Lance Armstrong has said that he still feels himself to be a Tour de France winner and believes that it would be “disrespectful to the sport” to leave seven years of the race’s roll of honour empty.
Armstrong was banned for life and stripped of his seven Tour victories in October of 2012 following the publication of USADA’s Reasoned Decision at the end of its investigation into the doping programme in place at his US Postal team.
Speaking in a video interview with Outside magazine, Armstrong described the climate in cycling during his career as “basically an arms race,” adding that he felt all of his rivals had acted as he had done.
“If you’re asking me – yes, I feel like I won those races. I know that’s not a popular answer but the reality I think that we are learning is that it was just a messy time. It was basically an arms race and we all played ball that way,” Armstrong said.
“It’s not my place to say but I think it would be a mistake and it would be disrespectful to the sport to leave seven years empty. You have them empty for two world wars but you can’t have them empty from 99 to 05. If I didn’t win, then somebody needs to win. I’m not sure who we’d get to.”
Armstrong believes that, if polled, the riders who competed in the Tour from 1999 to 2005 would acknowledge him as the winner. “Of course I’m going to say I won but ask the guys who suffered with him, ‘Did he win?’ I think I know what they’d say,” he said.
Asked if he had won on a level playing field, or if he had simply pushed the limits of doping further than others, Armstrong said: “Obviously […] myself, Jan, all the guys who have told the truth now about what went on at that time – Basso, Beloki, whoever – more or less played by the same rules. Would that have been different to the lanterne rouge? Of course.”
When faced with allegations of doping during his career, Armstrong repeatedly claimed that his success was due to training harder than his rivals and paying more attention to seemingly minor details. He still insists that the was the case, even if the regimen was augmented by performance enhancing drugs.
“Today it almost seems like that’s ridiculed. It’s, ‘Oh, They told us it was the training, they told us it was the diet.’ But it really was. We didn’t tell about the drugs, but nobody told about the drugs,” Armstrong said. “But all of those things happened, we actually did all of those things: they weren’t bullshit and I think that’s the reason why we won those Tours. We took it to another level.”
Armstrong accepted that it was not his place to say whether he has been punished sufficiently for his misdemeanours. “I can’t answer that question because no matter what I say, it’s not going to be acceptable,” he said. “I know how much I’ve gone through. Some might view that as enough, some might view that as nothing. I can’t even get near that one because it’s too sensitive.”
He also admitted that confessing to doping had not relieved him of any particular burden of guilt, and that he would have been just as happy never to have been brought down. “I don’t feel like this weight off my shoulders, I would have been fine to never say anything,” he said. “And that’s probably not a popular response either.”
Meanwhile, a Texas appeals court has ruled that an arbitration panel will rule on the case SCA Promotions has taken against Armstrong. SCA sued Armstrong for fraud last year, seeking to recoup the $12 million of bonuses it paid to him following his Tour wins of 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Armstrong had lodged an appeal in a bid to block the case, but it was rejected on Thursday. In 2006, an arbitration panel had found in Armstrong’s favour in a similar case against SCA, but that predated his confession of doping.
“Mr. Armstrong engaged in rampant perjury and committed outrageous acts of witness intimidation in his lawsuit with SCA," SCA's attorney, Jeffrey Tillotson, told USA TODAY. "With this opinion from the Court of Appeals, SCA will now proceed to have Mr. Armstrong punished for such conduct."