Lance Armstrong says that none of the riders he competed against believe he was a cheat because they were all doping, and believes that if a new drug comparable to EPO were developed, everyone would take it.
Speaking to Jeremy Whittle of The Times, the 43-year-old also said that legalising doping would be a terrible idea because of the “tremendous risks” it would lead athletes to take.
Armstrong was banned from sport for life in 2012 following an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and stripped of the seven successive Tour de France victories he achieved between 1999 and 2005.
Currently, he is defending a lawsuit, brought by Floyd Landis under whistleblower legislation, that has been joined by the US Department of justice and could potentially cost him close to $100 million.
He told The Times: “None of my fellow competitors think I am a cheat. Kevin Livingstone [Armstrong's former US Postal Service team mate] had the best comment in his deposition.
“They asked him, 'What do you mean everyone was doing it? What percentage of riders in the Tour de France of your generation were on EPO?
“And he said, 'Well, of the 190 riders in the Tour, 200 were on EPO.'
“The sport fostered that culture,” Armstrong continued.
“You had a substance, EPO, that was efficient and if they had an equivalent tomorrow that is undetectable, everyone would be on it.”
But asked whether doping should be legalised, he said: “That would be a really bad idea. You’d have people taking tremendous risks.
“I have a 16-year old son. He’s 6ft 3in, 230lb, and really good at American football. I know what goes on in that sport and I wouldn’t want him in that situation.”
Referring to the period when he dominated the Tour de France, he said: “For those seven years our story was, ‘We train harder than anybody else, we are more organised than anybody, we have better tactics, a better team, more reconnaissance, better technologies, wind tunnels, better equipment.’ That was all true, but we just didn’t mention the last part” – that being doping.
However, he says that wasn't the key factor in his success. “Of course not. It would have been if nobody else had it, but everybody had it. It upsets me that people think it was all down to doping. It’s just not true.”
He continued: “USADA had three or four key messages to pound home – ‘the most sophisticated doping programme in history, the greatest fraud in the history of sport, Armstrong forced young men to put dangerous substances in their body’ – all of which is untrue.”
While USADA maintained that Armstrong was doping after he came out of retirement in 2009, when he rode with Astana before joining RadioShack the following season, he is adamant that he was riding clean.
“In 2009, and 2010, I did nothing,” he insisted. “I have said that under oath. If there is a reliable test that absolutely works and they say, ‘Lance, give us your samples,’ then 100 per cent I’d be in favour.
“But they don’t want to do that because if I’m proven clean in 2009 and 2010, it works against their narrative,” he added.
When Armstrong eventually confessed to doping in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey in early 2013, he also maintained that he had not used drugs following his return to the sport.
If he had been doping during that period, and admitted doing so, that would have laid him open to potential claims from his former sponsors for the return of money they paid him – something they are barred by statutes of limitations to do for the period in which he has admitted doping.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.