By Mark Zalewski in Sacramento, California
Lance Armstrong faced a difficult moment in the Tour of California press conference Thursday in Sacramento, California. The seven-time Tour de France winner responded to Paul Kimmage's question about the return of "non-repentant" dopers.
"You've spoke recently about the return of Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis, who have returned after their suspensions, compared to David Millar – that they should be welcomed back like he was. But there was one obvious difference in that Millar admitted his doping whereas these guys have admitted to nothing. What is it about these guys that you seem to admire so much?" asked Kimmage, a reporter with the Sunday Times of London.
Seventeen riders were present to kick-off the stage race, February 14 to 22. Many of the media's questions were about Armstrong's cancer message or his views on racing in the Tour of California, but the most intense moment came with the second question, from Kimmage
Armstrong prefaced his answer with the following statement: "When I decided to come back, for what I think is a very noble reason, you said, 'The cancer has been in remission for four years, our cancer has now returned' – meaning me, that I am the cancer!
"So it goes without saying, no we are not going to sit down for an interview. You are not worth the chair you are sitting on with a statement like that, with a disease that touches everyone around the world."
Armstrong went on to answer Kimmage's question. "You have to consider what has happened to David [Millar], who I admire a lot [and] who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Is it heroic that he has now confessed? Some would say so. I applaud him that he is back and I hope that he is very successful."
"Floyd [Landis], on the other hand, there is a lot of evidence against him and there is a lot of evidence in his favour. Floyd does not believe he is guilty, so to appease people like you he can't confess."
Armstrong explained his admiration for his fellow cyclists as men and that all men make mistakes.
"I'm not sure I will ever forgive you for that statement. And I'm not sure that anybody around the world affected by this disease will forgive you."
Kimmage got Thursday's last word in what will be an ongoing battle.
"You don't have a patent on cancer. I'm interested in the cancer of doping in cycling. That has been my life's work! I raced as a professional and I exposed it. Then you come along and the problem disappears."
Kimmage, a former professional racer from the 1980s, reported extensively on drug use within cycling – including his award-winning book Rough Ride.
Check back for Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Tour of California press conference.