Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
Speaking to the BBC in what is being billed as his first TV interview since appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show two years ago, Lance Armstrong has said that if he could turn back the clock, he would change the way he acted but not the taking of banned substances.
Asked by BBC Sports Editor Dan Roan if he would do it all again if he were placed back in the same circumstances, he said that he would.
“It’s a complicated question, and my answer is not a popular answer. If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again, because I don’t think you have to,” he said. “If you take me back to 1995, when it was completely and totally pervasive, I’d probably do it again. People don’t like to hear that.”
Armstrong then qualified his statement, arguing that he had little choice.
“When I made the decision – when my team-mates made that decision, when the whole peloton made that decision – it was a bad decision and an imperfect time. But it happened.”
In fact, the Texan argued that the overall balance was more positive than negative. He referred to the growth of cycling during the years when he won the Tour [note: those titles were taken away in 2012], Trek’s substantial increase in sales and the $500m he said his foundation raised.
“Do we want to take that away? I don’t think anybody says yes,” he said.
“I will tell you what I want to do. I would want to change the man that did those things, maybe not the decision, but the way he acted. The way he treated other people, the way he just couldn’t stop fighting. It was great to fight in training, great to fight in the race, but you don’t need to fight in a press conference, or an interview, or a personal interaction. I’d be fighting with you right now – I would be taking you on.
“That’s the man that really needed to change and can never come back. So it’s not an easy question, and I want to be honest with you. It’s not a popular answer, but what really needed to change was the way that guy acted.”
In contrast to many of his former team-mates who were given six month bans, Armstrong was handed a lifetime suspension from the sport. He argued that the two sentences were not proportional, although the USADA reasoned decision made clear that his large ban was due to a number of charges other than using banned substances.
These included the distribution and administration of doping products to others.
Armstrong was also one of the owners of the team and thus involved in calling the shots rather than simply being an employee.
In addition to that, lobbyists from Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation were reportedly involved in trying to have USADA’s funding cut.
Despite those factors, he said that he had been unfairly treated.
“What [USADA chief executive] Travis [Tygart] would tell you, what USADA would tell you, what we have all heard a thousand times, is: ‘We gave Lance Armstrong the same opportunity as everyone else.’
“But if you go ask [former team-mates] George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson, any of them, they’re going to tell you how it went. The call goes like this: ‘You are not getting punished, here is what we need to hear.’ I never got that call.”
Tygart has said on multiple occasions that Armstrong was given opportunities to come forward and speak about what had happened.
Although Armstrong is a deeply competitive person, he attempted to play down the scale of the sporting events that he would do if he were allowed compete again.
“My actions and reactions, and the way I treated certain scenarios, were way out of line, so I deserved some punishment. Has it gone too far? Of course I’m going to say yes. But a lot of people will say it hasn’t gone far enough,” he admitted.
“It’s frustrating in the sense that I still think I could be competing at some sport at a fairly high level, which nobody cares about. Nobody wants to hear me say that.
“But what’s really frustrating, and probably 80% of it, is that if my mum got [multiple sclerosis] tomorrow – and thank God she hasn’t – and I wanted to run the Boston Marathon to raise $100,000 (£66,500) for the MS Society, I couldn’t do it. And not just run, I couldn’t walk it, run a little bit, walk the aid stations and finish in four hours 15 minutes, but raise a hundred grand – I can’t do it.
“I don’t know how anyone thinks that’s right.”
Some will take his statement with a pinch of salt, given that he was targeting a tilt at the Ironman world championship before being banned.
At this point in time, USADA has shown no signs of reducing the ban. It said that if Armstrong cooperated with it that some reduction might be possible; the Texan turned down that offer, although he said that he has met the Cycling Independent Reform Commission twice and spoke at length to them about what he knew.