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Finally, Armstrong comes clean

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'Did you ever take banned substances? Yes'

Without any hesitation, Lance Armstrong confesses to doping with a simple 'yes' during his interview with Oprah.

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IT TOOK precisely one minute and 45 seconds for Lance Armstrong to renounce lies he maintained belligerently for decades. Unemotional, not especially contrite, but guilty as charged - he doped throughout his seven Tour de France victories, he lied, he bullied. He is a now a self-confessed fraud.

Finally the man who believed he could deceive everyone has admitted the sad facts himself. Not that he wanted to. In a 90-minute interview with Oprah Winfrey, the world's most famous talkshow host, the American once extolled as one of the best athletes on the planet made it patently clear he would not have confessed to anything if he had not been caught.

Fraud … Armstrong during the interview.

Fraud … Armstrong during the interview. Photo: Reuters

In Part One of a highly stage-managed, and no doubt heavily strategised, coming out, Armstrong was confronted with the bluntest questions first. Ensuring there was no room for grey on matters that had never been entirely black and white, he was instructed to give yes or no answers.

Did he ever take banned substances to enhance his cycling performance? Yes.

Was one of those banned substances EPO? Yes.

Did he ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance his cycling performance? Yes.

Did he ever use other banned substances such as testosterone or cortisone or human growth hormone? Yes.

Did he use banned substances and blood dope during his seven Tour de France victories? Yes.

Was it humanly possible to win the Tour de France in seven consecutive years without using banned drugs?

Armstrong broke the one-word answer rule on this question, but his response might as well have been no.

''Not in my opinion,'' he said.

Then came the extrapolation and reflection - much of it disturbingly deluded - on a litany of sins he committed not only against sport but against everyday people.

''I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times,'' he said.

''This story was so perfect for so long. And I mean that as I try to take myself out of this situation and look at it: you overcome the disease [cancer], you win the Tour de France seven times, you have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean it's just this mythic, perfect story and it wasn't true.''

Greying but still rudely fit, the 41-year-

old spoke of a tough upbringing and, later, a feeling of needing to live up to the image of the impossible king.

While not pushed on the detail of how his cheating began, he gave the impression he started by dabbling in cortisone before indulging in a full-blown doping program in what he termed ''the EPO generation'' of the mid-'90s. He won the seven Tour titles he has now been stripped of between 1999 and 2005.

Several times he said he was ''not a fan'' of cycling's besieged world governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, but one crucial point he tabled was that he had not donated to the organisation as part of a deal to cover up a positive drugs test. The UCI remains in turmoil regardless.

Armstrong said he doped because he could get away with it. ''I didn't invent the culture but I didn't try to stop the culture. That's my mistake. That's what I have to be sorry for and the sport is now paying the price because of that. I am sorry for that, but I didn't have access to anything else that nobody else did.''

The picture he painted contradicted the finding of USADA boss Travis Tygart, who described Armstrong as a ringleader of what he termed ''the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen''.

Armstrong insisted his doping program was ''very conservative, very risk-averse'', and that while he used EPO it was ''not a lot''. He said he almost felt justified using testosterone after having a testicle removed following his cancer diagnosis in 1996.

He did not implicate other riders, doctors or team bosses. Fascinatingly, the only terrain he flagged as a no-go-zone was the matter of Betsy Andreu - the wife of one of his former teammates - who went public years ago with claims she heard Armstrong confess to using performance-enhancing drugs when he was in hospital for cancer treatment.

After the Winfrey interview, a furious Andreu took her turn to hit the American airwaves.

''He could have come clean, he owed it to me, he owed it to the sport that he destroyed,'' she told CNN.

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