We knew it was coming, and we knew that he’d cheated. But when, on Friday January 18 2013 at 2am GMT, the Oprah Winfrey Network simultaneously broadcast Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong on television and on the OWN website, millions around the world stopped, listened and heard it for the first time from the horse’s mouth: Lance Armstrong admitting to doping.

“So here we are in Austin, Texas. A few days ago, you texted the Associated Press and said, ‘I told her to go wherever she wants.’ Her meaning me. ‘And I’ll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That’s all I can say.’ Those are your words,” said Winfrey.

Armstrong: “Those are my words.”

“When we first met, a week ago today, we agreed that there would be no holds barred, there would be no conditions on this interview, and that this would be an open field.”

“I think that’s best for both of us,” came the almost laughed reply.

“I agree. So here we go – open field. Let’s start with the questions that people around the world have been waiting for you to answer, and for now I’d just like a yes or no.”


“Okay. This whole conversation – we have a lot of time – will be about the details. Yes or no: did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?”

And with those words, after a Hollywood-style opening to the show, complete with breathless voiceover, reminding everyone just who Armstrong is – or was – so began American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong.

Dressed in black jeans, a light-blue shirt and a navy jacket, Armstrong looked sullen, serious – but ready. What was to come next in this – part one of an interview divided into two parts, the second part to be shown at the same time, same place, 24 hours later – must have drawn a collective breath from those watching, no matter how ready everyone was.

“Yes,” he nodded.

The answer was the same when Winfrey continued with the same line of questioning: was one of those banned substances EPO? Blood doping or blood transfusions? Did you ever use any other banned substances, like testosterone, cortisone or human growth hormone? In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Winfrey asked him whether he thought it was “humanly possible” to win seven Tours in a row without recourse to doping.

His answer was blunt, realistic, no doubt crushing for many: “Not in my opinion.”

Winfrey brimmed with questions, sometimes barely able to wait for Armstrong’s answers before jumping on to the next one.

Armstrong, trapped, answered everything that came his way, like someone being interviewed for a job they didn’t really want.

The first sign of any real defiance only came when Winfrey quoted USADA chief Travis Tygart’s words to the Texan, that Armstrong and his teams’ doping programs were “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”.

“Was it?” asked Winfrey.

“No, Oprah, it wasn’t,” he replied. “It was definitely professional, and smart, if you can call it that, but very conservative, very risk-averse, very aware. But to say it was bigger than the Eastern German program in the 70s and 80s, that isn’t true.”

It was swiftly followed by more denials. Former team-mate Christian Vandevelde’s assertion that he felt that the riders on the team felt compelled to dope, lest they not be selected for certain races, or, worse, even be fired, was denied as being the case – despite multiple challenges by Winfrey – although Armstrong would subsequently admit that, yes, he was a bully.

Former team soigneur Emma O’Reilly’s claim that the team covered up a positive test for cortisone in 1999 by backdating a prescription for a saddle-sore was, Armstrong admitted, true.

“She [O’Reilly] is one of those people that I have to apologise to. One of these people who got run over, got bullied,” said Armstrong.

Winfrey reminded him that he sued O’Reilly for her claims.

His reply demonstrated just how ruthless he was in order to shut anyone up.

“To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people… I’m sure we did,” he replied, unable to even remember who he and his entourage had tried to silence.

“It’s inexcusable,” he continued. “I know that there are people who will never forgive me – I understand that. All this is a process for me, and one part of that process is to speak with them directly and say, ‘I’m sorry – I was wrong and you were right.”

Stories were denied, and truths came out: admissions that, yes, ‘Motoman’ delivered doping products for the team by motorbike, that his 1999 Tour de France urine samples did indeed contain EPO when retroactively tested, and, perhaps harder to believe, that Armstrong never doped at all during his comeback to bike racing, starting in 2009.

All along it was, perhaps surprisingly, given the challenging reminders about those people who he’d intimidated and bullied, devoid of much emotion on the part of both Armstrong and Winfrey, although a ‘teaser’ at the end of the show about what is still to come in the early hours of Saturday morning, UK time, suggests that the tears will come when Armstrong is asked about how his cheating and dishonesty has affected his family.

Once again, the world will be watching.

Related links

Oprah Winfrey mesmerised and riveted by Armstrong interview

US government set to join Armstrong whistleblower case

Lance Armstrong confesses to doping

  • chris chapman

    Taking a long deep breath ain’t gonna change anything. The truth is that for years pro cycling has been dirty. Armstrong is the final nail in a bulging, bleeding coffin.

    As a kid I watched the brief weekly updates of the Tdf with the greats battling like true supermen up crazy inclines and fighting it out in bunch sprints. Those heroes inspired other youngsters to take to the great sport of cycling. But, how many of those 1970s and 80s pros were on something the shouldn’t of been?

    How many of the next generation wanted to get into drugs? Very few I should think. But imagine a fresh faced kid on the first step of a pro career being told by the team boss that they MUST take some forms of illegal substance. It would take a great deal of character to say no.

    PRO cycling is very ill indeed, and I personally feel that I’ve wasted too much time and energy admiring a group of people, the growing mass of which are not worthy of such worship.

