Oprah Winfrey: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?
Lance Armstrong: Yes
Was one of those banned substances EPO?
In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?
Was it humanly possible to win the Tour de France without doping, seven times?
Not in my opinion. I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture.
For 13 years you brazenly and defiantly denied everything you admitted just now. So why admit it now?
That is the best question. I don’t know that I have a great answer. I will start my answer by saying that this is too late. It’s too late for probably most people, and that’s my fault. I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times, and as you said, it wasn’t as if I just said no and I moved off it.
You called other people liars...
I understand that. And while I lived through this process, especially the last two years, I knew the truth. The truth isn’t what was out there. The truth isn’t what I said. Now it’s gone. This story was so perfect for so long. And I mean that, as I try to take myself out of the situation. You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times, you have a happy marriage, you have children but it’s just a mythic perfect story and it wasn’t true.
Was it hard to live up to that picture that was created?
Impossible. I’m a flawed character, I know it.
But didn’t you help paint that picture?
Of course, I did, so did a lot of people. All the fault and all the blame here falls on me. But behind that picture and that story is momentum. Whether it’s fans or whether it’s the media, it just gets going. And I lost myself in all of that. I’m sure there would be other people that couldn’t handle it, but I certainly couldn’t handle it, and I was used to controlling everything in my life. I controlled every outcome in my life.
You said to me earlier you don’t think it was possible to win without doping?
Not in that generation. I’m not here to talk about others in that generation. It’s been well-documented. I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture and that’s my mistake. That’s what I have to be sorry for and the sport is now paying the price because of that. I am sorry for that. I didn’t have access to anything else that nobody else did.
USADA issued a 164-page report in which their CEO Travis Tygart said you and US Postal team pulled off the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme sport has ever seen. Was it?
No. It definitely was professional, and it was definitely smart, if you can call it that, but it was very conservative, very risk-averse, very aware of what mattered. But to say that program was bigger than the East German doping program in the ‘70s and ‘80s? That’s not true.
What was the culture? Can you explain the culture to us?
I don’t want to accuse anybody else. I don’t want to talk about anybody else. I made my decisions. They are my mistakes, and I am sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that. The culture was what it was.
Was everybody doing it? That’s what we’ve heard. 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.
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 (in 2008) 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.
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?
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. Living the lie.
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.
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?
Yes, and I’m not sure that this is an acceptable answer, but that’s like saying we have to have air in our tyres or we have to have water in our bottles. That was, in my view, part of the job.
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.
Was there happiness in winning when you knew you were taking these banned substances?
There was more happiness in the process, in the build-up, in 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?
At the time, no. I kept hearing I’m a drug cheat, I’m a cheat, I’m a cheater. I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat which is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.
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 (former teammate) 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 (by George). 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.
—Armstrong’s interview with Oprah was telecast on OWN TV network on Thursday night