Lance Armstrong & Oprah Winfrey: damaging, yes, but nothing new


Humbled and apologetic, Lance Armstrong's long-awaited confession to Oprah Winfrey may have finally drawn a line under one of the biggest sporting frauds in history.

But damaging though it was to hear the biggest name in cycling detail his own drug use, it only confirmed what we have long known.

Cycling has been so badly damaged by all this that it will take another decade to really recover

While repeatedly refusing to implicate others, Armstrong left us in no doubt that back in the noughties this was a sport with a deep culture of doping where riders could cheat without any real fear of being caught by the testers.

Things were different now, he said, thanks to the introduction of out of competition testing and the blood passport system. But cycling has been so badly damaged by all this that it will take another decade to really recover.

For the sport's governing body the UCI there were no nasty surprises here. Armstrong kept saying he was no fan of theirs and did accuse them of soliciting a controversial £70,000 donation for the fight against drugs after he produced a suspicious sample for the blood boosting drug EPO in 2001. But he said this wasn't a "shady deal" and that there was no secret meeting with the head of the Lausanne laboratory which conducted the test.

Apart from that there was nothing. No mention of the UCI's honorary president Hein Verbruggen, who ran the sport at the time and is said to be too close to Armstrong. And no new light shone on how and why the UCI allowed Armstrong's industrial doping to go on for such a long time when it was clear there were widely held suspicions about his achievements.

No doubt Verbruggen's successor as president Pat McQuaid and the other men who run cycling will be breathing more easily in Lausanne this morning.

For Armstrong himself this interview was deeply humiliating. Well choreographed though all the self-loathing was, it was, at times, astonishing to see a man who bestrode his sport for years forced to admit it was all a lie and that he was an arrogant bully.

The case against Armstrong

2010: May - Armstrong's former US Postal team-mate Floyd Landis launches allegations against the Texan.

2011: May - denies claims made by former team-mate Tyler Hamilton that they took performance-enhancing drugs together.

2012: February - An investigation into alleged doping by Armstrong is dropped by federal prosecutors in California.

June - United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) confirms it will file formal doping charges against Armstrong.

July - Armstrong files lawsuit against Usada accusing it of "corrupt inducements" to other cyclists to testify against him.

August 20 - Armstrong's legal action dismissed in court.

August 24 - Armstrong announces he will not fight doping charges filed against him but insists he is innocent. He is stripped of all his titles and banned from cycling for life by Usada.

October 10 - Usada claims 11 of Armstrong's former team-mates have testified against him.

October 22 - Cycling's world governing body, the UCI, confirms it has ratified Usada's decision to ban Armstrong from cycling for life and to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles for doping offences.

November 2 - The World Anti-Doping Agency announces it will not appeal Usada's decision.

2013: January 17 - Armstrong admits to doping in a recorded television interview with Oprah Winfrey.

But there are still so many questions left hanging.

Overall Oprah Winfrey did enough to avoid accusations of being too soft on Armstrong. But twice she played him footage from a deposition he gave during a 2005 court case in which he denied using performance enhancing drugs under oath.

After the first occasion, when dealing with the question of his former doctor and trainer Michele Ferrari, he admitted he would now give a different response.

But Oprah failed to delve deeper or at the very least to make the point that by admitting everything to her now he was at risk of perjury charges and jail. Perhaps that is obvious and the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles (who were steadfastly refusing to comment ahead of the interview) will now take action. But the significance of those two moments were (perhaps deliberately) not spelled out.

Then there is the question of where this all leaves Armstrong. He says he wants to add another chapter to his extraordinary life by making another sporting comeback, this time in triathlon.

And yet, having failed to point the finger at senior figures in the UCI or other riders or officials, it's difficult to see anything here that would make the anti-doping authorities want to cut a deal with him to reduce his lifetime ban from all sport. Both the US Anti Doping Agency and the World Anti Doping Agency need something new and substantial to even enter into negotiations with him.

Armstrong did say he would be the first man through the door of any truth and reconciliation commission. But while this interview may have been the first step on the road to rehabilitating his toxic public image, if he is really serious about wanting to compete again then he is going to have to be much more forthcoming than this.