“Did you ever take banned substances to enhance cycling performance?” “Yes.” Thus replied Lance Armstrong to the very first question put by Oprah Winfrey in part one of her interview with him that aired at 9pm Eastern Time in the United States yesterday evening. Admissions to using EPO, cortisone, testosterone and having illegal blood transfusions swiftly followed as he admitted he had doped his way to all seven of his Tour de France victories from 1999 to 2005. However, he strongly denied doping following his comeback in 2009.
From the outset, it was clear that Winfrey would not be giving Armstrong an easy ride. Her research had been meticulous, the questions were uncompromising, and each was preceded by a short montage that set the scene.
For Armstrong's part, there were none of the predicted tears, his gaze steel-blue, though his nervousness at some of the more punchy questions was betrayed by nervous laughter and shifting uncomfortably in his chair.
At other times, he was defiant, particularly when aggressively rejecting certain parts of the testimony laid against him - shades of the man who for so long denied everything, though given the reaction on Twitter and in the media, no-one seems inclined to believe any of his protestations now - and occasionally he even seemed distant and detached, as though talking about someone else.
"You brazenly denied everything so why now?" asked Winfrey.
"That's the best question," said Armstrong. "I don't know I have a great answer.
"This is too late, probably for most people and that's my fault. I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. It's not as if I said no and moved off it. While I've lived through this process, I know the truth. The truth isn't what I said and now it's gone."
Regarding his doping, he said: "I viewed it as very simple. There were things that were oxygen-supplying drugs that were beneficial for cycling. My cocktail was EPO, but not a lot, transfusions and testosterone. There's no true justification.
"Were you afraid of getting caught?"
"No. Testing has evolved. Back then they didn't come to your house and there was no testing out of competition and for most of my career there wasn't that much out-of-competition testing so you're not going to get caught because you clean up for the races.
"It's a question of scheduling. That sounds weird. I'm no fan of the UCI but the biological passport worked."
However, it became apparent very early on that Armstrong would not be admitting to all of the findings of the USADA investigation that saw him banned from sport for life and stripped of all results dating from 1 August 1999.
He maintained that USADA's claim that it was the biggest doping conspiracy in sporting history was incorrect, citing the former East German doping programme.
Most notably, he refuted suggestions he had taken banned substances following his comeback in 2009, despite evidence in USADA's dossier of, among other things, suspicious blood values and payments to the banned trainer and physician Michele Ferrari, who Armstrong said he viewed "as a good man, as a smart man, and I still do.”
Armstrong's denial of doping since his comeback echoes the words of UCI President Pat McQuaid, who when he announced in October that the governing body was endorsing USADA's decision, said: "I don't accept the findings in 2009 and 2010."
There is a good reason for Armstrong to continue to deny doping from that period; under a statute of limitations, parties such as sponsors cannot sue him following his confession to doping. However, no such bar would apply to lawsuits relating to the period from 2009 onwards.
Likewise, he rejected some of the testimony provided by USADA's witnesses, insisting that he never told junior riders on the team to dope, mentioning Christian Vande Velde to dope.
Armstrong admitted, "I was a bully. I tried to control the narrative. If I didn't like what somebody said, I tried to control that. I've been like that my entire life.
"It was win at all costs. When I was diagnosed [with cancer in 1996] I would do anything to survive. I took that attitude - win at all costs - to cycling. That's bad. I was taking drugs before that but I wasn't a bully," he added, thereby admitting doping before the period to which the USADA investigation relates and, moreover, before he contracted cancer; some have wondered whether his contracting the disease may have resulted from prior drug use.
Asked about those who had been among the first to point the finger at him, he said that his former masseuse, Emma O'Reilly, was "one of these people I have to apologise to. She’s one of these people who got run over." Reminded by Winfrey he had sued her, Armstrong seemed lost for a moment. "We sued so many people I’m not sure," he said.
He confirmd she had been correct when she said that he had tested positive for cortisone during the 1999 Tour and had only managed to escape further action after producing a ficticious and backdated therapeutic use exemption certificate.
