Lance Armstrong says "day-to-day life is positive" 18 months after he admitted doping
The cyclist was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in 2013
Armstrong is confident of winning his legal battle with U.S. Federal Government
The Texan plans to write a third book that "needs to be pretty intense and transparent"
Editor’s Note: Warning: This article contains explicit language which may offend some readers.
This is the first installment of a two-part look at the legacy of the Lance Armstrong’s doping. In the second installment , we speak to some of the victims of the cyclist’s lies.
It’s a year and a half since Lance Armstrong sat in front of Oprah Winfrey and admitted it was all a lie, every single word of it. In the fallout, everything that had been built on that lie came crashing down around him.
From being virtually deified for his cancer survival and subsequent seven successive Tour de France wins, a record achievement which has now been erased from the history books, the American was demonized.
The fallout has left him persona non grata in the cycling fraternity and vilified on social media but, somewhat surprisingly, he claims to still be well received in society.
“In this day and age, there’s plenty of outlets for people to hurl the most heinous comments that you can think of, you only have to look at the comments that will be at the bottom of this piece,” the 42-year-old tells CNN in a phone interview from his home in Aspen, Colorado.
“But day-to-day life is positive. I never get crap, not once, and I’m surprised by that. Sure, I sometimes get the vibe that someone wants to say something, but it’s never happened.”
The Armstrong lie, or lies – there have been countless – plus the bullying and the betrayal … he knows it has laid him bare to all manner of abuse. Call it what you will, but in his words what ensued was a “shit storm, a fall from grace, a disgrace.”
And, to put it bluntly, “there is a still a bit of drama out there.” A number of the legal cases that followed once his doping was finally exposed have been resolved, but the biggest of all looms large.
Armstrong’s fight with the U.S. Federal Government over its sponsorship of his former cycling team has potential $100 million ramifications for a man who was previously one of the world’s most bankable sports stars.
“I’m very confident that that’s a winner for us,” he says. “I don’t think anyone can truly argue the U.S. Postal Service was damaged. They made a lot of money in the deal and got what they bargained for.
“I worked my ass off for them and I’m proud of it. Furthermore there wasn’t a technical relationship between myself and the U.S. Postal Service. In many ways, I’m no different to (former teammates) Tyler Hamilton or Floyd Landis or whoever. We were just independent.”
Armstrong relishes a fight. It’s what made him a great cyclist, drugs and all, and he is ready for another one. Perversely, you get the sense he is relishing the next round. It is not one, he says, that gives him sleepless nights despite the possible outcome because, he argues, it is out of his control.
But it is that love of a fight that let him down as a human being.
“I definitely have a ‘fuck you’ attitude,” he says. “I fight in training, I fight to win races, I fight to motivate the guys in the team.
“That brazenness is a great thing for that but it’s not a great place for personal relationships. I just didn’t have the switch to turn that off. It helped me on the bike but it also got me where I am today.”
The list of those he hurt, and who won’t forgive him, is long: three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond; journalist David Walsh, who spent more than a decade trying to expose Armstrong; and former friends Frankie and Betsy Andreu, to name just a few.
Many have questioned if the Texan’s public mea culpa on Oprah and other off-camera apologies are enough, or does he need to show more contrition?
“That’s a difficult one for me to answer,” he says. “You can’t do justice in a one-hour conversation. It was a situation for a lot of people that it was too much information, like ‘Holy shit, really?’ but for other people – cycling fans, sports fans, for other parts of the population – it wasn’t enough, I didn’t go far enough.”
Armstrong says he’s sorry in conversation repeatedly but, at the same time, he knows it doesn’t matter to many people. “I don’t blame anyone for thinking, ‘I don’t trust this guy with all his bullshit for 10 years,’ ” he adds.
Some have accepted the apologies, such as his former masseuse Emma O’Reilly, despite him effectively labeling her as an alcoholic prostitute, while others, such as the Andreus and the LeMonds, have not.
“The LeMonds would never take my phone call, so I can’t do anything about that,” he says, “and I’m not going to go and camp out on someone’s doorstep.
“My first call was to Betsy and my apology was accepted but, if possible, it appears that’s now been revoked. The bottom line is that I’m sorry, I told them and I meant it. Okay, I don’t want to have relationships with these people, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m embarrassed about my behavior and I’m sorry. I wish the apology had stuck.”
All this has spawned from one lie, a refusal to tell the truth that he doped. He has lost count of the people he has lied to. I remember standing face to face with Armstrong at his team bus moments after he had finished a Tour de France prologue. I asked him then if he’d ever doped. He said categorically not, and convincingly so.
