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Lance Armstrong Said He Used Drugs to Cheat, Oprah Winfrey Says

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Lance Armstrong said he cheated by using performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the talk-show host said on “CBS This Morning.”

The full 2 1/2-hour interview yesterday with the 41-year- old American, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year after a U.S. anti-doping probe, will be televised in two days on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The pair met at a hotel in the cyclist’s hometown of Austin, Texas, Winfrey said on the CBS show today.

“He did not come clean in the manner that I expected,” Winfrey said. “It was surprising to me. We were mesmerized and riveted by some of his answers.”

Armstrong’s admission follows 13 years of emphatic denials of doping. The cyclist was stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles and banned from competing for life in August by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which said it found proof he engaged in serial cheating through the use, administration and trafficking of performance-enhancing drugs and methods.

“We need to question his real motives for doing this,” Ashley McCown, who specializes in crisis communications as president of Boston-based Solomon McCown & Co., said in a telephone interview. “If his motive was to tell the truth, why didn’t he do that a long time ago?”

The AP didn’t disclose specifics of Armstrong’s talk with Winfrey. OWN spokeswoman Chelsea Hettrick and Armstrong’s spokesman, Mark Fabiani, last night declined in e-mails to comment on the AP report.

USADA Report

USADA, the Colorado Springs, Colorado-based overseer of U.S. drug rules, said in a 202-page report in October detailing Armstrong’s cheating that his career was “fueled start to finish by doping.” The agency, using evidence from 11 former teammates, said Armstrong forced fellow riders to cheat or be fired from his team, and also transfused blood and used testosterone and erythropoietin.

USADA spokeswoman Annie Skinner didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment about Armstrong’s interview.

Armstrong’s ban from competitive cycling and the loss of his Tour de France titles came after he opted not to fight USADA’s allegations.

Cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union, known as UCI, said it “would strongly urge” Armstrong to testify to an independent committee looking at the former rider’s relationship with the UCI leadership. The USADA report questioned how UCI handled issues related to Armstrong.

Competition Ban

Armstrong was also banned from competing in top-level triathlons, a sport he returned to after retiring from cycling in 2011. Armstrong competed as a professional triathlete at 18 before focusing on cycling, and last year sought to participate in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

Following USADA’s report, Armstrong severed ties with Livestrong, which made him perhaps the best-known public figure in the fight against cancer. The largest athlete-founded charity has raised more than $470 million since 1997, according to its website.

Before yesterday’s interview, Armstrong stopped at the Livestrong Foundation and apologized to staff members for letting them down and putting the charity at risk, AP said, citing an unidentified person with knowledge of the session. Armstrong also said he would try to restore the charity’s reputation and urged the group to continue its mission to help cancer patients and their families, AP said.

Armstrong was diagnosed in 1996 with stage three testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain. He returned to the Tour de France as a champion in 1999, winning the first of seven consecutive titles.

‘Unfortunate Victims’

“One of the unfortunate victims in all of this has been his foundation, which has done incredibly important work for years,” McCown said. “They didn’t deserve to be dragged into this. Very much collateral damage, so I think it was absolutely the right thing to spend some private time with them and be honest with them.”

In addition to stepping down from Livestrong, Armstrong was dropped by sponsors including Nike Inc., Oakley Inc., Anheuser- Busch InBev NV, Trek Bicycle Corp., and energy supplement makers FRS and Honey Stinger.

Armstrong is now in talks to return a portion of the millions of taxpayer dollars received by his former U.S. Postal Service cycling team, CBS News said, without saying where it got the information.

Justice Department officials have recommended the U.S. government join a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by Armstrong’s former teammate, Floyd Landis, in 2010, CBS News said. The lawsuit is aimed at getting sponsorship money back from Armstrong’s former team.

Possible Testimony

Armstrong may testify against others involved in doping, CBS News said.

Armstrong could also face a lawsuit from SCA Promotions Inc., which said in October that it would seek almost $12 million. Dallas-based SCA insured bonuses Armstrong received for winning the Tour from 2002-04. SCA was sued by Armstrong and U.S. Postal Service team owner Tailwind Sports in 2004 for failing to pay a $5 million bonus owed to the cyclist. It agreed in 2006 to pay the $5 million and $2.5 million in interest and legal fees.

Verbal Attacks

Armstrong for years verbally attacked anyone who questioned the validity of his achievements. Those included three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, the first U.S. champion of the race; Emma O’Reilly, a former masseuse with his team who told of doping and cover-up strategies, and Betsy Andreu, the wife of one-time teammate Frankie Andreu, who testified that she heard Armstrong acknowledge doping prior to his cancer diagnosis.

Armstrong is also being sued by the Sunday Times, which claims he fraudulently obtained $1.5 million in 2006 by suing the U.K. newspaper for libel when it alleged he used banned drugs.

One day before his interview with Winfrey, Armstrong was quoted by the AP as saying he was “ready to speak candidly.” Crisis communications expert McCown said the confession, while “one of the most baffling public relations strategies I’ve ever seen,” is the first step in a lengthy healing process.

“The jury should be out for him for a while,” she said. “It’s sort of de rigueur to say your mea culpa and move on. It would have been far more credible had he done it a year or two ago. The motivations seem to be rather self-serving and not just about telling the truth once and for all.”

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