Oprah Winfrey confirmed on Tuesday Lance Armstrong "came clean" about his doping past during a 21/2-hour interview which is the first public step in his attempt to rehabilitate his image and resurrect his sporting career.
Armstrong's interview will now be shown over two days starting on Friday, rather than the one-off 90-minute special first planned, and according to Winfrey his openness "surprised" her, although she did not reveal any real substance of his answers when she was interviewed herself on CBS television.
The interview, which was described by The New York Times as a "meeting of two icons - one disgraced, one faded", was filmed on Monday at a hotel in Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas, after plans to record it at his house were abandoned because of the media camped outside.
Winfrey appeared on CBS's This Morning show to confirm Armstrong had admitted doping but was not asked to respond to reports in the US that he was set to turn on the cycling administrators accused of accepting bribes to ignore his doping.
"He did not come clean in the manner I expected. I was surprised," Winfrey said. "A couple of times he was emotional. All these people wondering if he goes there and answers things... I think you will come away, too, that he brought it. He really did."
Admitting his doping after years of angry denials and legal threats is stage one, but the only way he can reduce his lifetime ban is by shedding light on the workings of his vast and complex doping programme.
The New York Times reported yesterday that he was ready to testify against the leading figures in the International Cycling Union, which recently set up an independent commission to investigate allegations Armstrong bribed officials to help cover up failed dope tests. The commission met yesterday to further discuss its terms of reference and a spokesman confirmed Armstrong could appear at the open hearing in London in April if he agreed to co-operate.
"The UCI notes the media speculation surrounding the interview and reports that he has finally come clean and admitted doping during his cycling career," a UCI spokesperson said. "If these reports are true, we would strongly urge Lance Armstrong to testify to the independent commission established to investigate the allegations made against the UCI in the recent USADA reasoned decision on Lance Armstrong and the United States Postal Service team. The UCI will not be making any further comments on matters concerning Lance Armstrong until it has had the opportunity to view his much publicised interview with Oprah Winfrey."
The independent commission will be chaired by former Appeal Court judge Sir Philip Otton and hopes to report to the UCI on June 1.
On the day his mea culpa with Winfrey is broadcast in this country, at 2am on Friday by the Discovery channel, Armstrong will know if the United States Justice Department has joined with his former team-mate, Floyd Landis, in a court battle which could cost him up to $100 million.
Landis issued a writ under the False Claims Act alleging Armstrong defrauded the US Postal Service of about $30 million when it sponsored his team. A condition of his contract with US Postal Service was that the team were not involved in doping. Sources have indicated to The Daily Telegraph that Armstrong has attempted reconciliation with Landis but has so far failed. Landis is in line to earn up to 30 per cent of any money the government recovers. The Justice Department has until tomorrow to decide whether to join with Landis, a decision which will have a great bearing on the success of the action.
The legal fights are only part of the headache for Armstrong, who appeared uncomfortable during the interview in the brief trailer released on the internet by Winfrey's network. "We agreed there would be no conditions and this would be an open field," said Winfrey, who prepared 112 questions. "He was just ready - he met the moment."
When asked if Armstrong was contrite she said: "I would rather people make their own decisions about whether he was contrite or not. I felt that he was thoughtful. He had prepared himself for this moment."