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Lance Armstrong comes clean

JIM VERTUNO
Last updated 13:46 15/01/2013
Lance Armstrong
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EMOTIONAL DAY: Lance Armstrong has reportedly apologised to staff at Livestrong before heading to his interview with Oprah.

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Lance Armstrong has confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France, a person familiar with the situation says.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the interview was to be broadcast in the US on Winfrey's network this Thursday (US time).

Armstrong earlier apologised to staff at his Livestrong cancer foundation before heading to the much-publicised interview with Winfrey where his use of banned drugs was expected to be discussed.

Armstrong addressed the staff today and said, "I'm sorry," a source said.

The person said the disgraced cyclist choked up and several employees cried during the session.

The person also said Armstrong apologised for letting the staff down and putting Livestrong at risk but he did not make a direct confession to the group about using banned drugs. He said he would try to restore the foundation's reputation, and urged the group to continue fighting for the charity's mission of helping cancer patients and their families.

After the meeting, Armstrong, his legal team and close advisers gathered at a downtown Austin hotel for the Winfrey interview.

Shortly before the interview began around 1pm local time, nearly a dozen of Armstrong's closest friends and advisers gathered in the hotel lobby and were escorted to the room where the taping was taking place.

The group included Armstrong attorneys Tim Herman and Sean Breen, along with Bill Stapleton, Armstrong's longtime agent, manager and business partner. All declined comment.

LOCATION CHANGED

Winfrey and her crew had earlier said they would film the interview at his home but the location apparently changed to a hotel. Local and international news crews staked out positions in front of the cyclist's Spanish-style villa before dawn, hoping to catch a glimpse of Winfrey or Armstrong.

Armstrong still managed to slip away for a run Monday morning despite the crowds gathering outside his house. He returned home by cutting through a neighbour's yard and hopping a fence.

During a jog on Sunday, Armstrong talked for a few minutes saying, "I'm calm, I'm at ease and ready to speak candidly." He declined to go into specifics.

Armstrong lost all seven Tour titles following a voluminous US Anti-Doping Agency report that portrayed him as a ruthless competitor, willing to go to any lengths to win the prestigious race. USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the US Postal Service team that Armstrong once led, "The most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen."

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Yet Armstrong looked like just another runner getting in his roadwork, wearing a red jersey and black shorts, sunglasses and a white baseball cap pulled down to his eyes. Leaning into a reporter's car on the shoulder of a busy Austin road, he seemed unfazed by the attention and the news crews that made stops at his home. He cracked a few jokes about all the reporters vying for his attention, then added, "but now I want to finish my run," and took off down the road.

The interview with Winfrey is Armstrong's first public response to the USADA report.

In a text to journalists on Saturday, Armstrong said: "I told her [Winfrey] to go wherever she wants and I'll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That's all I can say."

After a federal investigation of the cyclist was dropped without charges being brought last year, USADA stepped in with an investigation of its own. The agency deposed 11 former teammates and accused Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug programme that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.

Once all the information was out and his reputation shattered, Armstrong defiantly tweeted a picture of himself on a couch at home with all seven of the yellow leader's jerseys on display in frames behind him. But the preponderance of evidence in the USADA report and pending legal challenges on several fronts apparently forced him to change tactics after more a decade of denials.

He still faces legal problems.

Former teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, has filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit that accused Armstrong of defrauding the US Postal Service. The Justice Department has yet to decide whether it will join the suit as a plaintiff.

The London-based Sunday Times also is suing Armstrong to recover about US$500,000 it paid him to settle a libel lawsuit. On Sunday, the newspaper took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, offering Winfrey suggestions for what questions to ask Armstrong.

Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which tried to deny Armstrong a promised bonus for a Tour de France win, has threatened to bring yet another lawsuit seeking to recover more than US$7.5 million an arbitration panel awarded the cyclist in that dispute.

The lawsuit most likely to be influenced by a confession might be the Sunday Times case. Potential perjury charges stemming from Armstrong's sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Armstrong was not deposed during the federal investigation that was closed last year.

Many of his sponsors dropped Armstrong after the damning USADA report - at the cost of tens of millions of dollars - and soon after, he left the board of Livestrong, which he founded in 1997. Armstrong is still said to be worth about US$100 million.

- AP

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