Life after Oprah
These days, Lance Armstrong lives what he calls a more simplified life
This is an extended version of a story that appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 23 Interview Issue. Subscribe today!
This is an extended version of a story that appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 23 Interview Issue. Subscribe today!
Armstrong spoke with veteran journalist Joe Lindsey of Bicycling magazine in his Austin, Texas, home for almost two hours. We're running the full transcript from that conversation at Armstrong's request.
Joe Lindsey: What's life like for you these days?
Lance Armstrong: It's obviously changed drastically. I'm talking more from a scheduling standpoint. Twelve months ago, 15 months ago, things were pretty hectic, busy. I was working full time on the [Livestrong] foundation, working full time competing in Ironmans and the training, the travel, sponsor obligations, etc. That took up a lot of time, and now, seemingly, almost overnight that vanished. So it just freed up a lot of time and simplified my life. Of course, the other side of that is the ramifications of that, which doesn't take up much of my time but takes up a lot of mental time or time to think about, or to try to negotiate the minefield of lawsuits.
Lindsey: When did it start to change?
Armstrong: The tipping point was Nike -- Nike cutting ties and cutting ties in a very strong-worded, forceful way, I think, a very public way. After that, everybody left.
Lindsey: You lost eight sponsors in one day. Forbes calculated it at something like $150 million in future revenue lost. What was that day like?
Armstrong: It was an upsetting day but not surprising. I told myself in August, I prepared myself for that day, that, at some point they'll all potentially be gone. So I was prepared for it, but then again, you can never totally prepare for that.
Lindsey: What precipitated it? The reasoned decision?
Armstrong: You can just sum it up with the reasoned decision. Despite its flaws, it was intended to be fatal, a catastrophic strike. And it was. And again, parts [of it] are true, parts aren't true. But I have no ground to stand on when it comes to refuting what's not true, so let's just say it is what it is.
Lindsey: You said you were prepared for the sponsors to leave. Were you prepared for the reasoned decision itself? All the affidavits and this huge pile of supporting evidence.
Armstrong: No, no.
Lindsey: That caught you by surprise?
Armstrong: Ah, yes. We knew that in the code [of WADA, the IOC-recognized anti-doping authority], they [USADA, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] had the option to do that. But in the history of that organization, they'd never done that. So, but certainly the magnitude and the length, we didn't expect that.
Lindsey: What was your reaction to it? Did you read it?
Armstrong: [Laughs] No, I've never read it. I never read it or the summary of it, but I know enough from certain stories or interviews or lawsuits. I know enough about it to know basically what is there.
Lindsey: But you understood enough even at the time to know that it was going to change things irrevocably?
Armstrong: Yeah, but it went in phases. There was my decision not to arbitrate [the USADA case] in August, that was a big press story. The reasoned decision, that came. But it was really the fallout with the sponsors and the separation from sponsors and the foundation, and that didn't happen until a couple of weeks later. There was a gap there. I don't remember when the reasoned decision came out exactly, but I went and did SuperFrog [triathlon] in San Diego. It [the reasoned decision] had been out, people had read it, covered it, digested it and from my impression, there was still great support at the race, on the road, in the transition area, etc. So I just assumed that ... But then a week or two later, Nike decided to cut ties, and that started the dominoes.
[Editor's note: Armstrong's timing is off. The reasoned decision was not out when he competed in SuperFrog: The SuperFrog was Sept. 30, 2012, and the reasoned decision came out on Oct. 10, 2012.]
Lindsey: The foundation was a really big domino.
Armstrong: A big one.
Lindsey: The biggest?
Armstrong: Certainly for me, being asked to leave the foundation was the most emotional. I understand sponsors making decisions. Those are business decisions; there's a lot of people, consumers to deal with, the media to deal with. But when you start something like I did with the foundation, and you committed 15 years of your life and helped it raise half a billion dollars, and [have] given it $8 million of your own money … And people like to pick on the foundation, but the work that was done -- and is continuing to be done -- is great work, and regardless of what anybody says, it wasn't a cover for Lance, it wasn't a shell, it wasn't a shield. It was the most kick-ass cancer organization in America, if not the world. So being asked to leave was a big blow for me personally, the biggest blow.
[Editor's note: Livestrong executive vice president Andy Miller said Armstrong was not formally asked to resign. "It ultimately had to be his decision," Miller says.]
Lindsey: You went and spoke to the employees there. What did you tell them?
Armstrong: It was brief. I talked to them just before I drove to the hotel for the Oprah interview, and I said, "I'm going to go talk to her and talk about some things that people have been asking for a long time, and I'm sure there'll be fallout from that and I'm sorry for that and I'm sorry to them and the organization." And that's been the biggest issue I think, is that this hurt the support that survivors had and their friends and family had and the organization had. I know this will sound bad, but I don't really care what the hard-core cycling geek thinks. I don't. No offense to them. But I care about what a supporter of Livestrong thinks, and I care about what the survivor thinks. I think back to someone who was diagnosed back in 1999, and this whole story they believed in. And more than that, they fought for me, whether it's in an online discussion or in a hallway or a workplace or café or bar, they had my back. And now they got egg on their face. That's the thing that hurts me the most and the thing I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make up for. And I hope I can. I'm in timeout right now. And I may be in timeout forever. But I hope not to be.
Lance Armstrong on living a more public life.
Lindsey: I'm sure you meet a lot of those people. What do they say to you now?
Armstrong: It's interesting; my life is a lot more public now. I'm in the public more now than I was before. [Click to hear more from Lance's interview.]
Lindsey: Because you're not in this cloistered world of competition?
