The Interview


Much has already been written and said about the Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah Winfrey. It ranges from naive praise to dismissive disbelief. My purpose isn’t to either defend him or further scorch the earth at his feet; rather, I’d like to offer some perspective to view this within the larger framework of the evolving myth of Lance Armstrong.

The general sentiment of Armstrong among RKP readers, the collective room temperature, isn’t hard to gauge. Many of you are tired of the lies, tired of the myth, tired of him. So why pay attention now? Because Lance Armstrong told the truth to Oprah. Based on what we know, not everything he told was the truth, nor was it all of the truth we want to hear. But he admitted to doping. It’s an important first step. That he wouldn’t roll over on any of his co-conspirators—in particular Johan Bruyneel and Thom Weisel—was the omission I feared would sour an otherwise bold change of heart. His continued denial of a coverup in 2001 at the Tour de Suisse was just as troubling.

When he told Oprah that he wanted to deal with what he had done, it may have seemed a noble move to some, but then he added that he didn’t want to address the actions of others. We all know that the best he could do right now is to be completely forthright.

What’s unfortunate about the first part of Oprah’s interview with Armstrong is that by drawing a line in the sand and telling her that he wasn’t going to discuss the actions of others he eliminated the anticipation that he’d reveal anything surprising, something we didn’t already know. Part two of the interview is a foregone conclusion. He will confess to some things we accept as true and he may deny a couple of details that we also accept as true.

The only surprises in store for us are really those items he continues to deny.

For my part, I was disappointed when Oprah asked him when he began doping and his answer wasn’t immediate, wasn’t detailed. Telling her, “I suppose earlier in my career … mid ‘90s,” is an unacceptably vague answer. The only way I’m willing to believe he doesn’t remember both the month and year he began is if it was some time in the 1980s. Either way, I’m unwilling to accept he doesn’t remember the year he began.

He also told Oprah that he wasn’t a bully before cancer. I call shenanigans on that as well. He’s never not been a rough-hewn character who wanted his way. When I was a race mechanic, USA Cycling staff shared Lance Armstrong stories the way stoners trade arrest stories. Those who told the stories did so with an air of amusement, that while his behavior didn’t conform with the genteel demeanor expected of athletes sponsored by USA Cycling, they were willing to indulge him, a tiny gift for a guy who was destined to make their stock split. Perhaps Lance and I define bully differently, but where I come from, only bullies always get their way, and until very recently, Lance got his way.

I think much of the interview was truly aimed not at the public but at his aforementioned co-conspirators. It was a flare from him to demonstrate that he wasn’t going to rat them out, that he could have, but didn’t. Considering Bruyneel’s appeal looms, it could also be considered a shot across his bow—’I didn’t rat you out, bro. Don’t rat me out.’ CNN is claiming that the interview was a win for Oprah, her biggest “get” ever (which defies comprehension), but backfired on Armstrong.

If indeed Armstrong’s interview is only worsening his situation, there’s a simple reason. What we’ve needed from Lance wasn’t just some truth, we’ve needed what we expect in sworn testimony—the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We, the people, don’t feel we got that from him, and that’s why this was a fail for the average cycling fan, if not the general public as well.

I will say I was relieved to hear Armstrong admit that a single call to Frankie and Betsy Andreu wasn’t going to be enough to undo the damage of nearly a decade of attacks. When asked if he was forgiven, he was bang on the money in his response: “They’ve been hurt too badly … and a 40-minute conversation isn’t enough.”

Still, nothing that he said can overcome the disappointment of hearing him say of his past, “Such a bad story, so toxic … a lot of it is true.” From the jaws of admission—an opportunity for real contrition and reflection—he managed to snatch defense. It’s a shame he doesn’t appreciate what we’ve all come to learn about his story—that it was so fantastic, so mythic in its scope that no one—not Landis, not Hamilton, not the Andreus—ever needed to invent anything about him.

The inventions were his.

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  1. michael ghitelman

    Lance Armstrong became famous for riding his bicycle fast. Does this qualify him as a humanist, a moralist a philosopher?
    I wouldn’t expect him to fix cycling’s doping problem just because he was once a part of it. Who else in the sport has known how to fix it?
    He can only tell us as much as he is able. He cheated. He has earned our contempt. Lets not now put him back up on a pedestal, even if its a different pedestal. I’m not sure that we have a right to expect any bad guy to suddenly become the best guy.

  2. Rich Wilson

    No, he wasn’t bang on the money with the Andreus. He said “They’ve been hurt too badly” not “I’ve hurt them too badly”.

