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Tom English: Lance Armstrong’s greatest regret was the fact that he got caught

Lance Armstrong. Picture: Getty

Lance Armstrong. Picture: Getty

  • by TOM ENGLISH
 

IN part two of his interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong began talking about his relationship with his 13-year-old son, Luke, and how he broke the news to him that the kids in the school playground who said his father was a cheat were right all along.

In that moment there was a temptation to pick up the television and throw it out the window, not only because Armstrong had lied to his own boy for all these years, but because there is overwhelming evidence that he is still lying.

One of the most shocking aspects of the interview with Winfrey was his brazen claim that, when he made his comeback to ride the Tour de France in 2009 and again in 2010, he came back as a clean athlete. Presumably, this is the story he has told his own children, too. In part one he stated he did not take performance-enhancing drugs in 2009 and 2010 and he repeated it in part two. In so many ways, what he said was unbelievable.

Armstrong said that he didn’t work with the notorious doping doctor Michele Ferrari in 2009 and 2010. The investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Association revealed last October that, during his comeback, Armstrong had surrounded himself with the same people that helped him dope his way to seven Tour victories – including Ferrari.

The USADA said that the chances of Armstrong’s “blood parameters” from the 2009 and 2010 Tours de France occurring naturally were “less than one in a million”, with the science building “a compelling argument consistent with blood doping”.

And so the lies continue.

The truth comes dripping out slowly, very slowly. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Armstrong interview was that he got through two and a half hours without ever mentioning some of the most pernicious individuals in his wretched story. The people who needed to be exposed were not exposed. Rather, they were protected. The team boss who helped him plan and supervise the doping programme, the drug runners who delivered the doping products, the doctors who administered the EPO and the blood transfusions, the UCI who time and again were given evidence by those inside the sport of how corrupt it was and did nothing except attack those who sought to expose the corruption. Some of these people have been banned and some haven’t. Some are still within cycling.

Over two nights there was not a single mention of his former team director Johan Bruyneel or his agent Bill Stapleton, not a single mention of his doping doctors, Luis Garcia del Moral and Pedro Celaya, not a single mention of his “trainer” Jose “Pepe” Marti and only a passing reference, and disgraceful whitewash, of his long association with Ferrari, the godfather of doping doctors, who Armstrong described as a good man.

He could have done something valuable by talking about their involvement in the greatest conspiracy in the history of sport. He could have named names. He could have done even more good – profound good – had he spoken about the UCI and his history with the key men there, Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen. The interview’s worth can be measured by the fact that the names McQuaid and Verbruggen, both heavily criticised by the USADA, were never mentioned and therefore the UCI’s suggested involvement in a mammoth cover-up was never discussed. Armstrong knows so much and yet revealed so little and Winfrey, by the end taking on the persona of a Mother Hen, never got close to the truth that might, as he put it “set me free”.

On a number of occasions in part one, he mentioned that he was no fan of the UCI and at one point he mentioned “shady dealings”. Winfrey failed to ask a follow-up question. “What shady dealings? Why are you not a fan?” Maybe Armstrong wouldn’t have answered it, but she never asked. She never asked follow-up questions when he admitted the truth about covering up a failed drugs test (cortisone). His former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly, revealed the truth years ago and was the subject of sustained and vicious verbal attacks by Armstrong. Winfrey never pursued it. “How did you get away with it? Who helped you? Did you have the help of the governing body? Was the UCI part of the conspiracy of silence?”

Not by one inch did Armstrong advance our knowledge of the stuff that really matters now. He confessed to doping. Big deal. We knew it years ago. He said he was sorry and that he would spend the rest of his life making amends but all of that rang false. He didn’t even spend his hours with Oprah trying to make amends. He came across as a man who reserved his greatest regret for the fact that he got caught, a window to his soul coming in part two when he said that he didn’t think he deserved a “death sentence” – a life ban – for what he has done. Does he feel that sport still owes him something? That’s how he came across.

His empathy for his victims was unconvincing. How are we to believe that he is truly sorry and wants to make amends when he couldn’t even bring to an end the decade-long trauma of one of his biggest targets, Betsy Andreu?

For the longest time, Armstrong vilified Andreu, the wife of his former team-mate Frankie, in the most disgusting way. Her crime was to tell the truth about him. Armstrong had a chance in part one to make amends and he failed to do it. That moment was key to the whole thing. How sorry is he? Andreu’s torment remains, so not nearly sorry enough.

Armstrong’s deception was on an epic scale: false statements under oath; attempts to procure false affidavits; attempts to prevent witnesses from testifying against him; bullying and intimidation; lies and more lies and not nearly enough truth. He wanted us to see he was sorry but he didn’t want to prove it by leaving everything on the table as he said he would.

After part one, Travis Tygart, chief executive of the USADA, described Armstrong’s confession as a small step in the right direction. “But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.”

Oprah looked for emotion and, at times, the search was cringeworthy. So much talking and so little detail.

McQuaid, Verbruggen, Ferrari, Bruyneel, Del Moral, the list goes on.

It’s not about the tears, Lance. It’s about the truth. We’re still waiting.

 

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