Armstrong: Yeah, exactly. I'll be very frank -- travel for example. The Gulfstream is gone. I'm on JetBlue and United. So I spend a lot of time on airplanes with other people and in terminals or just traveling around and going to restaurants or whatever. The interaction I get on a daily basis is always positive. I've never had a negative interaction.
Lindsey: Why do you think that is?
Armstrong: I think people are more decent than we give them credit for. I can sense when somebody maybe wants to say something. But they don't. They never have. And I'm not saying they won't -- and I'm not bragging. I'm just saying no one has ever gotten in my face and said, "You're a f---ing schmuck" or "You're a fraud" or "You're a lying cheat." They've never done that. You give people a private room and a computer and a keyboard and they go crazy. So far, things have been pretty dang supportive in person. I know that is not accurate.
Lindsey: Right, like you're getting a filtered version of public opinion.
Armstrong: Yeah. I think people are mad. And I don't blame them for being mad, and I'm more and more comfortable every day with them being mad. And I understand, I don't need to fight that. Do I think I made a lot of mistakes? I know I did. Do I think I was way too adamant and forceful in the denials? Absolutely. Was I way too aggressive when it came to getting in people's faces or contesting their versions of events? Yes, but at the same time, was I singled out? Yes. But that's the way the police force works sometimes, and only time will tell which aspects of this have been fair and honest. History isn't stupid, and for the first time in my life, I've just got to have real patience. Which is not my virtue. [Laughs]
Lindsey: So as this all was happening, after the reasoned decision comes out and the sponsors left you and you're considering going on Oprah, what's going on in your head?
Armstrong: I just stayed in Hawaii and hung out with my family.
Lindsey: Were you avoiding it?
Armstrong: No, no, not at all. In fact, I might've even done her show a little early. But we knew that those questions were going to be asked. And they were going to be asked in a more serious setting, be it under oath with the Feds or some other lawsuit. [The Oprah interview], it's safe to say it was not well-received. A buddy of mine told me one day, and I think he's right, and I respect this guy's opinion, and he said, "Oprah, for the average person, was too much information. And for the hard-core cycling fan, it wasn't enough. So you were stuck in the middle where everyone's pissed." [Laughs]
Lindsey: What were your goals with it?
Armstrong: Oh, I mean, I didn't have any goal. I was going to sit there and answer her questions honestly. I think she felt challenged.
Armstrong: Well, leading up to that, I think people thought she would not give a tough interview, not ask hard questions.
Lindsey: She still gets beat on for that.
Armstrong: I thought the first five minutes got her out of that trap.
Lindsey: Yeah, the first bit was good, but people felt like she missed chances for follow-ups.
Armstrong: Yeah, but Joe, that's the cycling fan saying it's not enough. If you ask me questions about what I did in 2001 or what the peloton did in 2001, I'm not going to answer your questions. If the governing body of the sport decides to have a full, complete and comprehensive effort to try to address and learn and understand everything, then that's when I'll answer questions. To Oprah or to you, that's not the place to answer those questions. You would love it. She would love it. The hard-core cycling fan would love it. But this isn't the time and place to answer those questions. If the mission is really to address the issue, not singling out individuals, then let's do that. Let's do what we stated we were going to do. Because we haven't done that yet. In that setting, ask the question, I'll answer the question.
Lindsey: After the reasoned decision and the Oprah interview, which, as you said, was probably too much info for the average person, does that casual fan understand now what pro cycling was like for you, for riders during that time?
Lindsey: Why not?
Armstrong: I think they're starting to today, starting to understand.
Lindsey: Yeah, that's what I mean, do they get it now?
Armstrong: Yeah. I believe most people have the impression that that's the way the game is played, at the time. But Joe, that's not what got me in the doghouse. Most people -- not everyone, but most people -- are comfortable with what happened at the time. It was the constant denials, the constant lies, the constant fighting and contesting the truth. That's what pissed people off. So that takes a lot longer to recover from. And may never be recoverable. And I've got no defense.
Lindsey: Do you think people understand that your decision to dope, at the time, was a practical decision, like, "This is what you have to do?" They accept that?
Armstrong: It's hard to say. I haven't done any polling. But I just [pauses], yeah, certainly the way we viewed it at the time, nearly 20 years ago was, "We're just getting throttled here, and I kinda devoted my life to this. What do I do?" And everyone I know made that decision, the same decision [as me].
Lindsey: Knowing what you know now about everything that's happened since, if you could take yourself back to 1992 when you turned pro, do you make a different decision? Do you walk away -- get a different career or go back to triathlons?
Armstrong: There are plenty of intersections on this journey I would have made different decisions. This may not be a popular answer, but I don't think I would've made a different decision in 1995 [the start of Armstrong's EPO use]. I would've made different decisions from 1999 to 2005 [during his Tour de France title run]. I would have made a very different decision in 2008. [Click to hear more from Lance's interview.]
Lindsey: Meaning not to come back?
Armstrong: Correct. If I don't come back [in 2009], we're not sitting here today. The comeback was the bridge to the past. It would have been too much separation. The comeback, I honestly think, my neighbors, your neighbors, I think they think, with the heat on this story, they feel like Lance Armstrong was doping six months ago. When he wasn't. It's a current story, but in reality it's actually a really old story. And I'm not saying it's a bad story or it doesn't have merit. But the impression we're left with is that there was a blood bag hanging six months ago or a year ago when there was not. There was in 2005 [his last Tour win], but not after that. My point is that the comeback was the bridge from then until now. And it made it a current story. Going back to 1999 [after the Festina doping scandal], I was put in a unique position. And again, I'm not justifying my lying. It was wrong. I was winning the Tour de France the year after the Festina affair. There were going to be questions. It could have been Yosemite Sam winning and he would have been asked a lot of questions. And if he's winning the Tour in 1999, he's crossing the line [by doping], for sure. I think that person does the same thing I did, to a degree. They say, "No, I'm not cheating." I don't know anybody that would have, at some press conference, and Joe Lindsey says, "Are you clean?" and I don't know anyone who says, "Joe, I'm glad you asked me that. And I'm not."
