Lance Armstrong feels that the culture and mentality that pervaded cycling in his era still exists in the sport today, and that if there was an EPO equivalent then many riders would be taking it.
Speaking in an interview with Jeremy Whittle in the British newspaper The Times, published on Monday, Armstrong rejected the notion that he was the ringleader of doping in the sport, arguing that everyone was at it, and still would be today if similar drugs were available.
“I didn’t stand over my team-mates telling them to dope. That’s 100 per cent false," he said. "The sport fostered that culture. You had a substance, EPO, that was so efficient and if they have an equivalent tomorrow that is undetectable, everyone would be on it.”
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, won between 1999 and 2005, when the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) published its Reasoned Decision back in 2012. The Texan, who admitted his use of performance enhancing substances in each of his Tour victories during a televised confession on the Oprah Winfrey show, hit out at USADA for making him a scapegoat to fit a desired ‘narrative’.
“USADA had three or four key messages to pound home – ‘the most sophisticated doping programme in history, the greatest fraud in the history of sport, Armstrong forced young men to put dangerous substances in their body’ – all of which is untrue,” he said.
“In 2009, and 2010 [a brief comeback to cycling], I did nothing. I have said that under oath. If there is a reliable test that absolutely works and they say, ‘Lance, give us your samples,’ then 100 per cent I’d be in favour. But they don’t want to do that because if I’m proven clean in 2009 and 2010, it works against their narrative.”
Armstrong has often been criticised for a perceived lack of contrition and refusal to take full responsibility for what he did. He has had his fair share of legal and verbal battles since his downfall, many of which are ongoing. He brought a libel case against The Sunday Times relating to a 2004 article and was sued by the newspaper after the USADA report came out, with a settlement eventually being reached. It was the same outcome in the litigation with SCA Promotions, a case which centred upon the famed hospital room testimony from Frankie and Betsy Andreu, who claimed Armstrong told doctors about the banned substances he had taken.
Armstrong's verbal warfare with the Andreus continues to this day, as does the acrimony with former teammate Floyd Landis, with the pair clashing in the ongoing whistleblower case, in which the US government is seeking damages of up to $100m due to the organised doping that went on at the US Postal team - sponsored by a state company.
The Texan, though, claims he is working towards reconciliation with the past and that it has taken longer than he could have expected for the consequences of his actions to sink in.
“The thing I’d say now, that took me years to understand and that I didn’t understand then, is that Oprah came too soon. I was stuck and I wanted to get it out of the way, but it was too soon, it was still too fresh. I hadn’t worked through it all in my own head. I still haven’t," he told The Times.
"I’ve come to understand the tremendous sense of betrayal, from a lot of people, who feel I betrayed them because they trusted me. They supported me, they fought for me, they raised funds for me – they had my back. They felt like idiots. That’s a heavy burden to carry and live with."
That said, the 44-year-old still found room for a slice of the snarling defiance of old. He has often hit out against what he sees as hypocrisy from riders whose indiscretions he feels are equal to his but have taken the moral high ground.
“The innocent ones had a genuine sense of betrayal, but the people that knew, the people who now act appalled – there’s a special place for them.”
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