    And although he said nothing was off the table, Indiana was. And he’s also still lying about 2009/10.

    He’s not sorry to anyone. He’s sorry he got caught. If he could change something, it wouldn’t be how he treated Betsy or Emma or David, it would that job offer to Floyd.

  3. Randomactsofcycling

    Well summarised Padraig. I concur that the entire interview, though we have only seen half, is just excruciatingly frustrating. He is well coached by his Team and certainly this is a shot across Bruyneel’s bow.
    I am unaware as to the Statute of Limitations in the USA, but is that why he continues to maintain he was clean for the comeback?
    I won’t be watching the 2nd half of the interview. I actually think (and am surprised to admit) that Oprah was doing a good job. But it’s all entirely predictable and part of the ongoing LA Public Relations train.

  4. RayG

    No, he didn’t reveal anything new about co-conspirators, but I don’t think I’d use Oprah to do that, either. There’s a place to say things that result in charges (esp. perjury ones) and I don’t think a chat show is it.

    It remains to be seen whether he unloads under oath any time soon, though.

  5. Joe

    I watched the interview last night will probably watch again tonight. One thing to remember is that when a individual spends a great deal of their time lying eventually they have to teach themselves how to tell the truth. That process may take a while. I remember him making a statement to the effect that he felt better today than yesterday or before. I believe that was a spontaneous response and not a preplanned or calculated one. Many people have commentated and for many different reasons that he is still lying about certain aspects of this sorry affair and that is probably true. I do think this is a first step in the right direction for himself and cycling. We shall see. I can only hope that the young pro riders of today and those involved in amateur cycling along with all the sponsors, team doctors, trainers, sports directors and governing bodies of the sport are truthful to themselves and realize the amount of damage that has been done to what should be at heart a great human athletic endeavor.

  6. Eric

    The guy has lied for maybe 2 decades now? He admitted he doped and to other things. It’s a start. He will never be able to do enough to a certain vocal segment that, I guess, want his head on a platter. (And they have plans for his money, too.) I think everyone can just breath now and let the situation take it’s course. USADA, Floyd’s case, perhaps the government, various soon-to-sue entities are all in high gear and I think they will chart the course from this point.

    I don’t think individuals, Betsy A, Greg Lemond, Emma, Paul K, etc. will have much impact on the outcome from this point on. They’ve done a lot of kicking and screaming to get it to this point, and they have our standing ovation, but I think they can now back off.

    I say this because I saw Betsy A. on CNN after the broadcast and she was hissed that Lance didn’t do and say enough. Likely he never will appease her. Very possible there’s nothing he can/will do so that she can finally exhale and relax. But if she doesn’t find peace until he’s completely forthright and open, then she may live a life time in rage.

    I’d say she has already been victorious. The USADA report, the life time ban, the complete and total crumbling of Lance’s world. Sit back, exhale, and know you made a difference.

  7. Troutdreams

    Yes, from Betsy’s quotes its sounds like she’s past the point of return…regardless of LA’s words or actions. Twice damaged.

  8. Seano

    Everyone (seemingly) wanted Lance to come clean. He did – but apparently not clean enough, not contrite enough, not soon enough, not under oath, in the wrong venue etc etc etc. Apparently everyone knows when he’s lying, so why the fascination with him saying it out loud? And if everyone is now a human polygraph, why does he need to name names, outline doping procedures etc? We apparently already know everything or know when he’s lying – and I’m guessing by extension then we know the truth?

    Lance didn’t start the doping and he’s not the last that doped or cheated in cycling or any other sport (and don’t think for a minute that folks aren’t out there looking for illegal advantages at this minute – just ask any bike fitter setting TT positions). How many licks does everyone want to get in before its time to move on?

  9. TTT

    Like most other avid cyclists, I was frustrated with his unwillingness to talk about the role others played (Ferrari, Bruyneel, UCI, etc.) And, his dodge of the hospital issue caused me to groan loudly (for the Andreu’s sake).

    That having been said, I find it very interesting that both Tyler and Frankie gave him some credit for the public admission of doping. Strangely, they showed more empathy than many us.

  10. Boroboonie

    I can’t remember where I read this (maybe here?), but I read that at the bottom of all these confessions, despite his desire to “compete in tri’s again” or all the financial reasons, or feasting up, or anything else, the real reason he’s doing this is so that there are no legal implications at the end of the day, and because of that, he’ll be able to run for Governor in the state of Texas. Any thoughts on that?

    1. Author

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments.