Lindsey: There's one guy who said that.
Lindsey: Frankie [Andreu].
Armstrong: Yeah, after years and years of lying.
[Editor's note: Andreu acknowledges that he did not volunteer information about his doping, but says that when the New York Times' Juliet Macur interviewed him in 2006, it was the first time a journalist had directly asked him if he'd ever doped.]
Lindsey: Yeah, but my point is, that if you go through cycling, there have only been a few voluntary admissions the past 20 or so years: Floyd [Landis], Frankie and [former mountain bike world champion] Jerome Chiotti, for three.
Armstrong: Floyd? These people, everyone lied about it for a long, long time. So Frankie said that in 2006, right? So if someone asked him that in 1997, or 2001, it's "No way." We all started in 1995, so that's 11 years. That's not spontaneous.
Lindsey: I meant from the standpoint of deciding to tell the truth when asked the question.
Armstrong: Yeah, 11 years later. And inevitably I was asked that question more than anyone. I felt, and my excuse if I am allowed to give an excuse -- which is inexcusable -- is I was defending myself, and I was defending my sport, which was on life support. I was defending the [U.S. Postal Service] team. I was defending the foundation. In a weird way, I had no choice. I wanted those things to thrive and survive. Now, where I crossed the line was where someone just kept pushing the issue, or was more outspoken with questioning my cleanliness. That's when I made the fatal mistake, of suing people, getting in their face in press conferences, whether it was [journalist David] Walsh or [ex-pro-turned-journalist Paul] Kimmage or whoever. Those are monumental mistakes that I made. So you ask me, what would I change? I would love to go back to 1999 when the journalist from Le Monde [asked about Armstrong's cortisone positive], or when Walsh got in my face, I would have just backed down.
Lindsey: Instead of saying to the Le Monde reporter, "Are you calling me a liar, or are you calling me a doper?"
Armstrong: Yeah, yeah. I don't know, some other answer that's much more muted and passive. But at the same time, if you followed my career, that wasn't me. I was born and raised a fighter and just not smart enough to have that switch, to go from, "OK, you're in the race, you got these guys on the ropes, f---ing throttle 'em," to, "You're in the press conference; this is not your domain, just back off." I didn't have that switch.
Lindsey: Do you think that would've worked?
Armstrong: It did for other people and continues to work for other people. This story that we're dwelling on, it's given cover to everyone.
Lindsey: So you say the focus on this has been so all-consuming, it's distracted us from other people who should be talking?
Armstrong: Yes. The shadows are huge. And by the way, no one is raising their hand [to talk] now. This one's on me. And again, I'm not playing the pity card, because the story was so big, and the momentum and attention was so big, I deserve all that. That's what comes with it. When your tree is that big, it's windy up there.
Lindsey: Did you ever feel there was a point in your career where you could have made a break and raced clean? When you came back from cancer in 1998, for example, to live the story you told to people that ended up being a lie, that "I almost died, I would never risk my health." Was there ever an opportunity for you to break with that?
Armstrong: Well, it sounds good now, but you still had compounds that were totally undetectable. So unless you get 500 guys to make that decision, or 400 of the 500. And I don't know anyone who did.
Lindsey: So even after cancer, you never thought about making that break?
Armstrong: No. Listen, I wish that that opportunity was there. I think that regardless of what one of my predecessors [Greg LeMond] says, I think if we ride ʼem all clean, 200 guys start clean, I win seven. And I think my competitors, my teammates think that. Guys that saw me or us at work would agree, that with or without dope, those results stay the same. So I would love to have had that opportunity. But I didn't.
Lindsey: What does it mean to you that we'll never know if you're right?
Armstrong: I don't have enough depth to go back and understand that. But in terms of, there was a time -- the comeback was a huge mistake, but -- that [racing clean] was my intent in '08 and the deal I had with [ex-wife] Kristin. And even [Armstrong's trainer, Dr. Michele] Ferrari said "They're comin' for you. No funny business." The one guy the world thinks is the most evil and sinister, and he's the one guy who said, "No way." [Laughs] And we didn't. And I suffered, like a dog. That was a break [with doping]. I do think, and George [ex-teammate Hincapie] has talked with me and he'll write about it in his book, is that I retired in '05, and '06, '07, that shift was occurring. You had the on/off score [also known as off-score], which was starting to deter people, and then the biological passport comes along and that was a tectonic shift, like it or not. And by the way, the UCI [International Cycling Union] implemented that and [Pat] McQuaid was the head of the UCI. That was their initiative.
Lindsey: It started with the teams first -- the teams began the passport and proved the concept.
Armstrong: Well, [Danish anti-doping researcher Rasmus] Damsgaard, when [CSC team manager Bjarne] Riis signed up his arch nemesis to be the independent arbiter, that was the early approach. And the UCI adopted that. But that is what changed the sport from high octane back to being where it is today.
Lindsey: Did all the stuff around [doping bust Operacion] Puerto and Floyd [Landis' positive test at the 2006 Tour] affect that? The first time in history a Tour winner is banned for doping and this massive doping ring getting busted?
Armstrong: I don't know, I can't speak to the winners, and I don't know what was going on in '07 and '08. I don't even know what was going on in '09. The winner of the Tour was on my team and I have no idea. There were two totally separate factions. It was miserable. I only know what our little group within that team was doing or not doing.