  • JeffGoldblumIII

    Ken Evans – I know that British people are inherently more moral than those from any other country but can you not even see how blindingly obvious Sky’s doping is. Sky hire a doping doctor in 2011 after a pathetic first year and then things pick up dramatically. Wiggins and Froome’s huge transformations, much akin to a certain Mr Armstrong. Tour domination much akin to a certain US Postal. Still much higher wattages than the likes of LeMond, possibly the most talented rider of all time. Have you not got the pattern with cycling? Please leave your Daily Mail nationalism at the door.

  • steve macdonald

    ive never liked Armstrong and suspected all along that he was a cheat,tbh i find it hard to believe anyone actually thought him innocent.
    ill tell you what sticks in my craw,though-the way the cycling press(cycling weekly included,in a big way) fawned over him during his comeback,despite the questions at the time,who are now falling over themselves to stick the knife in,they remind me of the cowardly politicians who for years did nothing about media bully murdoch until he fell,then they were falling over themselves to denounce him.the cycling press are as big a bunch of cowards as these politicians were

  • Mike

    His “people” probably told him to admit everything that was already out there, as it was beyond doubt already, but dont go any further and dont mention any names.
    That way he could try to get the Americans back on his side without giving anything new away.
    Just what I expected.
    A waste of time.

  • steve clarke

    Very difficult to put into words how I feel at the moment.
    Yes, Lance has finally confessed, and in a idea World that should be enough, however we do not live in a ideal World!

    His confession has still left many, many questions unanswered, his confession does not put things right that he, his team, his sponsors, his advisors etc did wrong.

    I still think that the “donation” to the UCI needs to be investigated/explained further, I do not believe
    Lances or Pats take on this issue.

    I hope that OUR sport can move on from all this, I don’t really care about other sports, I am trying to keep believing in the sport I’ve followed for over 35 years.

  • Ken Evans

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, now all of a sudden, everyone is an expert on cycling, and everybody doubted him all along, blah, blah, blah. They say “crime-doesn’t-pay”, but $100 million dollars, would seem to show otherwise. This has become just like a soap opera, in 2012 the GB racers did some amazing (CLEAN) things, Armstrong shouldn’t be allowed to spoil that.

  • georgeL

    “we all knew he cheated” no you didn’t all the kiss ass stuff this magazine used to write about lance armstrong. The writing has been on wall for ages there is no smoke without fire and this fire has been smoking since 1999.

  • ciel

    Buy bradley’s book? Itll all end in tears Richard mind my words. Theyve got the drug we dont know yet!

  • ALAN

    So Lance, was it worth it?

  • RichardP

    Perhaps a big fat apology to the likes of Filippo Simeoni might be in order, Armstrong bullied and lied himself to 7 Tour wins, his excuse that by taking drugs made it a level playing field doesnt cut it with me, try telling that to clean riders such as Chris Boardman, who knows what stunning victories Chris was robbed of by the likes of Armstrong and the other drug cheats. I wont be buying Armstrongs best seller book which is sure to appear on the bookshelves in time for Christmas, I will buy Bradleys book instead, at long last we have a true Champion we can believe in.

  • stuart stanton

    Five of the last nine stories on this website are centred around Armstrong. Come on Robert call it a draw, enough is enough,

  • Robert

    OK, so he has at last admitted he doped right through his career, but the whole ‘confession’ thing comes across as a cynical, stage managed damage limitation exercise designed to keep him out of jail and to preserve as much of his huge wealth as is possible. He continues to deny doping during his comeback, despite the evidence to the contrary, almost certainly because this falls unequivocally under the statute of limitations. He continues to deny that he compelled others to dope and being in collusion with the UCI, doubtlessly because coercion and corruption are much more serious issues than simply doping. Even though he refused to actually deny it, he spinelessly refused to confirm the notorious ‘hospital room’ incident, which would have fully vindicated Betsy Andreu, even though he admitted that she was hurt by his bullying. He refuses to implicate those who facilitated his doping, from the UCI to Ferrari to his financial backers. Armstrong could he done cycling a great service by genuinely telling all. Instead, as usual, Armstrong has only one concern, protecting his own interests. Despite the sham contrition nothing has changed.

  • JD

    That’s the defining aspect of Armstrong, not simply that he cheated – plenty have done that before – but devoted huge, unparalleled resources to stopping anyone who opposed what he was up to.

    It’s the relentless bullying of his contemporaries that angers people. It was a perversion not just of sport but of morality, a sort of cycling cult of personality that would have had Stalin applauding.

  • Colnago dave

    I see Pat has already started to praise LA for his honesty but still states that the money given to the UCI was to aid the fight against drugs.
    Question for you Pat and Hein- why would the biggest drug cheat, liar, fraud and bully give you money to combat drugs when he along with all his cohorts were taking these drugs?
    LA’s interview was full of ifs and buts but nothing we did not already know and statements that I should apologise to certain people , yet when asked about the famous confession to the doctors in front of Betsy A, he wriggled out of it.
    The interview was riddled with the type of non answer.

    Simple message to LA – GO AWAY

  • James Elstone


    For those of us that need sleep!