      For my part, I’m with Hamilton and Andreu. I do think what Lance did is huge. However, there’s a delta between what I think showed a significant personal step, and a step big enough to rehabilitate his public image. Because the public at large wanted more than he delivered, no matter how monumental a step his confession was, last night was a kind of fail.

      So far as his political aspirations go, last night probably harmed that. Talking heads on CNN, MSNBC, CBS and NBC all say that Armstrong’s effort backfired. That’s not my opinion—that’s the opinion of people who are influencing larger public perception and that’s a truly damning outcome. I don’t thing anyone calculated that as a probable result.

  11. amityskinnyguy

    Lance’s victories were always too fairytale for me. But this fairytale won’t end “… and they lived happily ever after.”

    Thank you Lance for confirming our suspicions. Now go away.

    Next please.

  12. Alex TC

    I wouldn´t say he was well coached, as IMO it´d take years of coaching to achieve the coldness necessary to stand such pressure and deliver the full script in one piece without a slip. He had directions but he´s not a CIA field agent trained to think as straight as that in such circumstances, avoid all pitfalls, etc. The world is literally falling on him now.

    I´d never realisticaly expect that more than a decade of lie, cheat, corruption, scheming and deceit could be confessed and cleared in any way, even superficially, during a 3-hour, non-investigative, non-journalistic TV interview. Oprah did good but it was still a show.

    I can´t immagine what would be of everyone and everything if he had spilled all the beans and delivered everything everyone was expecting. For us general public it´s already hard to digest and interpret or even assimilate the little he gave away (well it´s been for me!).

    Only time will tell if he will bring the ugliest, dirtiest, nastiest and scariest things he and his colaborators (people, riders, personalities, entities, companies, institutions, whatever) perpetrated during such long period. Leave that to the pros (USADA, WADA, US gov…).

    If he does, then we may see this first interview in another light. For me it´s too early to make my mind about it, I confess.

  13. Eto

    While watching his interview last night, all I could think was how unnatural all of this must have been for him… to begin to tell some truths. The interview and what he had to say must go against every molecule in his body. He was not programed for this. The tension in his voice and the body language made me feel like I was like watching a lion in a cage with a man who was not his tamer. I was waiting for him to pounce.

    I found myself feeling some compassion for him, but I kept reminded myself of who he really is and it stopped. He is like anyone else with an addiction who thinks they can manage it on their own, it never works. It felt that he is still trying to handle this one on his own.

  14. michael

    i didn’t watch. `cause that would have been like slowing down to watch a car wreck on the highway.

    he is just another one of many morally corrupt individuals who are scattered about our everyday lives – the questionable politician, the shady cop, the school teacher who always gave an A to his favourites, the salesman who offers you a “deal” if you pay him in straight cash…

    none of those people, or him, will define what I enjoy doing in life. now will he take away my valuable free time.

    so last night i spent some quality time with my nephews and went sledding at -37 celcius. had a blast.

    lance who?

  15. Travis

    Something that the poster Eric said above struck a chord with me. He alluded to the need for Betsy to ultimately get to a point at which her life isn’t focused on getting Armstrong to come clean with regard to the wrongs he committed to both her and Frankie. This is a really important thing to do for any one of us. To be able to move past the wrongs done to us by others and do so in the Gandhian style of forgiveness on our end. To be essentially upset or unaccepting of the action, but to understand the human, however flawed behind them. This needs to happen with or without the mea culpa of the person doing the harm. Lemond was quoted as saying something to the effect that he is “ready to forgive Armstrong, but he is not convinced”. This thinking only makes him miserable. If he’s ready then he should just forgive. I am not condoning any of the actions, omissions, or lies on the part of Armstrong, but if we are willing to forgive others who have transgressed in our beloved sport, we can forgive the biggest of them.

    At the end of the day a Truth and reconciliation hearing will be the best and in my opinion, only way to clear the air wholly and move forward with our sport.

  16. Joe

    For some there will never be enough closure to these events. But as for me the TDU is about set to open the season and I’m still psyched . So let’s take this advise—Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike.
    Fausto Coppi
    When a reporter asked him what it takes to become such a great champion.

  17. naisan

    What Lance did is not “huge” or “brave.”

    To make this point, excuse my crass analogy: let’s say a guy named Lince takes his pants down and makes a giant doodoo in the middle of a soccer field, tells others on his team that they have to do the same or he will kick them off the team, then gets the few honest players on the team kicked off the team for talking about what he did. He then makes it so anybody who actually wants to play soccer also has to do something disgusting.

