The long road to redemption: Lance Armstrong realizes it’s OK to be human

Editor’s Note: Briton Robert Millar is a former professional cyclist. Before the success of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the 2012 Tour de France, Millar had achieved the highest Tour finish for a Briton. The Scot also holds the distinction for the highest finish by a Briton in the Giro d’Italia.

Story highlights

In interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong says he regrets fighting the USADA, when the agency claimed he had doped

"I was a bully," he says about retaliating against people who accused him of doping

I will spend the rest of my life ... trying to earn back trust and apologize," Armstrong says

Approaching Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, I had been thinking the American – in his type of language – was “done with cycling.”

Used, abused and accused by fans and federations, no doubt he was feeling he had been rolled over by the cycling world, despite his years of sacrifice and heroics.

After all, hadn’t they taken the ride with him? Enjoyed the fame, bought the story and sold it – all packaged up in a shiny cover.

Those rulemakers and followers, who now wanted their pound of flesh, weren’t they the same ones who had spouted the promises of globalization, dreamed of expanding markets and then cuddled up for the photo opportunity with the Hollywood A-listers that the Lance show brought to the table?

For a sport struggling with an image problem, Lance was their savior.

Jeez, even the French pretended they liked it and as long as the dollars kept rolling in, they were happy to put up with a bit of American rock ‘n’ roll.

Read: ‘Deeply flawed’ Lance Armstrong admits using performance-enhancing drugs

Now it’s all come to an end and it’s a rather sad, dirty end to what was supposed to be a Disney-esque fairytale in lycra. The savior is a sinner after all.

Cycling hadn’t wanted to see Lance as anything other than the big, brash, bold Texan.

It suited their needs to see the fierce competitor, the athlete who dominated the Tour de France seven times, forgetting that behind the facade was a man just like other men – not perfect, but flawed.

Don’t forget it was those very flaws of character which made Lance the competitor, the one who would do what it took to win and came to consider performance enhancing drugs as part of his job.

In a culture which for so many years had had such an expectancy to cheat whenever possible, there was nobody to question him. Nobody to stop him taking control of the process – planning it and perfecting it.

It was a process Lance called easy and it was if that process became more fulfilling than the victories and the fame, which may seem crazy, but then again the top athlete are rarely wired in the same way as the rest of the population. Competitors like Armstrong have stuff to prove to themselves, and to others, and it’s rarely pretty.

iReport: Tell us your take on the first part of the interview

Cycling fans rejoiced in his ruthlessness, his commitment and his brutal desire to win. Meanwhile his sponsors – some of the world’s biggest brands remember – had willingly used him to promote their products, build the image and sell the dream.

With his confession all that is over and Armstrong sees the anger of those same people who wanted to believe.

My biggest surprise was that the Oprah interview did not descend into the all too common excuses and crocodile tears we have seen from those in a similar predicament.

There was no blaming anyone else, no recriminations and no hiding that he did it. Lance taking the blame – that is what shocked me the most.

There’s no doubt he has been aided by others in his quest to prove what he wanted to prove, but Armstrong accepts the responsibility for the deception and he accepts that the fallout is going to come his way.

When did that last happen with a figure as big as Armstrong had become?

Previous award winners of “most hated cyclist” all denied it was them or that they really did cheat. Pathetically, some of them said it was others that did it – much like a 10-year-old would – or that they had thought about it but then couldn’t. Arguably none of them has told the story in the way Armstrong has done.

Sure Lance had tried the denials, told us all about the tests he had passed and convinced most people – who didn’t have the knowledge of just how tainted cycling was – that he was clean.

And now on Oprah’s sofa, just when we were all expecting more of the same, it’s been replaced with an honesty which shocks.

There still remains a glimmer of hope for the sport of cycling. Armstrong said as much when he admitted the new drug testing and whereabouts program was working.

It’s no longer as easy to cheat, the culture is finally changing, but that’s a process which is going to hurt the governing bodies just as much as the dramas which are going to arrive on Armstrong’s doorstep.

I don’t feel sorry for Lance and refreshingly I don’t get the feeling he has asked me to feel sorry for him.

He did it – he was the bully, the liar, the one hiding behind the image.

Read: Social media verdict on Armstrong admission

It’ll take many years for him to recover from where he is at the moment and it might be the case that he never does in many people’s eyes. The cancer community and his Livestrong work is now all that remains of what Armstrong did right.

Cycling, indeed sport in general, has been deeply damaged by the American, and by those who advised, supplied and turned the other cheek because it suited them as well.

But you know what? The new Lance that tells the truth and accepts his mistakes still has hope because finally he’s realized it’s OK to be human. That’s a person some could, despite the current mess, begin to forgive. It won’t be easy though.