defendants had knowingly misrepresented themsleves at the time they entered into the contract with the body.

Prior to the interview with Winfrey conducted yesterday at a hotel in downtown Austin, Texas - it had originally been scheduled for his home there, but that had been staked out by the media - Armstrong visited the offices of Livestrong, the charity he set up as the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 1997 as he recovered from cancer, and apologised to staff there during what was said to be an emotional meeting.

Although he is not believed to have explicitly confessed to doping to the charity's staff, many of whom are themselves cancer survivors, they will now be in no doubt that for the past decade and a half Armstrong has misled them, the American public and millions of sports fans throughout the world through his unwavering insistence that he never took performance enhancing drugs.

Reports suggest however that Armstrong's apology wasn't for having lied to them, or for having doped - instead it was for the rather broader impact that the doping scandal that has engulfed him has had on the charity that he chaired until October, and which has now formally changed its name to Livestrong to distance itself from its founder.

The confession instead is reported to have come during that interview with Winfrey, which is said to have lasted two and a half hours, according to Fox News.

For now, exactly what was said remains a closely guarded secret. The chat show host, due to appear on CBS This Morning later today, tweeted only that "He came READY!" A source, quoted on Fox News, revealed that the interview had been "emotional at times."

Prior to it taking place, it had been reported that the former US Postal rider would make a 'limited' confession; he would admit to doping, but the specifics of how, when, where and which substances, as well as the names of others, would be withheld.

Winfrey's producers had consulted with Sunday Times journalist David Walsh and others as part of their research into which questions to ask.

They insisted that the interview would not be scripted in advance, that no question was beyond asking. Armstrong will have been  coached by his legal team and media advisors over what questions to expect, and how to handle them; with legal action pending from The Sunday Times and SCA Promotions, and other lawsuits likely to follow, it could not be otherwise.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Winfrey sought to get through Armstrong's defences, and whether she succeeded in making him deviate from his rehearsed lines; after all, he has had plenty of practice at deflecting uncomfortable questions and stating his own case, but the difference now is that it is known that his insistence he didn't dope was a lie and one that, by all accounts, he has now admitted.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the seeds for the confessional interview with Winfrey were planted during a meeting Armstrong held last month with Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, who had continued to pursue him even after the Federal Investigation into US Postal had been suddenly shelved nearly a year ago.

Armstrong, who had apparently sought to find a way in which USADA might be persuaded to impose a reduced ban to enable him ultimately to return to competition - eight years is the minimum he could serve - reportedly told Tygart: "You don't hold the keys to my redemption. There's one person who holds the keys to my redemption, and that's me."

Certainly, that might explain why Armstrong chose now to go public and make a confession, if that is indeed what he has done. Fighting on a number of fronts, it is at one and the same time a damage limitation exercise and the start of a journey to rehabilitation that in truth may never have an end as he seeks somehow to restore even part of a reputation that lies in tatters.