Lance Tells Oprah What We All Already Knew
Armstrong's confession made for titillating television, but it didn't really offer anything unexpected.
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Yes. Yes. Yes. Nice work, Oprah. Last night, for the first time, ever, Oprah got Lance Armstrong to publicly admit what we already knew: he used a variety of performance enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles.
I watched the admission surrounded by a wide variety of fellow cycling geeks at the Liberty bar in East Austin, which hosted a party in Lance’s dishonor. Just prior to eight p.m., the bartender, Josh, a former bike messenger, turned up the volume on the bar’s large, flat-screen TV as high as it would go. Even though it was hard to find a seat, it wasn’t hard to hear. As Oprah and Lance sat down, a chorus of shushes echoed through the room. As Lance began confessing, it was as quiet as a funeral.
After the opening round of yeses, a friend of mine leaned toward me. “This is so surreal,” she said. “I feel like I’m in a dream.” But soon the solemn mood shifted and festivity set in as we started to get what we really came for: entertainment.
Oprah started the conversation in earnest, and someone from the front of the bar, the rowdier section, where the officially Twitter-monikered #Doprah drinking game was being played, shouted, “How was Sheryl Crow?” a reminder to anyone who might have forgotten, Lance benefited mightily, for a long time, from lying.
And now, he was finally telling the truth. Or, was he?
When Armstrong described his “cocktail” of drugs to Oprah, he said he took EPO, “but not a lot.” By whose standards? Other dopers? The reasoned decision showed Lance was well supplied. And his U.S. Postal buddies, Tyler Hamilton and George Hincapie, said that when they got low on “Edgar,” as they called it, Lance would deliver.
It’s also not like Lance was abstaining from EPO the way he might have abstained from eating chocolate cake. He was likely using as much as he could to keep his endurance-enhancing red blood cell values up, without triggering the ire of drug testers. At the Liberty, Lance’s “not a lot” statement triggered the first of many rounds of hearty guffaws.
When Armstrong said he didn’t dope after coming back for the 2009 and 2010 Tours, someone yelled, “Buuuullshit,” in the way you might mock a bad call at a Longhorns game. And it is hard to believe that after more than ten years of doping, Lance would decide he was going to start racing clean. Especially when he’d already told Oprah that he didn’t believe he could’ve won the Tour de France without doping.
It was clear during his comeback that Lance was intent on winning. So, at some point between 2005 and 2009, he decided he could win the Tour clean? Also, doping experts say his blood profiles from the 2009 Tour show wide, unexplainable changes in red blood cell values. Oh, and Lance was still secretly providing cash payments to the infamous doping doctor Michelle Ferrari.
Why would he lie about doping during his comeback? The statute of limitations on doping violations is eight years (unless you’re accused of heading one of the biggest doping conspiracies ever). So maybe Armstrong thinks that if he’s not proved to have doped during his comeback, he can return to competition sooner.
As the questioning progressed, Lance tried to mitigate his influence as the head of Postal’s doping program. He said he didn’t tell his teammate, Christian Vande Velde, to dope harder or risk getting kicked off the team, as Vande Velde has claimed. Then, even though Lance said he didn’t want to bad mouth anyone, he insinuated that Vande Velde continued to dope after leaving Postal and racing for other teams.
When Lance declined to take on Oprah’s question about his 1996 confession to PED use in an Indiana hospital in front his former teammate’s wife, Betsy Andreu, it was a big let-down. But he may have done so for legal reasons, since he ostensibly lied about the incident under oath. He may have also been protecting his former liaison to Oakley, Stephanie McIlvain, since she was in the hospital room too and swore under oath that she heard nothing.
But that certainly didn’t help patch things up with Betsy. Later, a visibly hurt Andreu told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “You owed it to me, Lance, and you dropped the ball. After what you’ve done to me, what you’ve done to my family, and you couldn’t own up to it.” (I got teary watching Betsy’s rebuttal.)
Then—Then!—Lance explained to Oprah that yes, he’d been a real jerk to Betsy, “but I never called her fat.” It was supposed to be a joke, but the crowd at the Liberty exploded, “WHAT???!!!” I cannot believe he said that—and to Oprah, who has publicly struggled with weight for her entire career. I’m honestly surprised no one threw a pint glass at the TV.
As the interview wound down, the general consensus was that Armstrong’s “truthiness” made for a compelling evening, but the most we got was confirmation of stories that already existed and not much new information regarding the details of his doping or the corruptness of the culture and governing body in which it existed.
Armstrong denied he’d paid off the governing body for covering up a positive test in 2001, simply saying, “They asked me to [make a donation].” C’mon, Oprah! On Thursday the Wall Street Journal reported that the firm of investment banker Thomas Weisel, the owner of the Postal team, managed personal funds for Hein Verbruggen, the still honorary president of cycling’s governing body, the UCI. Kind of a conflict, no?
Maybe Oprah is saving the new intel for part two, this evening. Or, maybe Lance is saving it for a forthcoming sworn testimony.
Ian Dille is a former professional cyclist and a freelance writer who has contributed to Bicycling and Outside magazines. He lives in Austin. You can follow him on Twitter @iandille.