After more than a decade of denying doping claims, cyclist Lance Armstrong has admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs to help him win seven Tour de France titles, sources revealed Monday evening.
A person familiar with the situation told the Associated Press that Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey during an interview taping with the Queen of Talk, which is slated to air on Thursday, January 17, on her network.
Lance Armstrong was stripped of all seven Tour titles last year in the wake of a voluminous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report that portrayed him as a ruthless competitor, willing to go to any lengths to win the prestigious race.
A group of about 10 close friends and advisers to Lance Armstrong left a downtown Austin hotel about three hours after they arrived Monday afternoon for the taping.
Among them were Lance Armstrong attorneys Tim Herman and Sean Breen, along with Bill Stapleton, Armstrong’s longtime agent, manager and business partner.
All declined comment entering and exiting the session.
Soon afterward, Oprah Winfrey tweeted: “Just wrapped with (at)lancearmstrong More than 2 1/2 hours. He came READY!”
Oprah was scheduled to appear on CBS This Morning on Tuesday to discuss the interview.
In a text to the AP on Saturday, Lance Armstrong said: “I told her [Oprah Winfrey] to go wherever she wants and I’ll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That’s all I can say.”
Lance Armstrong stopped at the Livestrong Foundation, which he founded, on his way to the interview and said, ‘I’m sorry’ to staff members, some of whom broke down in tears.
A person with knowledge of that session said Lance Armstrong choked up and several employees cried during the session.
The person also said Lance Armstrong apologized for letting the staff down and putting Livestrong at risk but he did not make a direct confession to using banned drugs.
He said he would try to restore the foundation’s reputation, and urged the group to continue fighting for the charity’s mission of helping cancer patients and their families.
Rae Bazzarre, a spokeswoman for Livestrong said it was emotional “but we were all glad to see him”.
Lance Armstrong had not been at the headquarters since October 21, Rae Bazzarre said, about two weeks before he resigned from Livestrong’s board of directors.
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Armstrong once led, “The most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”.
After a federal investigation of the cyclist was dropped without charges being brought last year, USADA stepped in with an investigation of its own.
The agency deposed 11 former teammates and accused Lance Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug program that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.
The interview with Oprah Winfrey will be Lance Armstrong’s first public response to the USADA report.
Lance Armstrong is not expected to provide a detailed account about his involvement, nor address in depth many of the specific allegations in the more than 1,000-page USADA report.
After he was stripped of his Tour titles, Lance Armstrong defiantly tweeted a picture of himself on a couch at home with all seven of the yellow leader’s jerseys on display in frames behind him.
But the preponderance of evidence in the USADA report and pending legal challenges on several fronts apparently forced him to change tactics, and he still faces legal challenges.
He is planning to testify against several powerful people in the sport of cycling who knew about his doping and possibly facilitated it, said several people with knowledge of the situation, according to The New York Times.
Lance Armstrong is in discussions with the United States Department of Justice to possibly testify in a federal whistle-blower case.
Former teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, has filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit that accused Armstrong of defrauding the U.S. Postal Service.
Floyd Landis claimed the team defrauded the government because its riders used performance-enhancing drugs in violation of its sponsorship contract.
The Justice Department has yet to decide whether it will join the suit as a plaintiff.
The London-based Sunday Times also is suing Lance Armstrong to recover about $500,000 it paid him to settle a libel lawsuit.
On Sunday, the newspaper took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, offering Oprah Winfrey suggestions for what questions to ask Lance Armstrong.
Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which tried to deny Lance Armstrong a promised bonus for a Tour de France win, has threatened to bring yet another lawsuit seeking to recover more than $7.5 million an arbitration panel awarded the cyclist in that dispute.
The lawsuit most likely to be influenced by a confession might be the Sunday Times case.
Potential perjury charges stemming from Lance Armstrong’s sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Lance Armstrong was not deposed during the federal investigation that was closed last year.
Many of his sponsors dropped Lance Armstrong after the damning USADA report – at the cost of tens of millions of dollars – and soon after, he left the board of the Livestrong cancer-fighting charity he founded in 1997. Lance Armstrong is still said to be worth about $100 million.
Livestrong could be one reason Lance Armstrong has decided to come forward with an apology and limited confession.
The charity supports cancer patients and still faces an image problem because of its association with lance Armstrong.
He may be hoping that his willingness to testify against the cycling union officials and his former team’s officials and his confession will allow him to return to competition in the elite triathlon or running events he participated in after his cycling career.
World Anti-Doping Code rules state his lifetime ban cannot be reduced to less than eight years.
WADA and U.S. Anti-Doping officials could agree to reduce the ban further depending on what information Lance Armstrong provides and his level of cooperation
He had a meeting last month with USADA officials, and it was reported by The New York Times that people with knowledge of the discussions said the officials would be willing to reduce Lance Armstrong’s punishment if he would testify against the people who helped him dope.