Mentioning Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, to whom O'Reilly had revealed details of Armstrong's doping, and Betsy Andreu, wife of his former team mate Frankie Andreu, Winfrey pressed him: "You’re suing people and you know they’re telling the truth? What is that?"
"It’s a major flaw… it’s inexcusable," replied Armstrong.
However, he refused to answer a question about whether Betsy Andreu was telling the truth when she said that she had heard him list substances he had taken to a doctor in an Indianapolis hospital room when he was first diagnosed with cancer.
Speaking to CNN immediately after last night's interview, Mrs Andreu said: "The hospital is where it all started. He's going to infuriate people who know the truth. He's still protecting people who are close to him."
Referring to his protestations that he had no influence over whether others in the team doping and no control over hiring and firing, she added: He was co-owner of the team, decided who was hired, fired, who got paid what. He was cosying up to politicians, the governing bodies. It's completely disingenuous and a way of distancing himself of being the leader."
One of the more surprising twists was Armstrong's claim that the donation of $125,000 that he made to the UCI was not a unilateral one made voluntarily, but rather was made at the request of the UCI. He denied, however, that it was linked to a suspect test for EPO during the Tour de Suisse in 2001 - he said "there was no positive test" and that "the UCI did not make that go away."
He added, "I'm no fan of the UCI," which begs the question of why he made the payment, whether that be of his own volition or at the request of the UCI. He also said that the payment was made after his first retirement in 2005.
However, in 2010, Pat McQuaid said that Armstrong had offered the money at a meeting at UCI headquarters in Aigle in May 2002, paying $25,000 by personal cheque there and then and the remaining $100,000 in 2005 when he was sent a reminder. Questions are bound to be asked of the UCI about whether Armstrong made the payments voluntarily, or whether the sum was requested of him.
Armstrong also insisted he had no influence in the Department of Justice dropping the federal investigation against him in February last year - he said it was "difficult" to do which some observers noted isn't the same as saying it's "impossible" - and he added that he believed he was "out of the woods" when the it was shelved.
Referring to the prospect of a truth and reconciliation commission, Armstrong said: "If they have it, and I'm invited, I'll be the first man at the door."
For many, the tipping point in the investigation against Armstrong, and the moment their suspicions he had cheated turned to certainty, was when it was revealed that George Hincapie, who rode alongside him in all seven editions of the Tour between 1999 and 2005, had testified to the federal grand jury investigating the former US Postal team.
"George is the most credible voice in all this," reflected Armstrong. "He did all seven Tours, I knew him since I was 16, we parcatically lived together, we trained together every day, and for the record, we're still great friends. We still talk once a week, I don't fault George Hincapie. But George knows this story better than anybody."
Those were Armstrong's final words in the first part of the interview, and it appears that the focus will now shift away from cycling. Among issues that will be explored in the second part, airing tomorrow at 9am Eastern Time (2am GMT in the UK) are LiveStrong, sponsors, his children, his mother, and what lies ahead for him.
In a statement issued shortly after the programme finished, USADA, without whose persistence Armstrong would most likely never have been held to account, said: “Tonight, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit.
"His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction. 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.”
Livestrong, the charity Armstrong founded as he recovered from cancer, also issued a statement after the interview aired, saying: “We at the Livestrong Foundation are disappointed by the news that Lance Armstrong misled people during and after his cycling career, including us. Earlier this week, Lance apologized to our staff and we accepted his apology in order to move on and chart a strong, independent course. We look forward to devoting our full energy to our mission of helping people not only fight and survive cancer, but also thrive in life after cancer.
"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. Lance is no longer on the Foundation’s board, but he is our founder and we will always be grateful to him for creating and helping to build a Foundation that has served millions struggling with cancer.
The Livestrong Foundation is one of the most highly-rated and effective cancer organizations in the United States. Our success has never been based on one person – it’s based on the patients and survivors we serve every day, who approach a cancer diagnosis with hope, courage and perseverance. We listened to their needs and took action to create free cancer support services that offer access to clinical trials, fertility preservation, insurance coverage and even transportation to treatment. People living with and through cancer are the inspiration behind our work. They have been, are and always will be our focus.”
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.