A year on from USADA’s Reasoned Decision, Lance Armstrong swivels in his desk chair as he talks at length about the last 12 months and many aspects of his career starting from when he turned professional back in 1992. The now disgraced Texan has agreed to sit down with Cyclingnews Editor Daniel Benson for a face-to-face interview in his new temporary home in a sleepy suburban district of Austin.
Armstrong has seen his entire empire crumble during the last 12 months. His sponsors have fled, his cancer foundation has cut its ties, and all the endorsements have gone. All his power has diminished. Credible no longer and with a lifetime ban and several legal cases snapping at his heels, Armstrong is in a place he never thought he’d be.
We had met the evening before the interview, albeit briefly, in one of Armstrong’s favourite local bars, a case of each of us sounding the other out, perhaps. But the next morning, Armstrong, having just returned from a run, was relaxed, poised and keen to talk.
The limits: No video and an understanding that there are details he will only share with WADA, the UCI or a formal truth and reconciliation process. However, he is keen to talk.
Armstrong talks his meteoric rise and early doping, his manipulation of the narrative, his allies and foes in the press room, his apologies, how he hid behind the "cancer shield", his win-at-all-cost mentality and his bitter war with Travis Tygart and USADA.
Cyclingnews will publish the complete interview over the next four days.
Daniel Benson: Let’s start with 1993 and coming over to Europe and what that experience was like.
Lance Armstrong: It really started in 1992 because I was a stagiaire after the Olympics. I’d already gotten a sense of what pro riding was like. The highs and the lows. From the lows of San Sebastian to the experience of racing the Worlds that year in Benidorm. I had some idea what it was like, but 1993 was obviously the first full season. For a young guy, that was eye-opening for sure. But I wasn’t overwhelmed. I was competitive at Gent-Wevelgem, I was competitive in Paris-Nice, in [Tour] DuPont. I felt I was in the game for such a young guy.
LA: That’s the detail I can’t get into. It was still low-octane. You know, I think, in the last couple of days I’ve read these stories about Michael Rasmussen and his interaction with [Rolf] Sørensen. That was the norm then. I think he’s spot on. I don’t know his motivation, it doesn’t matter, but he’s spot on.
LA: I dreamed and aspired to it. I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t concerned because at 21, 22, I didn’t need to worry about it then. I had a few years to focus on the things that I was excelling at, like the Classics and small stage races. That kept the team happy, that kept me with a good contract and that was fine with me.
LA: I’m not going to get into that. This is not an interview with WADA or a TRC so I’m not getting into that. If that interview comes, I’ll be happy to talk about that or I’ll tell that story myself. It would be foolish of me to tell every detail in an online interview. I had a feeling you wanted detail like that but I’m not giving that.
LA: I don’t know if they didn’t give a fuck or if they just couldn’t, honestly, and I don’t think highly of Pat [McQuaid] or Hein [Verbruggen] today, but what were they going to do? Imagine you’re Hein, and again I’m not defending him, but take yourself to '94 or maybe even '93 or before. He should have known before because high-octane existed in the late '80s and not just in cycling, in other endurance sports. You’re there, you’re the head of the governing body, you’ve got no test, no test at all – what are you going to do? And again, I know those guys are easy to pick on, but it’s 1995 for example, you’re Hein Verbruggen. What the fuck are you going to do? Hope someone gets caught at a border? There’s nothing you can do. Maybe they didn’t give a fuck, I didn’t ask them, but I do know that they could not do a thing. Just like the head of the IAAF couldn’t do a thing, just like the head of FINA couldn’t do a thing. They just did not have the tools to do anything until maybe 10 years later.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for part 2 of this interview.