Lance Armstrong has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs – as well as doping with blood – on an hour long TV interview aired last night with Oprah Winfrey.
How widespread was doping in cycling at the time? "It’s like saying we have to have air in our tyres or water in our bottles," said Armstrong.
The second instalment of the show will air tonight (2am UK time) and will include Armstrong’s relationship with his former sponsors such as Nike, Trek and Oakley. Winfrey didn’t hang about: her first question was about doping.
Here’s a transcript of the interview.
Oprah Winfrey: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?
Lance Armstrong: "Yes."
OW: Was one of those substances EPO?
OW: Blood dope or blood transfusions?
Did you use any other banned substances – testosterone, cortisone, Human Growth Hormone?
In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you take banned substances or dope?
Is it humanly possible to win the Tour de France, without doping, seven times?
"Not in that generation. I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture."
For 13 years you didn’t just deny it, you brazenly denied it. Why now admit it?
"That’s the best question. I don’t know [if] 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.
"This story was perfect for so long. You overcome this disease [testicular cancer], win the Tour de France, have a perfect marriage, children. It’s this mythic, perfect story and it wasn’t true. I am a flawed character.
"All the fault and blame is on me and a lot of that is momentum and I lost myself in all that. I couldn’t handle it. The story is so bad and toxic and a lot of it is true."
You have been accused of pulling off the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme sport has ever seen. Was it?
"I didn’t have access to anything that anybody else didn’t. It was definitely professional and smart – if you can call it that – but it was very conservative, risk-averse.
"Winning races mattered for me but to say that programme was bigger than the East German doping programme of the 1970s and 80s is wrong.
Saying you didn’t have access to what other people didn’t. Can you explain the culture to us? Was everybody doing it?
"I didn’t know everybody. I didn’t live and train with everybody. I didn’t race with everybody. I can’t say that. There will be people that say that. There will be people that say, ‘OK, there are 200 guys on the tour, I can tell you five guys that didn’t, and those are the five heroes’, and they’re right.
How were you able to do it? Walk me through it. Pill deliveries, blood in secret refrigerators. How did it work?
"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.
"I thought, surely I’m running low [on testosterone following the cancer battle] but there’s no true justification."
Were you afraid of getting caught? In 1999 there was not even a test for EPO…
" 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 introduction of the biological passport worked.
"I’m paying the price and I deserve this. That’s okay. I deserve it.
"My ruthless desire to win at all costs served me well on the bike but the level it went to, for whatever reason, is a flaw. That desire, that attitude, that arrogance."
When you placed third in 2009, you did not dope?
"The last time I crossed that line was 2005."
Does that include blood transfusions? No doping or blood transfusions in 2009, 2010?
Were you the one in charge?
"I was the top rider, the leader of the team."
If someone was not doing something to your satisfaction could you get them fired?
"No. I guess I could have but I never did. I was the leader of the team and the leader leads by example. There was never a direct order. That never happened. We were all grown men and made our choices. There were team-mates who didn’t dope."
One former team-mate, Christian Vande Velde, told Usada you threatened to kick him off the team if he didn’t shape up and conform to the doping programme?
"That’s not true. There was a level of expectation. We expected guys to be fit to be able to compete. I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now. If I do it I’m leading by example so that’s a problem.
"I view one as a verbal directive and that didn’t exist. I take that. The leader of the team, the guy that my team-mates looked up to, I accept that 100%. I care a lot about Christian but when you go on to other teams and show the same behaviour…"
Were you a bully?
"Yes, I was a bully. I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative and if I didn’t like what someone said I turned on them.
Is that your nature – when someone says something you don’t like, you go on attack? Have you been like that your entire life – 10 years old, 12 years old and 14 years old?
"My entire life. Before my diagnosis I was a competitor but not a fierce competitor. When I was diagnosed, that turned me into a fighter. That was good. I took that ruthless win-at-all-costs attitude into cycling which was bad."
How important was winning to you and would you do anything to win at all costs?
"It was win at all costs. When I was diagnosed (with cancer) 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."
To keep on winning it meant you had to keep taking banned substances to do it? Are you saying that’s how common it was?
"It’s like saying we have to have air in our tyres or water in our bottles. That was, in my view, part of the job. Others will have to attest to that [whether they doped]."
When you look at that do you feel embarrassed, shame, humble, tell me what you feel?
"This is the second time in my life when I can’t control the outcome. The first was the disease. The scary thing is, winning seven Tour de Frances, I knew I was going to win."
Tell me, Lance, was there happiness in winning when you knew you were taking these banned substances?
"There was more happiness in the process, the build, the preparation. The winning was almost phoned-in."
Was it a big deal to you, did it feel wrong?
It did not even feel wrong?
"No. Even scarier."
Did you feel bad about it?
"No. The scariest."
Did you feel in any way that you were cheating? You did not feel you were cheating taking banned drugs?
"The definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field. I didn’t understand the magnitude of that following. The important thing is that I’m beginning to understand it.
What do you mean by you ‘didn’t know’? I don’t think people will understand what you’re saying. When you and I met a week ago you didn’t think it was that big? How could you not?
"I see the anger in people, betrayal, it’s all there. People who believed in me and supported me and they have every right to feel betrayed and it’s my fault and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologise to people."