Lindsey: What would all this have been like had cycling had a real union, like American sports. What would the sport look like?
Armstrong: It's a good question. Say they did [create a union] in the '70s or '80s, let's call it. I wonder if they make that decision to put pros in the Olympics after 1992. That's what changed everything. Before that, it was amateurs. I raced the Olympics as an amateur in 1992. And after that you had the Dream Team in 1992, and other sports look at that and go, "Hey, that's cool, you had Jordan and Magic and Bird and all these guys. We need our guys!" So a lot of sports started thinking that way. [The decision to let pros in the Olympics] then brings you under this umbrella of the IOC at the time and now under the umbrella of USADA and WADA. I'm not … I'm just observing. Cycling is really more like an F1 or NFL or MLB [in terms of a business model]. But these hybrid sports [where professionals also compete in the Olympics] like tennis where a [Roger] Federer goes to the Olympics, but for some reason, there is some protection there of the players. And then you talk team sports, there's massive protection [from Olympics-style testing]. Because not only does the players union not want it, but they [the leagues] don't want their players subjected to massive stories like this.
Lindsey: But some of those sports are hybrid too, like the NBA example you mention.
Armstrong: Right, but the most powerful people in those sports are the owners. These people are building equity in their teams and in their franchises. Imagine the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones and Lance Armstrong is the quarterback, and this [doping] story happens. It's devastating. So that never happens. Point being, with a union or some ownership structure with some power or presence, it's a drastically different world. But right now the athletes and team owners are just pawns in the game. And it's not even the UCI [in charge]. The one with all the cards is A.S.O. [Amaury Sport Organisation, cycling's most powerful race organizer]. A.S.O. owns the Tour and the TV rights and doesn't share them with anyone. They've got a dream scenario. But to break it up, I don't know, that'll be really complicated.
Lindsey: Is all the doping in cycling happening under the surface, and we just don't see it?
Armstrong: I don't think so.
Lindsey: Even given what we know about American sports? And how people talk about stuff going on below the surface?
Armstrong: Joe, honestly, it's not a cop-out: I'm not there. I'm not involved. I know people who would know, but I don't talk to them anymore. I don't think so. Obviously, someone somewhere is taking some risks. That's human nature, but I don't think it's like it was 10 years ago. And that's where I got so upset by that Le Monde interview. I was totally burned by the headline. It wasn't what I said at all.
[Editor's note: Armstrong is referring to a story in June 2013 in which he told a Le Monde reporter that it was not possible to win the Tour clean in his time. The headline "Lance Armstrong: 'Le Tour de France? Impossible de gagner sans dopage" (translates to "Lance Armstrong: The Tour de France? Impossible to win without doping.") transposed that to the modern era. He maintains, and the story itself shows, he was speaking about his era.]
Lindsey: The reason I bring it up is this idea that cycling gets unfairly beat on. You mentioned that cycling introduced the bio passport [in 2008]. The NFL Players Association is still dragging its heels on an HGH test. Cycling's been testing that for years now. So is there an unfair bias against cycling?
Armstrong: Of course. But go before the bio passport. Go to the time there was no test for EPO. The governing body knew it was prevalent, but they could do nothing. They did not have a test. They couldn't scientifically do anything. Legally they couldn't do anything. What were you to do? All the perfect people out there, behind the keyboards, what the f--- would you have done? There was nothing you could do. So they said, "We'll just monitor the situation with the hematocrit test."
Lindsey: You mean the 50 percent limit [red blood cells as a percentage of total blood volume]?
Armstrong: Yes, it started in 1997, the year I didn't race. That's a pretty bold step. It was not without complication or controversy, because it wasn't perfect, but it was an effort. [Cycling was] the first sport to enforce and use a not-ready EPO test. Not ready. It's the reason in 2001 you had the whole story of me testing positive and paying off the lab. That is an untrue story. [Armstrong admits to donating $25,000 to the UCI around this time and promising another $100,000, donated later, but maintains that he was not bribing the testers.] Were there suspicious samples in hundreds of riders' tests? Yeah, but they were still trying to determine what was positive and negative. If you understand the way that the test works, it's not like you put in urine and out comes "yes" or "no." You've got to look at it and go, "Ehhh" [holds out his hand, looking at his palm to imitate scrutinizing a test result]. So they were trying to look at it and figure out where to put their thumb. And they knew that they didn't have a legal basis, but they were the first to implement it. Step three, the on/off score, which came in '03, '04, the early predecessor to the passport and then the passport in '07, '08. Those were all pretty bold initiatives that we never got credit for. And then some guy has a 52 [percent] hematocrit, it was all over the world press. Huge news.
[Editor's note: On/off score, also known as stimulation index, is a statistical analysis of the ratio of hemoglobin to reticulocytes, which are new red blood cells. High numbers compared to physiological norms indicate EPO use, which boosts production of red cells.]
Lindsey: So you think cycling's reputation isn't fair?
Armstrong: If I answer that the way I want to, I'll get slayed. But we've tried hard. Those things were rampant, but you can't say the sport hasn't tried. Meanwhile, other sports haven't. And I'm not talking about big ones, I'm talking about equally-as-demanding or similar endurance sports. They haven't tried and they didn't get the attention; cycling is bigger than those. Cycling isn't the Super Bowl, but it's not the cross-country ski world championships. I don't even know who does that sport. So [cycling] is stuck in the middle of being big enough to get attention and trying too hard, and it's been a perfect storm.
Lindsey: And public opinion is selectively honest to paint cycling as dirty, but another sport is not because we don't hear about any scandals?
