Lance Armstrong hasn’t told “the whole story” yet. Ever since his long-awaited January confession with Oprah Winfrey, the high priestess of American talk shows, the now former seven-time winner of the Tour de France hasn’t uttered a word, just a rare tweet from time to time to his four million followers on Twitter.
So when we proposed to him three months ago to “tell his tale” in the pages of this newspaper, he –- in his own words -- first thought about telling us to “f*#k off.” That was before he realized that it was in fact “a damn great idea.”
The plan was for him to tell his story, including the Tour and the drugs, in a daily column during the three weeks of the landmark 100th edition of the French race, set to begin on Saturday. But in the meantime, Armstrong had to sell his beautiful house in Austin to pay his lawyers. And it was those same lawyers who finally convinced their client that such a "tell-all" operation was too dangerous in light of the ongoing Justice Department investigations on the heels of the damning report released by the USADA, the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
Always on the move between Austin, Hawaii and Colorado, it was impossible to set a face-to-face meeting. Lance Armstrong did not tell the whole story, once again. Still this interview is another big step on the road that leads to the truth.
LE MONDE: Do you keep riding your bicycle despite all the trouble the sport has put you in?
LANCE ARMSTRONG: Absolutely I keep on cycling and training. Riding a bike has always been a therapy for me. What was true when I was training for the Tour remains true to this day. A good ol' three or four-hour ride will clear your head like nothing else.
Every other living winner should be there (The 100th edition of the Tour de France) for the occasion. Would you have liked to be a part of it?
No. Even if I was invited, I would have chosen to just stay home with my family.
What does the Tour de France mean to you now?
The Tour is a great event. It’s hard, long and intense. I still love it and all it represents.
Do you believe you still hold the record of victories?
Did you keep your seven yellow shirts (token of the Tour leader) or did you burn them?
Ha ha! No way. I worked hard for those shirts and I love them for what they are and the memories they hold.
Do you understand the Tour managers and the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) decision to delete your name from the winners list?
Yes and no. It's fine to erase my name from the winners lists, but the Tour did take place from 1999 to 2005, so there has to be a winner. Who is it then? I will let other people debate who was the true winner of those Tours. But so far no one has stood up and claimed my yellow jerseys...
In its report, the USADA accuses you of using “the most sophisticated, professional and effective doping program in the history of sports…”
The USADA report is complete bullshit. We saw that the Puerto system was a hundred times more sophisticated. Our system was very simple, very conservative, not evil at all like they said. History will show that this was just a 'talking point' for USADA. By the way, what other teams did the USADA investigate? If there aren't any, then how can they know our system was the most sophisticated? It doesn’t make any sense.
UCI president Pat McQuaid not only took away your seven titles and suspended you for life, he also asked for you never to have anything to do with cycling...
Pat McQuaid can say and think what he wants, and pretend to be tough on doping. He's got no credibility on this. The sport needs new leadership to try and regain credibility. It simply can't move on with McQuaid as the leader.
During your January television interview, you hinted at the possibility of a collaboration with a sort of “truth and reconciliation” commission. The USADA and the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) had proposed to the UCI that such a commission should be put together. The federation rejected this offer. Why do you think they did so?
UCI is refusing to move on a 'Truth and Reconciliation' commission because the testimony the world would hear would sink McQuaid, (former UCI president Hein) Verbruggen, and the UCI.
Why are you ready to talk in front of a "truth and reconciliation" commission and what do you want to say?
The 'reasoned decision' was not an accurate depiction of cycling from the late 1980's until today. It worked perfectly to destroy one man's life but it has not benefitted cycling.
One of the questions this commission could ask you is: When you were racing, was it possible to accomplish such performances without drugs?
It depends on the races you want to win. It is impossible to win the Tour de France without doping. Because the Tour is an event where oxygen is too important. Just a quick example: EPO is no use to win a 100-meter dash, but it would help the 10-K runner. Obviously.
How did you make the choice to use performance-enhancing substances?
Could you tell us about your personal experience?
How can we put an end to the scourge of drugs in cycling?
It will never stop for many reasons. I did not invent doping, sorry Travis [Tygart, head of USADA] ; nor did I end it. I merely participated in it. I am a human being. Doping exists since ancient times, and it will probably continue to exist. I know this isn’t a very popular response, but it’s the sad truth.
Do you understand that your former sponsor US Postal joined Floyd Landis and the Justice Department in suing you for 100 million dollars?
Are you scared about going to jail?
Are you scared of ending up broke?
Were you ever scared of testing positive, and it destroying your career?
I have never been afraid of anti-doping controls. Our system was pretty basic and risk averse. I was much more afraid of the Douane [French customs] or the police.
Pat McQuaid swore under oath to the Senate Inquiry Commission that the UCI never covered you. In fact, back in 1999 during your first victory on the Tour, “Le Monde” had revealed that you tested positive to corticoids and the UCI had accepted a back-dated certificate to protect you. Is that correct?
I don’t know what Pat McQuaid said under oath but it’s true that the UCI had accepted a back-dated certificate in 1999.
You paid $100,000 to the UCI in 2002. Do you believe it’s normal for an international institution to accept money from one of its champions?
That’s not true. I gave that money after I retired in 2005. It’s easy to say today that this was inacceptable behavior. That was eight years ago. Times have changed. I guess nowadays, that would be considered intolerable. I keep wondering why we’re still arguing over what happened so many years ago. It’s absurd in so many ways.
Do you feel remorse today?
I will never be able to repair this, but I will spend my life trying. I was too hard on people. I was too much of a 'fighter'. Fighting on the bike is perfect. Fighting off it is not. I couldn't, and didn't, separate the two.
Where do you stand on the Puerto case, in which the judge ordered the blood bags to be destroyed, nullifying the chances to identify Dr. Fuentes' other non-cyclist clients?
I'm sure some big soccer clubs had some influence during the Puerto trial. In any case, it's yet again cycling that has taken the brunt of the blame.
Did you send Nicolas Sarkozy a message after his defeat in the presidential elections?
No, but I really like 'Sarko' as a man. Not making a political statement, just a personal one. He was always cool with me.
Sarkozy wants to come back for the presidential elections of 2017, why did you return in 2009?
Good question. This was the biggest mistake I ever made. I would do anything to change the past, but what’s done is done. I should have listened to Jean-Marie Leblanc when he wrote me an open letter during the Fall of 2008 advising me not to come back. He was right.
J.J Abrams, the creator of the “Lost” series announced that he was working on a movie about you. Are you worried or amazed?
Neither. He hasn't called me.
What is Lance Armstrong’s lifestyle today?
My typical day? I wake up, drink my coffee, read the paper (The New York Times), Have my breakfast, I go out for a spin, a run…I practice. I come back, have lunch with my kids then I spend the rest of my day in meetings, golfing or at the playground with my kids. Around 5 p.m, I open a nice, cold beer and I think.