Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey: The full interview transcript

Friday, January 18, 2013
Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey: The complete transcript
Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey.

The complete transcript of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong's exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey, which aired today at 1pm AEST.

Oprah Winfrey: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?

Lance Armstrong: "Yes."

Was one of those banned substances EPO?

"Yes."

Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance?

"Yes."

Did you ever use any other banned substances such as testosterone, cortisone or Human Growth Hormone?

"Yes."

In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?

"Yes."

Was it humanly possible to win the Tour de France without doping, seven times?

"Not in my opinion. 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 and defiantly denied everything you just admitted just now. So why now admit it?

"That is the best question. It's the most logical 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 were defiant, you called other people liars.

"I understand that. And while I lived through this process, especially the last two years, one year, six months, two, three months, I know the truth. The truth isn't what was out there. The truth isn't what I said, and 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 and I look at it. You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times. You have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean, it's just this mythic perfect story, and it wasn't true."

Was it hard to live up to that picture that was created?

"Impossible. Certainly I'm a flawed character, as I well know, and I couldn't do that."

But didn't you help paint that picture?

"Of course, I did. And a lot of people did. All the fault and all the blame here falls on me. But behind that picture and behind 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, and 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, and that's what I have to be sorry for, and that's what something and the sport is now paying the price because of that. So I am sorry for that. I didn't have access to anything else that nobody else did."

Usada issued a 164-page report. 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. One race mattered for me. But to say that 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. 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 [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."

Does that include blood transfusions? No doping or blood transfusions in 2009… 2010?

"Absolutely not."

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?

"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, in the preparation. The winning was almost phoned in."

Was it a big deal to you, did it feel wrong?

"No. Scary."

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 and the definition of cheat 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."

But you knew that you were held to a higher standard. You're Lance Armstrong.

"I knew that, and of course hindsight is perfect. I know it a thousand times more now. I didn't know what I had. Look at the fallout."

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 it [performance-enhancing drugs] to them [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 [masseuse] 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 [wife of former team-mate Frankie 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]… What were you trying to accomplish there?

"I've made some mistakes in my life and that was a mistake (standing on podium after winning 2005 Tour de France and saying "believe in miracles").

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 (upon hearing Landis would reveal details of Armstrong's doping). 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 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 [former team-mate] 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."

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