Cyclist Lance Armstrong is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in Austin, Texas© REUTERS/ Harpo Studios, Inc/George Burns/Handout
MOSCOW, January 18 (R-Sport) - Lance Armstrong has admitted taking performance-enchancing drugs to win his seven Tour de France titles.
Armstrong, 41, ended years of denials when he admitted to doping on the way to all seven titles, of which he was stripped last year after a damning U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report, but said the drug program was not as wide-ranging as alleged.
“Yes,” Armstrong said when asked if he had doped, in the first part of a pre-recorded two-part interview with U.S chat show queen Oprah Winfrey broadcast Thursday. “This story was so perfect for so long,” he said. “You overcome [cancer], you win the Tour de France seven times, you have this perfect marriage, perfect children.”
Armstrong said his achievements would have been impossible without drugs and that he had used EPO, cortisone, blood transfusions and other banned methods.
He blamed his "ruthless desire, win at all costs" and the “momentum” of the pressure for success. “Whether it’s the fans, it’s the media, it just gets gone,” he said.
Armstrong added he would apologize to the many people he had sued for claiming he had doped, but refused to comment on denials he made under oath.
The extent of the doping was far more limited than described in the damning USADA report that alleged he was at the center of the most sophisticated doping program in sports history, Armstrong insisted.
“No,” he said. “Oprah, it wasn’t [sophisticated]. It was definitely professional, it was definitely smart if you can it that, but it was very conservative, very risk-averse,” he said.
"To say that that program was bigger than the East German doping program in the 80s, it’s not true.”
He also denied claims in the USADA report that he threatened to fire his teammates if they refused to dope.
“If you’re asking me, someone said: ‘I don’t want to dope,” and I said: ‘You’re fired,’ absolutely not," he said. “I guess I could have, but I never did.”
He added: "I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the herd."
Armstrong said he was "not comfortable" discussing how others had helped him dope. He explicitly denied cycling's governing body, the UCI, had helped him, and said a financial donation to the body was not payment for services rendered. Anti-doping officials in Switzerland had not helped him cover up a positive test, he said.
Armstrong said he never feared being caught. "There was no testing out of competition. Theoretically, they ran it, but they never did," he said.
"You're not going to get caught, because you're clean at the races," he added, saying he used "scheduling" of his drug intake to dodge expected tests.
Widespread doping in the peloton meant Armstrong did not consider himself a cheat for taking banned substances, he said.
“I viewed it as a level playing field," he said. “It was like saying: ‘We have to have air in our tires,’ or ‘We have to have water in our bottles.’”
Non-doping athletes were “heroes”, he said.
Armstrong finished first in the Tour de France 1999 and 2005, despite having suffered testicular cancer in 1996. He told Winfrey he justified taking testosterone at the time because he had suffered the cancer.
Armstrong vehemently denied doping on the way to a comeback third-place Tour de France finish in 2009. “That’s the one thing that really upset me," he said of USADA's claims he doped in that race.
The UCI has refused to re-allocate Armstrong’s Tour titles to other riders. The majority of riders on the Tour podium during the seven years Armstrong won the title have since been implicated in doping cases.
On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee stripped Armstrong of his bronze medal from the 2000 Games.
The second part of the interview will be broadcast Friday.
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