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Why Lance Armstrong May Be Coming Clean About Performance-Enhancing Drugs

January 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
What will be the fallout of Lance Armstrong's confession of doping during his prolific professional cycling career? Ray Suarez talks to two writers who have followed Armstrong's career: Daniel Coyle, co-author of "The Secret Race: The Hidden World of the Tour de France," and the Juliet Macur of the New York Times.

RAY SUAREZ: More now on the Armstrong story and why he may have changed his mind about his admission to Oprah Winfrey and potentially others. It comes from two writers who have long followed his career.

Juliet Macur has been covering this for The New York Times. And Daniel Coyle, co-author of “The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France.”

Juliet Macur, why do you think Lance Armstrong is talking in this way to Oprah Winfrey and talking now, when just a few months ago, when the report came out, he denounced it?

JULIET MACUR, The New York Times: Yes, it’s pretty — it’s a pretty dramatic turn after so many years. Really, it’s been almost 15 years of these vehement denials that he’s never doped, that he’s sued people that claimed he had doped, and he won those lawsuits.

I mean, he’s threatened people who said he has doped. And finally he’s going to come out and say that he did it, only because he wants to compete again.

Right now, he’s been banned from all Olympic sports for life, and the only way he could get back into competition is to tell the truth and say he was doping and to help the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency build cases against other people. And in doing that, he could possibly return to competition as soon as eight years.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Daniel Coyle, are there a lot of thing Lance Armstrong knows, but hasn’t said that could still get a lot of other people into trouble, sponsors, business partners, people who were involved in one way or another with his years on the Postal team?

 DANIEL COYLE, author of “The Secret Race”: Nobody knows more than Lance. He was the kingpin. He was the Tony Soprano of this world for a long time.

So he does stand to contribute a lot to the investigation, if he will. That’s the question, how much. How much will he hedge? How much he will admit? How much will he share freely? And the biggest signal he’s sending now, as David Howman pointed out, is that he’s taking his story, not to the authorities, not to the governing body, but to Oprah.

RAY SUAREZ: But by taking it to Oprah, it is, obviously, extrajudicial in the most extreme way. But does it pique the interest of agencies, other bodies, that can now have an opening to ask him once again about things he’s talked about for years, but denied?

DANIEL COYLE: I think that’s true.

But, in the larger sense, this is part of a pattern that we saw in the book that we wrote about Lance Armstrong and about this secret race. He gets into a tight spot, and he makes an instinctive attack. He’s been fueled by anger, by defiance for a long time. And this is his attempt to sort of show the world that he’s still strong.

It’s not really about disclosure for him. It’s about this old instinct that has fueled his rise and now is fueling his fall.

JEFFREY BROWN: Juliet, for years, Lance Armstrong clung to this “most tested athletes in sports, never failed a test” identity and used that as kind of a shield.

But now, this tempo of stories saying, no, in fact, he did fail tests and may have had a role in suppressing those test results, is leading up to the doors of the UCI, the international governing body. Are they in trouble?

JULIET MACUR: They might be in trouble. If I were them right now, I would not be getting any sleep. I would be sitting on the edge of my chair pretty nervous.

There have been claims that Lance bribed the UCI, the International Cycling Union, to hide some of his positive tests. And we don’t know if that’s true, but his claim of passing 500 to 600 tests is totally not true. For one, he’s never taken that many tests. He’s kind of inflated that number over the years.

But the International Cycling Union may be in trouble. Perhaps USA Cycling, which is the national governing body, they might be in trouble. Like Dan says, we have no idea what Lance will say, but we know that he has said that he knows where all the bodies are buried.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Juliet, is this biggest than Lance Armstrong now, no longer even solely about him anymore?

JULIET MACUR: A lot of riders said it was really never about Lance to begin with, that he was just — well, he was the kingpin of his own little doping program, but cycling has really been rife with doping for many, many years, especially in the ’90s.

This could be a huge opening to cleaning up the sport of cycling. If Lance comes out and tells everybody where he got the drugs, who helped him hide his drug — positive drug tests and all those things, the sport could actually turn over a new leaf, but he has to come clean first to the officials.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Daniel Coyle, what else could happen? What will you be watching for when the Oprah show goes out?

DANIEL COYLE: I will be most curious about seeing contrition. An apology is something that involves genuine feeling, authenticity. It’s a process. And we will see if he’s taking steps on that process.

I’m most curious about what he says to the people who he ruthlessly went after for years for telling the truth. I’m really curious to hear what he says to them.

RAY SUAREZ: Because, in fact, he ended careers, got people blackballed in this little world of top-level professional cycling. It got pretty rough at times, didn’t it?

DANIEL COYLE: He was ruthless.

He approached life the same way he approached a bike race, which was to do everything in his power to win. As Frankie Andreu said in the lead-in quote, he destroyed a lot of lives.

He tried to end people’s careers. He told people: “I will end your career. I have a lot of money, I have a lot of time, and I will destroy you.” That’s a quote that he gave to a writer, an Italian writer.

So, that’s the way he operated. And so we will see what he’s willing — if this is turning over a new leaf, if this is more of a calculation, how much of this is apology, and how much of this is strategy.

RAY SUAREZ: Juliet Macur, along with any possible apology, will there be lawyers sitting with full-sized legal pads waiting for every word to see if this opens up new cases?

Is there money to be clawed back, assurances he made to sponsors and to international entities that could be shown to be false now, and put him either the danger of fraud, breach of contract, other kinds of violations?

JULIET MACUR: Yes, I think there certainly will be a lot of his lawyers looking at the — what he says — well, they already know what he says because he taped it a few days ago.

But I also think that his bankers will be opening up the key to his safe. They are going to be owing a lot of money to many people once he comes clean.

He’s been named in several civil lawsuits, including a federal whistle-blower lawsuit here in Washington, which could mean he has to repay tens of millions of dollars back to the U.S. Postal Service team, U.S. Postal Service, which sponsored his team in the late ’90s, early 2000s.

RAY SUAREZ: So, I will ask quickly both of you quickly before we go, where does this leave both Lance Armstrong and the sport of cycling, that he did so much to raise the profile of worldwide.


DANIEL COYLE: Lance Armstrong’s in uncharted territory. This is a place he’s never been. He’s faced some hard things, but this is completely different. It’s sort of the start of a new and unknown chapter. And a lot will depend on what happens tomorrow.

As far as the sport of cycling, it’s improved a lot since those days. These are events that are a few years old. In some ways, it is an object lesson for the larger American sports. What cycling is going through, you would have to be naive to think that the same problem doesn’t exist in other win-at-all-costs cultures, like the NFL.

RAY SUAREZ: And, quickly, Juliet?

JULIET MACUR: Well, Lance right now is trying to save himself, trying to save his foundation, trying to win the hearts back of Americans, and trying to get back into the athletic competition again.

But what he has to do is really take the big leap and to help bring down some of the bigger people in the sport who have been helping riders dope and hiding positive drug tests and taking bribes for probably dozens of years now. So he has to take the leap, and he could do a great service to cycling if he’s honest.

RAY SUAREZ: Juliet Macur and Daniel Coyle, thank you both.

JULIET MACUR: You’re welcome.

DANIEL COYLE: Thank you.