    After years of crap-soccer, he finally admits that he did half of what he actually did.

    Is that “brave” or “huge?” No. It doesn’t make amends, it doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t even make a dent in the damage he caused so many others.

    It is still weak-willed and the act of a child trying to be a man but only getting halfway there.

    The public would do well to ignore his existence: there actually are a lot of cheats and liars out there, and there is nothing special about that at all.

  18. Conrad

    PDG: Agreed. But I sure as hell am not renewing my USAC license until Steve Johnson resigns.
    I really don’t care about Lance at this point but as for the sport of bicycle racing: its all a joke until the people in charge that overlooked the cheating are gone.

  19. Thurston

    Its too bad he wasn’t a real athlete, he rode a bicycle, that’s what 8-year olds do. If he played a real sport like baseball or football, this might matter. I’m amazed that he was able to make so much money pedaling that stupid bicycle while wearing those ridiculous shorts. Look at how skinny he was, obviously those PEDs didn’t help his physique any, he was probably the kid that got stuffed in the locker in high school. He looks more like he’s on meth than PEDs. Obviously he’s using this opportunity now to cash in and probably write a book about his hard times. He’s made millions riding a stupid bicycle. The only reason I ever watched that crap was to see someone crash.

  20. Jesus from Cancun

    The way I understood, he accepted to have been doped by Ferrari. And he accepted the hospital incident and that the Andreus were telling the truth.
    It wasn’t too hard to read between the lines to get that. He wasn’t as direct as he was about O’Reilly, but I thought the message was clear even if he played around the bush too much.

    I was surprised by the opening questions and the way he answered them. That’s what kept me watching until the end, but I also was a bit disappointed by the missed chance to really tell it all. Not that I was expecting it, but for a moment I thought he would really open up and throw caution to the wind.

    As I was watching, I remembered an article wrote in Bicycling several months ago, maybe a couple years… “Is he done?” or something like that. There was a graph of the TDF top 10 riders for several years, and it showed who had been busted for doping and who hadn’t. Armstrong was one of the very few who hadn’t… yet. But for many, that statistic was enough proof. He must have been on it, too.

    Now there is no room for doubt. All the faces on the best pictures of the TDF for a decade were on it. The cyclocrossing on that descent when Beloki crashed, Ulrich’s slowing down after the yellow jersey crashed, the demolishing time trials, the bluffing before that big attack, the 30-deep crowds up Alpe D’Huez… I can’t erase those memories, to be honest. And I keep them as good memories.

    For some reason I can’t understand, now I see it as… everyone on those images was on the juice. They still had to pedal and suffer to get to the finish line. Racing was faster back then, but there were still some faster than others.

    It was a whole generation doing wrong, and I hope that everything possible is done to avoid this happening again. But those past Tours were an amazing show, anyway. I am not sure I would agree with those who want to pretend that those 7, 8, 10 or whatever Tours didn’t happen. If that was the right thing to do, then we should also erase all the Tours won by others who admitted to doping or were caught sometime in their careers. Good bye Merckx, Fignon, Anquetil, Coppi, Zoetemelk… I guess the only “truthful winners” would be Hinault and LeMond… Hmmmmm…..

    Of course I am curious about what will happen from now on. But the best news is that all of this was a good off-season entertainment. The Tour Down Under begins tomorrow, and then road racing can make the headlines again. I am very much looking forward to that.

  21. SusanJane

    I didn’t watch either night because I knew I’d be shouting at the tv. That’s sort of what this all about now. I’m trying to look away but I can’t ignore the impact all this has on the sport I love.

    I did read something interesting on Yahoo home page. A recognized specialist in body language did a vid piece on the first episode. She said straight up that she knows nothing about cycling. What was so interesting was how disturbed she was by what Lance said verbally and what his body was saying. She talked about the putting the fist in front of the mouth gesture he used over 20 times. The gesture means the speaker is holding back emotions and words. Another telling one was the classic Lance press the lips together which is “I’m angry at you and I have to pick the right words.” We all know the Lance stare where he narrows his eyes in calculation — it wasn’t obvious but she picked out times when the crows feet on the outside of his eyes betrayed the undeniable signs. I was really moved by her analysis since it came from someone unfamiliar with this whole sordid tale. To her this was carefully controlled but dangerous man well aware of what he’s saying and not saying.

  22. MCH

    What I found most dissapointing about the interview, was that Lance didn’t take the opportunity to announce that he’d found god, and had been “born again”. Had he done so, the farce would have been complete.

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