Armstrong: Yeah. You have to say [cycling] is definitely paying the price for being honest.
Lindsey: Do you think that's the case within the sport as well? That you say you've been targeted, maybe not unfairly but to the exclusion of others?
Armstrong: We can't deny that there's been selective prosecution. And because of that there's been selective honesty. I don't know if a truth and reconciliation commission [TRC] can help alleviate that. Take me out of it and look at other examples. Look at Team Sky and their hard-core stance that anyone who ever crossed the line is out of a job. Well, most of those people were honest [when asked in the aftermath of the 2012 season] and lost their jobs. Some of them were dishonest and kept their jobs. [Now-retired pro rider] Stuart O'Grady being fired and ostracized by the Australian Olympic Committee for his honesty is another example. Stephen Hodge, another example from my career, out; [ex-pro-turned-sports director] Matt White, back in, a different example on the same team. Garmin protecting all of those guys [continuing to employ three riders who testified to USADA of their own and Armstrong's doping]. Levi [Leipheimer] not getting a job. People don't know what to say. And I don't know what happens if there is a TRC convened. What incentivizes anyone to show up? You're [five-time Tour winner] Miguel Indurain, and I'm not saying Miguel did or didn't do anything. If you did, for example, why would you come?
Lindsey: So what's the danger of that selective honesty?
Armstrong: I think the story, it got covered [up]. I'm mostly to blame [for covering it up], but the story and the momentum of it has been so big and the downfall of it has been so big that it has given cover and a pass to almost anyone. And I'm not asking for sympathy. I'm just recognizing that, listen, with all due respect to Travis [Tygart, CEO of USADA], you're smart enough to understand that if you're going to say that one team [Armstrong's Postal] was the most sophisticated doping program in the history of sport, you better study the other ones. You can't make that claim. If there's 20 teams and you study one, you can't make that claim. Study all 20. Give me the T-Mobiles, the ONCEs the CSCs, give me the Kelmes, give me all of them and then let's evaluate. To study one and make that accusation is so irresponsible. You can't f---ing do that.
Lindsey: You told the BBC that you'd suffered massive loss and others had gained. So what was that?
Armstrong: I have suffered. Again, I'm not whining, but [BBC interviewer Tim] Franks asked me a question, and I have. I'm recognizing the fact. You know as well as I the people who have taken this story and who have been equally as complicit as I who've taken this story and profited.
[Editor's note: One ex-teammate, Tyler Hamilton, later wrote a book based on his experience.]
Lindsey: Is that part of why you're speaking out now, to correct that?
Armstrong: It's funny, because I have periods where I just kind of go dark. I don't tweet, I don't talk, I don't interview, and then I have times where I do. But there's no plan, there's no grand plan. And it probably looks like that too, like I'm amok. Occasionally I'll answer questions for Velo [News], and [Cyclingnews.com's Daniel] Benson wants to ask some questions. But plenty of others … Tim Franks called me, and I've been a fan of HARDtalk. All those years in Europe, I loved that show, so I talked to him and people didn't necessarily see that I wasn't whining; I was answering the questions. You can't deny there's been massive personal loss of wealth. And I'm not crying here; I'm just saying. I'm trying to deal with that and be responsible, but it's happened.
Lindsey: I saw a quote from ["The Armstrong Lie" producer] Alex Gibney saying you're caught in this space between the court of public opinion and the actual courts. Do you feel that way, that there are things you'd like to say but feel you can't?
Armstrong: I think that's probably pretty accurate. Of course, lawyers who read these stories will appreciate this, but they want their clients to say nothing. Don't say a word, until you have to. And that's not really my nature. But there are, definitely; the federal government wants $100 million [in the False Claims Act suit alleging that Armstrong's doping defrauded the federal government during the Postal sponsorship]. I don't have $100 million.
Lindsey: Even though it wouldn't just be you on the hook for that?
Armstrong: It's just me.
Lindsey: How long will it take to resolve those cases?
Armstrong: Years. I've done my best to do the right thing in every case. I've tried to negotiate and settle every one of them. I want to move on with my life too.
Lindsey: You've tried to negotiate this one [whistleblower case] too?
Armstrong: Yeah, that's been on the record. It's out there. Some of them have been settled publicly, like [Britain's] Sunday Times [which sued Armstrong to recover the settlement the paper paid him after printing doping allegations]. And some of them have been settled privately. We're close. And I want out. I want to move on and close this chapter in my life. I want to go look at my phone and hope that [his girlfriend] Anna [Hansen] sent me a picture of the kids at the park, versus looking at my phone and having an e-mail from five lawyers. That's what I want. And that's going to be costly, and I understand that and I brought it on myself, so I'm willing to work through it. But I want out. And honestly what I want, what I've always wanted from the beginning, I want a global resolution, a global settlement. The dream scenario for me is I settle with the Feds and I partner with USADA [on an education initiative]. These are both Uncle Sam initiatives. Whatever the Postal case is, we come to a reasonable agreement and put it to bed and stop fighting. Travis and USADA, whether they believe it or not, are part of the government, they're part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, I partner with them. We create a teaching moment. The settlement with the DOJ [Department of Justice] is one thing. But the most important thing is, I'm fighting with USADA and USADA is fighting with me, I'm fighting with the DOJ and they're fighting with me. Nobody's getting ahead here. We're all losing. Let's create a teaching moment to say this was what it was, an unfortunate moment in a sport and in all of sports, an individual athlete we all knew of made a huge mistake, and let's learn from it. So settle here so that we do whatever we need to do so they feel victorious. But let's create a moment here where we actually learn something and we can teach something to another 16-year-old cyclist from Plano, Texas; or a football player from Birmingham, Ala.; or a skier from Aspen. Or whatever. We're not going to have that moment. I'm not sure in all of this that we've taught those kids anything.
