After years of denying allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs in his seven Tour de France wins, cyclist Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey during an interview that aired Thursday.
CHICAGO — Lance Armstrong finally admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career on Thursday, describing himself as a "bully" and a "deeply flawed character" in an interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
He was light on the details and didn't name names. He mused that he might not have been caught if not for his comeback in 2009. And he was certain his "fate was sealed" when longtime friend, training partner and trusted lieutenant George Hincapie, who was along for the ride on all seven of Armstrong's Tour de France wins from 1999-2005, was forced to give him up to anti-doping authorities.
In the first part of an exclusive televised interview with Winfrey that was recorded three days earlier in his hometown of Austin, Texas, Armstrong confessed straight away.
"Yes," Armstrong said when Winfrey asked if he used a series of drugs to help his record run.
But right from the start and more than two dozen times during the first of a two-part interview Thursday night with Winfrey, the disgraced former cycling champion acknowledged what he had lied about repeatedly for years, and what had been one of the worst-kept secrets for the better part of a week: He was the ringleader of an elaborate doping scheme on a U.S. Postal Service team that swept him to the top of the podium at the Tour de France time after time.
"At the time it did not feel wrong?" Winfrey asked.
"No," Armstrong replied. "Scary."
"Did you feel bad about it?" she pressed him.
"No," he said. "Even scarier."
"Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?"
"No," Armstrong paused. "Scariest."
"I went and looked up the definition of cheat," he added a moment later. "And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."
"I'm a flawed character," Armstrong said in the interview that aired Thursday.
Wearing a blue blazer and open-neck shirt, Armstrong was direct and matter-of-fact, neither pained nor contrite. He looked straight ahead. There were no tears and very few laughs.
The second part of the interview will air Friday on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Whether his televised confession will help or hurt Armstrong's bruised reputation and his already-tenuous defense in at least two pending lawsuits, and possibly a third, remains to be seen. Either way, a story that seemed too good to be true — cancer survivor returns to win one of sport's most grueling events seven times in a row — was revealed to be just that.
Sitting in a chair across from Winfrey, Armstrong said he could not have won the race seven times without the drugs and gave a small smile.
"I made my decisions. They are my mistake," Armstrong said.
Winfrey got right to the point, asking for yes-or-no answers to five questions.
Did Armstrong use banned substances? "Yes."
Did he use EPO? "Yes."
Did he do blood doping and transfusions? "Yes."
Did he use testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone? "Yes."
Did he take banned substances or blood dope in all his Tour wins? "Yes."
The interview was taped Monday.
Armstrong said his doping admission is probably "too late" for most people.
Armstrong called his run to seven Tour de France titles "so perfect for so long."
"I was the leader of the team," Armstrong said when asked if he influenced other members on his teams to dope. "There was never a direct order that said 'if you want to be on the team (you had to dope).' That never happened."
Along the way, Armstrong cast aside teammates who questioned his tactics, yet swore he raced clean and tried to silence anyone who said otherwise. Ruthless and rich enough to settle any score, no place seemed beyond his reach — courtrooms, the court of public opinion, even along the roads of his sport's most prestigious race.
That relentless pursuit was one of the things that Armstrong said he regretted most.
"It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. And it's inexcusable. And when I say there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that. I do.
Anti-doping officials have said nothing short of a confession under oath — "not talking to a talk-show host," is how World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman put it — could prompt a reconsideration of Armstrong's lifetime ban from sanctioned events.
He's also had discussions with officials at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, whose 1,000-page report in October included testimony from nearly a dozen former teammates and led to Armstrong being stripped of his Tour titles. Shortly after, he lost nearly all his endorsements and was forced to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded in 1997.
Armstrong could provide information that might get his ban being reduced to eight years, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. By then, Armstrong would be 49. He returned to triathlons, where he began his professional career as a teenager, after retiring from cycling in 2011, and has told people he's desperate to get back.
There were very few details about Armstrong's performance-enhancing regimen that would surprise anti-doping officials.
What he called "my cocktail" contained the steroid testosterone and the blood-booster erythropoetein, or EPO, "but not a lot," Armstrong said. That was on top of blood-doping, which involved removing his own blood and weeks later re-injecting it into his system.
All of it was designed to build strength and endurance, but it became so routine that Armstrong described it as "like saying we have to have air in our tires or water in our bottles."
"That was, in my view, part of the job," he said.
The 41-year-old Texan said he began doping in the mid-1990s and continued to cheat right up until 2005 when he won his final Tour de France.
"There was more happiness in the process, in the build," Armstrong added. "The winning was almost phoned in."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report