“I was good at playing the part,” he admits now. “After the 850th time, it’s not like I’m going to say, ‘Matt, you seem like a nice guy, I’m going to be honest with you.’ Once you say ‘no’ you have to keep saying ‘no.’
“If this stuff hadn’t taken place with the federal investigation, I’d probably still be saying ‘no’ with the same conviction and tone as before. But that gig is up.”
But surely a lie like that eats away at you? “At the time, it didn’t feel tiring,” he replies.
Then what about morally? Being a father of five children – two sons and three daughters – did it not feel morally wrong? “Well, that’s a conversation for my kids. But there was a lot of stuff in that lie, not simply me saying ‘no.’ I couldn’t change the story.”
There are others who perpetuated the lie, who were part of the cover-up, and could yet face sanctions of their own.
Armstrong, though, insists he is not about to pass the blame. “I’m a big boy, I made my own decisions and I need to be held accountable for that,” he says. “I’m not going to blame people. A lot of people have blamed everyone else but that’s bullshit.
“No-one forced me or bullied me, so I’m not going to say, ‘It’s not my fault.’ I blame myself, that’s the bottom line.”
There is a sense that Armstrong is trying to rebuild his tattered reputation. It seems unlikely he will ever be welcomed back into cycling society, and gone are the days when he mixed with presidents and the Hollywood glitterati, although he insists he is still friends with such people.
There were friends who stopped ringing or answering his calls (“Some surprising ones,” he says) but slowly he appears to be emerging from his bunker. He welcomed Esquire magazine into his home, and there’s been the occasional interview, but he is adamant it is not part of a premeditated damage-control offensive.
“I know at times it looks like it, but there’s no PR campaign,” he says. “I’m talking to you because I was riding my bike with Scott Mercier (a former professional cyclist who left the sport rather than dope and who has become an unlikely friend and bike-riding companion of Armstrong.) He said, ‘This dude’s alright, you should talk to him,’ and that’s all there is to it.
“There’s not a big study room where we’re bouncing off ideas saying, ‘Let’s do Esquire, let’s talk to Matt at CNN.’ I’m just flying by the seat of my pants.”
So what next for Armstrong? He has plans to reboot his original cancer foundation, the Lance Armstrong Foundation that preceded Livestrong, although no time frame has been set, and there are imminent plans to release a third book. Bearing in mind his first, “It’s Not About the Bike,” had a major untruth at the heart of it, finding the right author to take on the project might prove challenging.
But it is something he wants to do, and this time he promises he will be completely transparent.
“I need to write a book and it needs to be pretty raw,” says Armstrong, who claims he has not read any of the books about him, or watched any of the programs, since the post-Oprah fallout, describing them as a “cesspool.”
“The book needs to be pretty intense and transparent. I need to ‘boom’ – put it out there and let it sit. The sooner the better. It has to be the right book, the right tone and there has to be totally no bullshit.”
He seems unsure, however, if it will give him closure.
“That depends on how it’s received. It could be a case of one step forward and 10 steps back. Shit, I don’t know. I’m fully committed to putting it all out there.”
He draws parallels with the book with therapy. Some have suggested Armstrong might even have psychological problems – displaying behavior associated with “narcissistic personality disorder” according to psychotherapist and author Joseph Burgo, a throwback to a difficult upbringing, a father who was not part of his life, and being raised by a single mother.
It clearly gave him the fight and drive to succeed, but it may also have been to his mental detriment.
The suggestion of therapy, however, is laughed off. “My therapy is riding my bike, playing golf and having a beer,” he responds.
“Look, we all have these events in our lives, whether it’s good, bad or medium. I haven’t gotten around to it (therapy). I get it totally, but it’s not something that’s taken place yet.”
There has, though, been plenty of time for self-analysis, to assess his past indiscretions. “A little bit of reflection helps to learn and grow, but I’m not going to dwell,” he says.
Armstrong is not the first cyclist to deny doping, and he is not the first to have been caught lying.
Former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis was allowed to continue in the sport as a team manager despite his belated admission of doping as a rider. Armstrong, however, cannot even take part in U.S. Masters swimming competitions.
“I’m not angry,” he insists. “I think most people are smart enough to look at that situation and say, ‘That doesn’t make any sense.’ I think more and more people will see that view over time.”
For someone who so dominated his sport between 1999-2005, a man who was so defiant before accepting his legacy had been ruined, it must hurt to see other names remaining in the record books during an era where doping was apparently so rife?
“What stands out in a lot