'I'm sorry.' Cycling career was one big lie admits Armstrong
'If there's a truth and reconciliation commission, I'll be the first man in the door,' he tells Oprah
"ONE BIG LIE". That's how Lance Armstrong described a cycling career that brought him seven Tour de France titles and a reputation as the sport's greatest star.
The Texan rider finally admitted the truth during an astonishing interview with Oprah Winfrey last night, confessing to the chat show host that he had used banned substances and blood transfusions for most of his career.
Armstrong dated his doping back to the mid-1990s and said he continued to cheat for a decade, stressing that when he made a comeback in 2009 he was clean.
There were other damning admissions from the disgraced rider, who was described by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) last October as a "serial cheat".
Yes, he told Winfrey, he had been a bully. "I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative and if I didn't like what somebody said, I tried to control that. I was just trying to perpetuate the story and hide the truth".
He singled out the former masseuse Emma O'Reilly as someone who had suffered particularly as a result of her attempts a decade ago to alert the world to Armstrong's doping. "Emma O'Reilly is one of these people that I have to apologise to," said Armstrong, who had described the Irishwoman as "a prostitute and an alcoholic" in a bid to destroy her credibility. "She is one of these people that got run over, got bullied."
O'Reilly was also one of the people who got sued by Armstrong in his aggressive strategy to suppress the truth of what he was doing. Asked by Winfrey how many others he'd sued, Armstrong replied: "To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don't know... I was a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. It's inexcusable. There are people who will never forgive - I understand that."
Contrary to what many in the cycling world had feared before the interview aired, Armstrong did not try and portray himself as the victim. "I don't look around and say 'Oprah, I am getting so screwed here'. Were there days early on when I said that? Absolutely, but those days are fewer and fewer and further and further in between."
Occasionally during the interview, the 41-year-old revealed glimpses of the psychology that had helped him construct his 'one big lie'.
"I went and looked up the definition of cheat," he told Winfrey, "and the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe, but I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."
In his view, "the issue of performance-enhancing drugs was 'We're going to pump up our tyres and we're going to put water in our bottles, and oh yeah, that too is going to happen'."
Ultimately it appears that at the height of his fame Armstrong came to believe his own fairy tale of the cancer sufferer turned sporting champion. "This story was so perfect for so long," he explained. "You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times - it was this mythic, perfect story, and it wasn't true."
Reaction to last night's interview was swift. Travis Tygart, head of USADA, the body who did most to bring Armstrong to justice, 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."
Armstrong didn't address that possibility directly, although he did tell Winfrey: "It's not my place to say 'Hey guys, let's clean up cycling', [but] if there was a truth and reconciliation commission, and I'm invited, I'll be the first man in the door."
Nor did Armstrong appear willing to bring others down with him: "It's hard to talk about these things and not mention names, but there are other people in this story," he said. "I didn't invent the [doping] culture, but I didn't try to stop the culture. That's my mistake."
Perhaps the hardest word of all for Armstrong to utter was the one that until now had never passed his lips. "I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times," he said. "I'm sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I'm sorry for that."
The second part of the interview will be aired tonight (2 am Saturday, UK time).