When the confession came it was strangely anticlimatic. After years of denial and behaving, in his own words, like “a jerk,” Lance Armstrong confessed to a career of cheating in a staccato burst of yes/no answers.
The carefully constructed and fiercely defended façade fell away in a matter of seconds. He was not of course being questioned under oath, as many would have liked, but by US talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
Winfrey gave the impression of someone who had been cramming for her school exams. She was good on the broad sweeps of what Armstrong was owning up to, but missed a couple of chances to really impale him on detail. That was just as Armstrong had intended. This self-confessed bully was still doing his best to control the manner and speed of his fall.
Winfrey has described the interview as being “emotional” but it was hard to detect many cracks in Armstrong’s composure.
He was very careful not to specifically implicate any other individuals. He even described Dr Michele Ferrari, a notorious figure who Armstrong had a long association with and is banned for life from having any involvement in sport, as a “good man”.
He also managed to avoid going through the details of how exactly he managed to avoid testing positive for so many years.
I am sure it is a line of questioning the US Anti-Doping Agency would love to take up with him. Only weeks ago, Armstrong was describing their investigation as an “unconstitutional witch hunt”. Now their damning report into Armstrong’s doping looks like the start of a long-overdue process.
Armstrong did say he would now be happy to co-operate with the so-called ‘truth and reconcilliation’ process the sport’s governing body, the UCI, is now expected to go through.
But such a gesture feels like it’s too little too late for Armstrong. He had plenty of chances to talk before but instead declared war on anyone who dared question him.
The head of the world anti-doping agency has been scathing about both Armstrong and the UCI. John Fahey says cycling has spent years avoiding its responsibilities and failing to investigate its most infamous cheat.
As for the man himself, Fahey says Armstrongs attempt to describe drugs as part of an accepted culture was “a convenient way of justifying what he did a fraud”.
While Winfrey was tougher on Armstrong than many expected, there are several questions which remain unanswered.
The specifics of his relationship with the UCI were picked at, but more details are needed. There has long been suspicion that Armstrong paid off the UCI to cover up a failed test.
He told Winfrey this was just a donation and the UCI confirmed that, saying the money was used to help them in their fight against doping. Ironic barely comes close to describing that arrangement.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, journalist David Walsh said this was the issue that really needed further investigation. Walsh has spent years pursuing Armstrong and has in the past been described by his foe as the “worst journalist in the world”.
Now fully vindicated, Walsh says we need to know exactly why the UCI was asking Armstrong for money, and points out that no other cyclist has ever been asked for cash. He hopes the interview is just the start of a process that will one day lead to Armstrong telling the absolute truth.
Part two of the Lance and Oprah show is unlikely to go into any of the details Walsh and others would like. Expect instead a focus on the impact this has had on his family and for a few tears to dampen that once invincible mask.
For an American television audience who may have little interest, or knowledge, of the Tour de France this may be an effective means of portraying him in a better light.
For those who love cycling, or tried to challenge Armstrong’s lies in the past, it is likely to be a belated exercise in futility.