Lance: I'm a doper, but no cheat

YES. The simplest of words, but one that Lance Armstrong had never been able to say whenever he was faced with doping allegations. However, when the 41-year-old Texan answered ''yes'' to each of Oprah Winfrey's first five questions in her much-anticipated exclusive interview with him, it was a giant step towards reaching a final resolution to the biggest doping scandal in world sport.

Don't be mistaken. By no means is this the end of the Armstrong story - the repercussions of his interview with Winfrey will be far reaching. This is not just a doping story, but a human story extending beyond sport, considering the litany of lives that have been left in tatters because of it.

And because of that complexity, the interview did raise questions, or at least concerns about how much Armstrong is still keeping close to his chest. Whether that is by will or for legal reasons is not yet clear - the jury will remain out, with some believing it is both.

The first instalment of the two-part interview, aired on the Discovery Channel and on Winfrey's OWN network, was intriguing nonetheless.

Held in a hotel in his home town of Austin, Texas, it began with good pace and purpose, with Winfrey asking Armstrong: ''Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance'', to which he replied: ''Yes.'' Armstrong then repeated the same word he had found so difficult to utter in years past when asked if he had ever used erythropoietin (EPO), testosterone, human growth hormones and cortisone, and if he had even taken blood transfusions en route to winning seven straight Tours de France from 1999 to 2005. To all of them, Armstrong replied: ''Yes.''

He only stopped when Winfrey asked, ''if it was humanly possible to win the Tour de France without doping seven times in a row''. He paused, then replied: ''Not in my opinion.''

Later, he denied doping during his comeback from 2009 to 2011, during which he raced the Tour twice more without winning. ''The last time I crossed the line, that line, was 2005.''

Nevertheless, for a story that has become so large and complex and could yet still end up back in the courts, it was inevitable the 2½-hour interview would raise more questions than answers - questions many observers hope will be answered in part two, which will air on Saturday at 1pm.

We still need to hear more about his associations with the International Cycling Union (UCI). Many will hope he has more to say on that in part two. At one stage, Armstrong tripped up on Friday, fuelling continued doubts about some of his answers. When asked about a donation he made to the UCI in 2005 to help anti-doping, he said he it had happened after he had retired. That's partly true - Armstrong made two donations to the world body, the first in May 2002, when he was still a rider.

It is also a concern that Armstrong defended Italian doctor Michele Ferrari - who was one of five other former associates of the American who were charged with him by USADA and banned for life. Armstrong said Ferrari was a person of noble character, and denied he was the mastermind behind doping on the US Postal Services team. Armstrong also rejected the charge the UCI covered up a positive drug test from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland.

It was interesting to hear Armstrong admit to doping and to watch him try to convince viewers he accepts his guilt. ''I made my decisions. They're my mistakes,'' he said. ''And I'm sitting here today [the interview was recorded on Monday] to acknowledge that and to say I'm sorry for that.''

Sure, many believe that's the mindset of a doper - that everyone does it, so why not me. Trouble is, some riders were strong enough not to follow the same path - take, for instance, Frenchman Christophe Bassons, who was more or less driven out of the sport when he ran foul of Armstrong.

It is worrying that Armstrong said he never viewed doping as cheating during his riding years. Asked if he ever felt bad or wrong about doping, he flatly told Winfrey: ''No.'' He went on: ''[One day] I went in and I just looked up the definition of cheat. And the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe, you know, that they don't have or that they - you know, I didn't do it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.''

But as the undisputed king of world cycling, Armstrong's authority in the peloton could have forced change had he wanted it, too - especially with his strong personality. But as much as he said on Friday that he regrets it now, Armstrong did not see it as his culture to change. ''I didn't invent the culture,'' he said. ''But I didn't try to stop the culture, and that's my mistake and that's what I have to be sorry for, and the sport is now paying the price because of that.''

It remains to be seen how sincere he really was. That will take time, considering how far and wide his deceit and betrayal has stretched. He knows it too.

''This is too late,'' he said. ''It's too late probably for most people and that's my fault. I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.''

As careful as he was with his confessions, it was clear he felt uncomfortable on several issues, in particular the involvement of Ferrari, who was on the US Anti-Doping Agency charge sheet with Armstrong. He also wrestled with questions that related to claim he had threatened riders with sack from his team if they did not dope.

Armstrong baulked and paused in his answers. Placing his hand on his heart might have been a subconscious reinforcement of his desire to be seen as sincere. Steering the interview to his family upbringing resuscitated him again. But even he finally conceded he was a bully. ''I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative, and if I didn't like what somebody said … I tried to control that and say that's a lie, they're liars,'' he said.

Armstrong, at least, recognised that he owed an apology to Emma O'Reilly, his former soigneur on the US Postal Services team for his treatment of her.

But he was also unwilling to speak in depth about his broken relations with Betsy Andreu, the wife of his former teammate Frankie Andreu whom Armstrong smeared publicly for her claims of drugs use. All he would say was that he had spoken to them both recently in an attempt to mend the bridges. He conceded that a 40-minute talk could not achieve that, but also admitted that: ''I did call her crazy. I did.'' But he insisted that he had never called her ''fat.''

The line of aggrieved parties would be very long in the aftermath of the US Anti-Doping Agency's evidence compiled to support the doping and trafficking charges against Armstrong, and its ''reasoned decision'' to ban him for life and strip him of all his results since August 1, 1998. And Armstrong knows they will start lining up soon, if they have not already following the tempered contrition he showed on Friday to those he wronged.

Little wonder he admitted that if he could turn time back he would co-operate with the USADA investigation as did 11 former teammates who testified. Little wonder that as Armstrong pursues the path that he has paved before him with his confession and that he hopes will end with redemption from the public and a reduction of his life ban, he said: ''If there was a truth and reconciliation commission … and I'm invited, I'll be the first man in the door.''

Truth is, it might take a long time for Armstrong, who said he knew he was not ''the most believable'' person in the world, to be invited back anywhere.

When the US Department of Justice dropped its investigation into him last February, Armstrong said the thought he was ''out of the woods''.

He still isn't …

The story Lance: I'm a doper, but no cheat first appeared on WA Today.

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