[Editor's note: USADA is an independent, non-governmental agency that's recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for Olympic, Paralympic and Pan American sports but is a nonprofit organization.]
Lindsey: What do you think those kids took away?
Armstrong: Versus having me tour high school gymnasiums and talk? No comparison. Absolutely no comparison. Having said that, nobody's interested in a global settlement.
Lindsey: Do you feel you can't move on until that's settled?
Armstrong: It'll be very difficult. I don't think anyone thinks that I can move on until those are done.
Lindsey: Can you participate in a TRC until that's done?
Armstrong: I think so. On that one, look, lawyers are one thing, clients are another and there's a relationship between the two. And I think we all feel strongly that that would be a unique set of circumstances that I would participate in. It's our hope that, and this is where I got in trouble with the BBC [by saying he'd suffered massively], but I wonder if in the TRC, the UCI said the other day that Lance Armstrong would be treated like any other athlete. I'm not sure that's true. So we'll just wait to see. It's the only place I'm going [to talk about the details of our doping]. And it's what I've said all along -- that the day that there is a truly international effort to clean up an international sport, not an American effort to clean up a European sport or a European effort to clean up an American sport but an international effort to clean up an international sport, I will participate.
Lindsey: Are there conditions on that participation?
Armstrong: Only the conditions that are set out for everybody else.
Lindsey: That you would be treated like anyone else?
Lindsey: Does your ban from competition come into play in that? You would like to see your ban reduced or eliminated?
Armstrong: Where did I say that publicly? That's been widely reported because Travis said that. I've never said I want to race again, or have my ban cut. All I said is, "Hey, I'd like to be treated like everybody else. I'd like the opportunity everyone else had." I'll repeat what I said to Cyclingnews: I wish that [USADA lawyer] Bill Bock and Travis presented me with [ex-teammate] Christian Vande Velde's deal. And you know that deal? Zero months. [Vande Velde eventually ended up with a six-month ban.] I wish that they gave me George's deal. They didn't. Those were up front: "Hey, here's your deal. Now tell us what you know." That is absolutely not what happened for me. And it's not about competition. People dwell on this, but I'm not 22. I'm going to be 43 years old. OK, I want to go run a slow NYC marathon? No. [Click to hear more from Lance's interview.]
Lindsey: So what is important to you about getting the same deal? It seems like water under the bridge.
Armstrong: You know what's important about it? I'll tell you what's important about it. We're at this point where we want everybody to be honest; we want everybody to tell the truth. Which I can appreciate, and in the right setting, I'll tell whatever I need to tell. But they haven't been honest. People are very frustrated that they read, "We gave Lance Armstrong the same opportunity as everybody else and he refused." That is not the truth.
Lindsey: They did invite you to come in.
Armstrong: That's not the same opportunity. We asked them for a face-to-face meeting. I can show you that letter. Twice, we asked. They refused.
[Editor's note: USADA, which maintains it requested meetings with Armstrong multiple times, published e-mails of correspondence with Armstrong's attorneys as part of its reasoned decision. The earliest published contact is June 2, 2012. Armstrong was charged on June 12. On December 12, 2013, Tygart said at a press conference at an anti-doping summit in Norway that the agency had continued to approach Armstrong to talk, as recently as two weeks ago, but without success.]
Lindsey: You and USADA are still very far apart on the specifics [of what happened during the run-up to USADA's charging Armstrong with doping].
Armstrong: But wait. Saying "We offered him the same opportunity as everyone else," that's the equivalent of them calling my lawyers and going, "He's not going to get suspended; we want him to be part of the solution." That didn't happen.
Lindsey: Or even the [reported] deal that would have left you with five of your seven Tour wins?
Armstrong: That absolutely never happened. No. F--- no. That's not the truth! We're all supposed to tell the truth now. That isn't what happened. The message was, "Come out with your hands up, we've got you surrounded. You better surrender." If we're all sitting in the truth tree, then let's be truthful. Because I think that really upsets people and cycling fans that I didn't take advantage of an opportunity like everyone else to help clean up the sport. I wasn't presented that opportunity. Yes, for sure, they wanted to talk. "Well, what do you want to talk about?" "We can't tell you." "Well, what's going to happen to him?" "We can't tell you." That isn't the same! Do you think that's the same?
Lindsey: It doesn't sound like it, but as I said, they have a different version of that story.
Armstrong: Well, you know what? So does Christian Vande Velde. So does George Hincapie, and so does a whole trail of letters out there up to June 12 or so when we asked multiple times for a sit-down. They refused, and the next communication was the charging letter. And just from a logistical standpoint, I'm not trying to make an excuse, but all of a sudden they were in a real hurry. They'd talked to these guys [other witnesses like Hincapie and Vande Velde] and made these sweetheart deals with these guys and then all of a sudden, I win 70.3 [a half-Ironman race] in Hawaii and fly straight to France and am getting ready to do my first [full-distance] Ironman, and they [USADA] were like, "We have to talk to him right now." We're like, "He's in France." "Well, he's gotta come home." I'm me, right. I'm like, "I'm not going anywhere. What the f--- is the hurry all of a sudden?" It was weird.
Lindsey: Did you find out why?
Armstrong: No, other than the Tour was approaching. I have no idea. It was a big hurry. When we asked for the sit-down, they went dark and filed the charging letter [formally opening a doping case]. And granted, these letters back and forth were heated, like lawyers do. If those guys say, "We wanted Lance Armstrong; we made deals with guys to get to Lance Armstrong," I think I'd be fine with that. Because that's the truth.
