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Armstrong confession: Questions unasked, answers still awaited as much-hyped interview with serial liar misses its mark

THE truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth .

Patrons at a bar in Park City, Utah, watch intently as Oprah Winfrey's interview with Lance Armstrong is aired. Picture: George Frey/EPA
Patrons at a bar in Park City, Utah, watch intently as Oprah Winfrey's interview with Lance Armstrong is aired. Picture: George Frey/EPA

. . it's a quintessentially British concept of addressing the needs of justice. And a million miles from what Oprah Winfrey's mutually self-serving TV interrogation of Lance Armstrong seems to have delivered.

Yes, the Texan told us what we already knew – that he is a serial dope cheat and accomplished liar, and that his seven Tour de France victories were a drug-fuelled charade. He claimed the cocktail of banned substances he took was as necessary as air in the tyres of his heavily-sponsored bike, because the whole peleton was at it. This simply echoes the mantra of the legion of sports cheats who preceded him.

Armstrong finished last in his first all-professional event in Europe, and he was 97th when he dropped out of his first Tour de France after 12 stages. He knew he had to take drugs because he wasn't good enough. It wasn't about the bike. Suggesting that everyone was guilty slanders the pantheon of great champions. Yes, some demonstrably were cheats. The Festina affair, which exposed a widespread drug culture and resulted in jail sentences, happened just the year before Armstrong's inaugural Tour win.

The questions which too often remained unasked, and therefore unanswered, told most about the merit of the overly-hyped palaver this interview was. Those who know the sport best learned absolutely nothing.

Armstrong said nothing by way of apology to those he cheated of a livelihood, fellow riders who declined to saddle up with him on his dark path. There was a token acknowledgement that he had bullied, but no apology to those he cajoled into the fellowship of the needle, to men who sold their souls and who struggle yet to live with the moral and physical consequences. There was no sop to those whose dreams he stole. None to the former masseuse Emma O'Reilly whom he called "a whore", or Frankie Andreu and his wife Betsy, whose names he blackened and made effectively unemployable.

Armstrong is no more penitent than a jackal. His only regret is in being exposed. The American didn't "spit in the soup" in the jargon of the peloton. He maintained the riders' omerta, declining to implicate team managers, soigneurs, mechanics, or medical advisers. On doping doctor Michele Ferrari, he said: "There are people in this story, they are good people. We've all made mistakes, they are not toxic and evil. I viewed Dr Michele Ferrari as a good man, and I still do."

There was no follow-up from his hostess about the £600,000 allegedly paid by Armstrong to the Italian doctor, which was mentioned in the US Anti-Doping Agency report. Or, perhaps even more pertinently, no questions about the £24m circulating in Swiss bank accounts as part of the "Ferrari System" headlined by the Italian paper La Gazzetta dello Sport last October.

An investigation by authorities in Padua in 2010 was said to have revealed his participation in business dealings and money laundering across several European countries with complicit individuals in key positions. There was a flat denial there had ever been any collusion by officials of the governing body. Armstrong even claimed not to be the ring-leader.

It was a continuing chapter in more than two decades of deceit, a saga which the USADA's 1000-page report characterised as sport's "most sophisticated doping program", though that was surely East Germany's state-sponsored one.

Yet hard as it is to believe anything from a serial liar, it is hardest of all to credit that the UCI (who received $125,000 from Armstrong, ironically as a contribution to anti-doping costs) were not in some way complicit, turning a blind eye.

There was no Oprah interrogation about testimony under oath by Kathy LeMond (the wife of former Tour winner Greg) to the effect that $500,000 had been paid by Nike and a San Francisco banker who part-owend Armstrong's team into the Swiss bank of the UCI's honorary president, Hein Verbruggen.

Allegedly this related to covering up a doping result, which Verbruggen denies. His 14-year presidential term spanned all seven Armstrong Tour wins. The Dutchman insisted some 20 months ago: "Armstrong has never used doping. Never, never, never. I say this not because I am a friend because that is not true. I say it because I'm sure."

Verbruggen also denied knowledge of the $125,000, yet his successor, Pat McQuaid, later confirmed it. Verbruggen's presidency appears to be one of appalling governance. To be sure, one must make robust checks. Lack of rigour in these is now manifest. Verbruggen successfully sued some who challenged him in the past. Was that why Winfrey was soft on the UCI? Don't hold your breath over part two. Armstrong was a professional rider for more than three years before he was diagnosed with cancer. Was it the consequence of doping? If so, how great is the deceit perpetrated on cancer charities? These would have been appropriate questions.

Doping was an issue as far back as the Ancient Olympics. In endurance cycling it certainly pre-dated the first Tour de France, in 1903. Strychnine, nitroglycerine, ether and alcohol were all in common use then. There have always been and always will be those prepared to break the rules, but the UCI has a duty of care. They have surely discharged this negligently.

The death of the Dane Knud Jensen at the 1960 Olympics, of Tommy Simpson during the 1967 Tour, and a catalogue of fatalities among supposedly fit young riders – never mind the more obvious performance enhancement – should have provoked greater response. When Scotland's Graeme Obree went to ride for a pro team on the Continent he quit in jig time, and told The Herald it was because of what he was expected to do.

The Augean stable that is road cycling is overdue being purged. The UCI's vested interest makes it incapable of conducting the appropriate inquiry. One should be undertaken independently, possibly by the International Olympic Committee, though Verbruggen is an honorary vice-president.

If this means suspending road cycling from the Olympics for four or eight years, as was suggested by Richard Pound, former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency and former IOC vice-president, then so be it. Hopefully track cycling would not become collateral damage. If the IOC were to dismiss the UCI from the sporting community, then track cycling's international status, and even inclusion in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, might be compromised.

Weightlifting's notorious reputation prompted calls for it to be excluded from the Olympic programme. The world body brought in rules whereby nations with bad doping records were suspended from international competition and heavily fined. Bulgaria, India, Nigeria and Turkey are among those who have been excluded.

Cycling needs to consider similar legislation to preserve any shred of integrity. Introduction of biological passports will not alone restore confidence. Suspending a nation from competition for, say, two years for three doping offences in 12 months, would concentrate minds. And a raft of lawsuits pursuing Armstrong will surely now focus his.

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