You never offered drugs to team-mates, suggested they see Dr Michele Ferrari?
"There are people in this story, they are good people, we’ve all made mistakes, they are not toxic and evil. I viewed Dr Michele Ferrari as a good man and I still do."
Was he the leader and mastermind behind the team’s doping programme? How would you characterise his influence on the team?
"No. I’m not comfortable talking about other people. It’s all out there."
David Walsh of the Sunday Times in London said your relationship with Ferrari immediately dialled suspicion on you. Can you see that relationship was reckless?
"There were plenty of other reckless things. That would be a very good way to characterise that period of my life."
What about the story [soigneur] Emma O’Reilly tells about cortisone and you having cortisone backdated – is that true?
"That was true."
What do you want to say about Emma O’Reilly? You sued her?
"Emma O’Reilly is one of these people I have to apologise to. We ran over her, we bullied her."
You sued her?
"To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don’t even [know]. I’m sure we did."
When people were saying things – Walsh, O’Reilly, Betsy Andreu and many others – you would then go on the attack for them, suing and know they were telling the truth. What is that?
"When I hear that there are people who will never believe me I understand that. One of the steps of this process is to say sorry. I was wrong, you were right.
Have you called Betsy Andreu? Did she take your call? Was she telling the truth about the Indiana hospital, overhearing you in 1996? Was Betsy lying?
"I’m not going to take that on. I’m laying down on that one. I’m going to put that one down. She asked me, and I asked her not to talk about it."
Is it well with two of you? Have you made peace?
"No, because they’ve been hurt too badly, and a 40-minute [phone] conversation isn’t enough."[With] Emma you implied the ‘whore’ word. How do you feel about that today? Were you trying to put her down? Shut her up?
"I don’t feel good. I was just on the attack. The territory was being threatened. The team was being threatened. I was on the attack."
This is the clip I just cannot reconcile [winning speech after seventh Tour de France win, blaming cynics for not believing in miracles]… What were you trying to accomplish there?
"I’ve made some mistakes in my life and that was a mistake."
Were you particularly trying to rub it in the faces of those who came out against you and say they were lying – were you addressing them? What were you saying that for?
"That was the first year they gave the mic to the winner of the Tour and I was wondering what I was going to say. That just came out. Looking back at it now, it looks ridiculous."
You said dozens of times in interviews you never failed a test. Do you have a different answer today?
"No I didn’t fail a test. Retroactively, I failed one. The hundreds of tests I took, I passed them. There was retroactive stuff later on."
What about the Tour de Suisse [in 2001]?
"That story isn’t true. There was no positive test. No paying off of the lab. The UCI did not make that go away. I’m no fan of the UCI.
You made a donation to the UCI and said that donation was about helping anti-doping efforts. Obviously it was not. Why did you make that donation?
"It was not in exchange for help. They called and said they didn’t have a lot of money – I did. They asked if I would make a donation so I did."
Many people feel the real tipping point was [former team-mate] Floyd Landis’s decision to come forward and confess?
"My comeback didn’t sit well with Floyd."
Do you remember where you were when you heard Floyd, a former team-mate and protege, was going to talk?
"I was in a hotel room. Floyd was sending text messages about his interview. I finally said ‘do what you have to do’. He went to the Wall Street Journal with the story."
Did you rebuff him, would you say you rebuffed Floyd? Did you rebuff him after he was stripped of his Tour win, did you just blow him off?
"Up to that point I supported him when he tested positive. I tried to keep him on my team because he knew what others didn’t. I didn’t shun him.
So that was the tipping point. And your comeback was also a tipping point. Do you regret coming back?
"I do. We wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t come back."
You would have gotten away with it?
"Impossible to say, there would have been better chances but I didn’t."
Did you not always think this day was coming? Did you not think you would be found out at some point, especially as so many people knew?
"I just assumed the stories would continue for a long time. We’re sitting here because there was a two-year criminal federal investigation."
When the [US] Department of Justice dropped the case, did you think ‘now finally it’s over, done, victory’? You thought you were out of the woods; the wolves had left the door?
"I thought I was out of the woods. And those were some serious wolves."
What was the reaction when you learned Usada was going to pick up the case and pursue the case against you?
"My reaction was to fight back. I’d do anything to go back to that day. I wouldn’t fight. I wouldn’t sue them. I’d listen. I’d say guys, granted I was treated differently to other guys. Treated differently in that I wasn’t approached at the same time as other riders.
"They gathered all of the evidence and they came to me and said what are you going to do? Going back I’d say ‘give me three days. Let me call my family, my mother, sponsors, foundation’ and I wish I could do that but I can’t."
Will you co-operate with Usada to help clear up the sport of cycling?
"I love cycling and I say that knowing that people see me as someone who disrespected the sport, the colour yellow. If we can, and I stand on no moral platform here. If there was truth and reconciliation commission – and I can’t call for that – if they have it and I’m invited I’ll be first man through the door."
When you heard that George Hincapie had been called to testify by Usada, did you feel that was the last card in this deck, the last straw?
"My fate was sealed. If George didn’t say it then people would say ‘I’m sticking with Lance’. George is the most credible voice in all of this. We’re still great friends. I don’t fault George. George knows this story better than anybody."