Lindsey: If they'd admit that?
Armstrong: If they'd admit it. I now talk to these guys, especially George. I know exactly what happened. And George doesn't like the deal either. The story, when it leaks in the Tour [in 2012], the names [of Armstrong's ex-teammates who testified against him] leaked. They all gather in the neutral zone [the race's rolling start] like, Holy s---, how did our names get out? And you know how they got out. And they all look at each other and George, and they say, "Well, this can't be true, because we're not getting suspended." George says, "What are you talking about?" Levi says, "What are you talking about?" And: "No, no we're not getting suspended." That's [Garmin riders Tom] Danielson, Vande Velde and [Dave] Zabriskie: "We're not getting suspended." George says, "Yeah, you're getting six months." They say, "No we're not." And George says, "Well, I'm getting six months," and Levi says, "I'm getting six months." So they're all pissed. Then Colorado [USA Pro Challenge] comes around and there's enough pressure out there that Travis comes to Jonathan [Vaughters, Garmin team manager] and says, "I'm going to have to suspend them. I have to give them something." And here we are.
Lindsey: You come back to this point of you were singled out. But there were five other people charged. And two of them opted not to contest and got life bans. The other three are in arbitration. So is it fair to say you got singled out, even among the Postal group?
Armstrong: Um, well, I don't want to get into the merits of jurisdiction because the others who were quote-unquote indicted were a Belgian, [three] Spaniards and an Italian. So, even the most jaded person and skeptical person would have to wonder how an American agency can ban an Italian for life.
Lindsey: Travis has explained that to me.
Armstrong: Well, all right. But as you know, they are the judge, the jury and the executioner. Like it or not, there is no due process.
Lindsey: That's how the code works: The first organization to learn of the violation has jurisdiction anywhere in the world.
Armstrong: Yeah, next question. [Then, a little under his breath:] I think it'd be cool to make all the rules like that.
Lindsey: Setting aside the fairness aspect -- why guys got different bans -- do you understand why you got a life ban? Does that make sense?
Armstrong: Because I elected to not go to arbitration.
Lindsey: But that even if you had it might have been a life ban anyway?
Armstrong: Oh, I have no idea. I wasn't going to do that.
Lindsey: What I'm getting at is that people question whether you understand why you were singled out? And that it wasn't just for the doping.
Armstrong: Yeah, I totally understand that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think in terms of doping, I'm talking about the GC [race for the overall Tour victory] guys, the dozen guys who were trying to win the Tour, I'm in line. In fact, I would even say we all knew what everybody was doing, so I knew what my competitors were doing. We [Postal] were doing less. We were more conservative, and that's the reason we were never going to be caught. This is a story because I was a bigger a--h---. Because I was more litigious. Because I was more combative. Those are all sub-headlines. But the real reason is: This story was that big. And I've heard from a lot of people who say, "You made all the money, you got all the fame; you deserve this." And I hear that, and I understand that people think that way. I don't think that's the way that justice works. Or maybe it is. Maybe it is the way justice works. Again, it's not consistent with what USADA has said. USADA has said, "If we're presented with the evidence, we have to act, in order to protect the rights of clean athletes." It didn't say, "Lance Armstrong's the biggest a--h--- in the world, so we had to do this." Which is what you're insinuating, and I'd agree. What they say is "to protect the rights of clean athletes." You know as well as I that there were no clean athletes. There were none. [Click to hear more from Lance's interview.]
Lindsey: Well, very few.
Armstrong: Yes, very few. So again, if we're going to be honest [pounds table], that's not honest! If we're gonna be honest, then just say, "He's an a--h---. We had to go after him. He tested positive for being the biggest a--h--- in the world." Fair. I can live with that. To say that he cheated his competitors? Ask them! Ask my competitors.
Lindsey: The narrative now is that while, yes, you were the biggest a--h--- in the world ...
Armstrong: I'm not sure I was the biggest a--h--- in the world, but I definitely played one on TV.
Lindsey: ... the perception is that you were malevolent with this. That you were devious, you attacked people, that you lied pathologically, so it's hard for people to trust you now. As you look at that, how can you start to regain that trust?
Armstrong: No. 1, I totally understand. I understand that there is a tremendous lack of trust. I have no credibility. It will take a long time to gain any of it back. And I may gain none. But I'll do what I can for as long as I can and have to, to get back to doing the things that I want to do. And it's not -- at 42 years old -- to go try to win the Tour de France. That's not what I'm asking for. Do I ever get back to a place, in a public sort of way, because I still do a lot of things in private settings that we don't talk about, that I don't talk about, with survivors who are just struggling, that I think are appreciated. But to get back to a place where you start to have a more significant impact is going to take time. People are going to have to forgive and start to trust again before I can go work for Livestrong again or any organization again. And every day, I run the risk of: Is it one step forward, three steps back? Or three steps forward and one step back? Sitting down and talking with you, I don't know how this resonates. Certain things resonated with the Cyclingnews interview [in early November], and it did well. So that was three steps forward, one back. BBC comes [days later], that's one step forward, three back. Where this sits, I know that people don't want to hear me say I was singled out or any sort of "woe is me." People want me to say that I'm sorry and that I understand that people are mad and sad. And that's all true. I don't need to act. I understand. Nobody's ever come up to my face, but I read my Twitter flow. I get letters in the mail. I've had people send me six Mellow Johnny's jerseys [Armstrong's bike shop in Austin) in the mail in a box, saying, "I bought these for years, I supported you, I believed you. I fought for you. I can't wear this anymore." I understand what that is. And that's just … I've just got to recognize that and try to make amends with certain groups. There are certain groups I have to work on. There's the group that was most deeply affected, that I was horrible to. Then there's the cycling fans, and then there's this team of, this following of survivors and their friends and loved ones, and then there's the general public. This group over here [cancer survivors], that's what I've got to get back to. This one over here [deeply affected] goes on Anderson Cooper and documentaries and loves the attention. I've done whatever I can do there, in my view. The cycling part [Laughs], I don't know what to do. The cancer part, I need to work very hard on that; it's the one that means the most to me. The general public just evolves as they evolve. [Click to hear more from Lance's interview.]
