Lance Armstrong lied to me.
I know, I’ve got plenty of company. He lied to other journalists, racing officials, his fans, and anyone else who would listen in denying that he used illegal substances in winning his cycling titles.
Now comes an orchestrated leak to the New York Times in which Armstrong seems about to fess up, “according to several people with direct knowledge of the situation.” He has “told associates associates and antidoping officials,” says the paper, “that he is considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his cycling career.”
Hmm. That’s about a million miles from the no-way, no-how, I’m-being-framed tone that he took with me.
In an interview for The Daily Beast in July, Armstrong said that anti-doping officials were pursuing a “personal vendetta” against him. And he was absolutely adamant. He sounded aggrieved, even angry.
“They’ve got no physical evidence, no lab work, no positive tests,” he told me. “They can go out and coerce testimony, and that’s all they need with the burden of proof so low.”
Armstrong added that the fellow cyclists who were hurling the allegations were trying to get more lenient treatment for their own misconduct: “If I can’t face my accusers, that’s a joke. We did that in medieval times.”
He kept circling back to his unshakable denial. “It’s a bum’s rush,” Armstrong said. “I’m just sick and tired of it.”
This wasn’t the first time we had crossed paths. In July 2011, the seven-time Tour de France winner mounted a preemptive strike against 60 Minutes. The CBS program was about to air an interview with former teammate Tyler Hamilton, accused Armstrong of using a banned substance as long ago as 1999.
The show “basically reneged” on promises to him, Armstrong told me. His lawyers accused 60 Minutes of “disgraceful journalism.” Jeff Fager, the CBS News chairman and the show’s executive producer, told me at the time that Armstrong was playing a “PR game” and that “our reporters have done a first-class job.”
One thing Armstrong said then stuck in my mind: “My version of events has never changed on this, and won’t.”
Until now, apparently.
Lest there be any doubt about the veracity of the Times story, Armstrong’s lawyer, Tim Herman, made no attempt to deny that his client might soon admit to illegal doping. “Lance has to speak for himself on that,” he told the paper. Herman did not respond to my e-mail.
I basically knew the jig was up when Armstrong dropped his defense against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and allowed himself to be stripped of his Tour de France titles. But it is another thing to watch his own advisers float a trial balloon that he might finally change his story.
Armstrong was an inspiring figure for so many, given the way he battled back from cancer to resume his bicycling career. But it isn’t hard to figure out why he may finally be caving.
His anti-cancer charity, Livestrong, has been badly damaged. He faces a number of lawsuits. If anti-doping officials, in exchange for a confession, restored his eligibility, he could resume his cycling career.
But nothing can restore his lost luster or his credibility. Armstrong spent more than a decade denying with great vehemence what he may now be preparing to admit. He is an accomplished liar.
As I can personally attest.