Lance Armstrong has admitted using banned substances during his cycling career, claiming in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that it would have been impossible to win his seven Tour de France titles without using drugs.
Despite admitting he was part of “one big lie”, the 41-year-old said he did not feel he was cheating at the time because he not believe he was gaining an advantage over anyone because doping was so common among his rivals.
Armstrong, who has been banned for life and stripped of his titles after the US Anti-doping Agency (Usada) found him guilty of doping, claimed that doping was so common in cycling that it was "like saying we have to have air in our tyres, we have to have water in our bottles."
While admitting using several banned substances, Armstrong denied being a cheat. He said: “I looked up the definition of cheating and the definition is ‘to gain an advantage on a rival or foe’. I did not view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”
Armstrong began the much-anticipated 90 minute interview by immediately admitting that he has used performance enhancing drugs since the mid 1990s and that he was under the influence of them during all seven of his Tour wins.
He admitted using Erythropoietin, a blood booster, and steroids as well as blood doping and human growth hormones. He also admitted using testosterone, something which he attempted to justify by citing the fact that, as a testicular cancer survivor, he assumed “surely I’m running low”.
It marks the first time, after 13 years of brazen denial, that Armstrong has admitted using banned substances. He said: “This [admission] is too late. It is too late for probably most people and that is my fault.”
He claimed that, at the time, it did not feel wrong, he did not feel bad about it and that he was never afraid of being caught.
Armstrong, who admitted he was a “bully” fuelled by a “ruthless desire to win” apologised to people, including former teammates, whom he accused of lying when they went public with allegations that Armstrong was using banned substances.
He described himself as “a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome” and added: “I’m a flawed character.”
However, he claimed that he never pressured anyone to take banned substances and denied being under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs during his final two Tour de France attempts in 2009 and 2010, saying the last time he doped was in 2005.
Despite claiming that doping was rife among his rivals, he refused to name others who were using banned substances, saying: “"I'm not comfortable talking about other people. I don't want to accuse anybody."
Armstrong took issue with Usada, which said his team, the United States Postal Service cycling team, “ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.
He said: “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…But to say that that programme was bigger than the East German doping program in the '70s and '80s? That's not true.”
Armstrong also accepted that, despite his admissions, he knows he will not be forgiven for his cheating. “I'll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people for the rest of my life,” he said. Adding: “People will see me as someone who has disrespected the [Tour de France] and the sport…and I did.”
By Mark Hughes, Telegraph.co.uk