Lindsey: In these interviews, there are questions that are important litmus tests for your honesty and state of mind. One that you had with Cyclingnews speaks to a number of those groups: The answer you gave about the 1996 hospital confession in Indiana. [Editor's note: According to Betsy and Frankie Andreu, Armstrong confessed doping to doctors after his cancer surgery; that claim became a major flashpoint in the debate over whether Armstrong doped.] What you told Daniel [Benson of Cycling News] was that you didn't remember the conversation; that if an admission happened, you didn't remember it. But that's not what you said to Oprah. It was the one question you wouldn't answer. The quote to her was, "Uh-uh, I'm not going to take that on."
Armstrong: [Quoting his actual answer on Oprah:] "I'm laying down on that one." Yeah, yeah.
Lindsey: So why the difference?
Armstrong: It is different. I wish I had told Oprah what I told Daniel. It's a very sensitive issue and story with Betsy. I had just talked to her [before the Oprah interview]. It was the only thing she wanted to talk about. But I can't all of a sudden remember something the way she wants to remember it just because it's the popular answer. Or it gets me back to a place I want to be quicker. It is 17 years ago. It is a day after multiple brain surgeries. It is heavily medicated. I don't recall it. I can't say that I do because that's the warm-and-fuzzy answer. So I wish I would have told Oprah that.
Lindsey: Why didn't you? The reaction you had was not the reaction of a guy who didn't remember; it was the reaction of a guy who was recoiling from the question.
Armstrong: Right, because I had just gotten off the phone with [Betsy] and she was … I don't want to divulge the conversation, but you can imagine how she was insisting that I answer the question.
Lindsey: You say that to me, but some people aren't going to believe that. They'll say you were protecting someone -- Dr. [Craig] Nichols, or the foundation.
Armstrong: Well, Nichols wasn't in the room.
[Editor's note: Nichols and Lawrence Einhorn were Armstrong's primary oncologists during his cancer treatment.]
Lindsey: No, I know that.
Armstrong: And if you go back and read the depositions, there's not a lot of clarity, but I don't want to get into it.
Lindsey: My point is not the specifics of that conversation, but that when you answer like that, it ...
Armstrong: Are you giving me advice or asking me a question?
Lindsey: I'm framing a question. When you answer like that and people can take that as, "This guy's still not being honest," how do you get past that?
Armstrong: Well, that was a major theme after Oprah: "This guy's still lying to us."
Lindsey: Exactly. It's, "He's still only telling part of the truth."
Armstrong: That's right, that's right. And you know, in many ways that might be true. You're there [with Oprah] for an hour. I can't give you 15 years' worth of stories in an hour. You're trying to compress this into an admission and an apology, and all these things in one hour. We thought it was one, but it ended up being two episodes. But you can't cover it all. But at the same time, like I said earlier, you've got a grandmother from Duluth going, "Holy s---, blood bags? Doping? What?" Way too much. And then you've got the audience you speak to most of the time, saying, "No, no, you were not nearly specific enough about this, this, this." I would need a thousand Oprahs. We need a TRC to tell all of that. We need a forum to do that.
Lindsey: So as you look at your life, you talked a little about what you want to get back to, but tell me exactly what that is.
Armstrong: Well, definitely first and foremost, it's to resolve or settle any and all legal matters, sooner the better. That is priority No. 1. And along the way, I have to look after myself and my family. Over time, and it doesn't have to be Livestrong, and I hope not too long, I have to get back to work in that community. Regardless of all that's happened and the lies that were told, I'm still a cancer survivor. It's still the thing that always meant the most to me and that I did fight for in going too far. I'd love to have some level of trust and credibility, even on a small level. I'd like to get back to serving other people. It's not up to me, though. I don't have the standing or level of trust in the public or the energy, quite honestly, to start my own thing again. I have to wait for that community to say, "Hey, Lance, come over and help us out."
Lindsey: You feel you have to be invited back?
Armstrong: Yes, I have to be invited back. I can't invite myself. And I can't rush it or force it. And the legal part of it is a big deal because the best strategists in the world would say, "Just go away. Just disappear for a while. Literally, don't be heard from, don't give interviews, don't tweet," and in all fairness part of why I'm sitting here today is I can't go away. Any time there's any legal issue, it's a major story. It's in the press and people are reminded of it and it's a fight. It continues to live on. There's not this period of quiet right now. You've got the federal government that wants $100 million; that's a news story, believe me. There are the other cases. So that has to die down in order to begin this period of isolation. Point being, I don't think those stories leave people with a good feeling. So I don't know when that invitation comes to come back and help.
Lindsey: What if it doesn't come?
Armstrong: Well, if it doesn't come, then I'll be sad about that. I refuse to believe that it won't come. Someday. But I may be totally … The level of betrayal may be so high that it never comes. That will f---ing knock me to the core.
Lindsey: Whether it's continuing to speak honestly, or going away, what can you do to earn that? Anything?
Armstrong: No. Just, I think time and I think transparency. And again, I think getting the toxicity of those lawsuit articles out of people's minds.
Lindsey: And the toxicity of the whole situation?
Armstrong: Time. Time will heal that.
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