AUSTIN, Texas — Out for a Sunday morning jog in bright sunshine, Lance Armstrong hardly looked like a man about to finally confront the doping scandal that has shadowed his storied career like an angry storm cloud.
In what’s been billed as a “no-holds barred” session, the cyclist is expected to reverse course after a decade of denials and apologize for doping, as well as offer a limited confession about his role at the head of a long-running scheme to dominate the Tour de France with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs.
Armstrong was stripped of all seven tour titles last year in the wake of a voluminous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that portrayed him as a ruthless competitor, willing to go to any lengths to win the prestigious race.
“The most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen,” is how USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Armstrong once led.
Yet if any of that was weighing on Armstrong’s mind, he didn’t show it early in the day.
Wearing a red jersey and black shorts, sunglasses and a white baseball cap pulled down to his eyes, he was training by himself and about a mile from his home when he talked to the AP. Armstrong ran for about an hour as his team of lawyers and advisors began arriving one-by-one at his house.
Leaning into a reporter’s car on the shoulder of a busy Austin road, he also seemed unfazed by the international news crews gathering at the gates of his home. He cracked a few jokes about all the attention the interview with Winfrey had already drawn, then added, “But now I want to finish my run” and took off down the road.
The interview, which will take place at his home and broadcast Thursday on the Oprah Winfrey Network, will be Armstrong first public response to the USADA report. A person with knowledge of the situation told the AP a day earlier that Armstrong will give a limited confession and apologize. He is not expected to provide a detailed account about his involvement, nor address in depth many of the specific allegations in the more than 1,000-page USADA report.
A confession would be a stunning reversal after years of public statements, interviews and court battles from Austin to Europe that Armstrong waged while zealously protecting his reputation.
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 nearly a dozen former teammates and accused Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug program that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.
Armstrong had remained defiant, tweeting 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 dramatically.
A federal whistle-blower lawsuit brought by former teammate Floyd Landis, who himself was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title, accuses Armstrong of defrauding the U.S. Postal Service. The Justice Department has yet to announce whether it will join the case.
The London-based Sunday Times is also suing Armstrong to recover about $500,000 it paid him to settle a libel lawsuit, and Dallas-based SCA Promotions has threatened to bring yet another lawsuit against Armstrong to recover more than $7.5 million an arbitration panel awarded him as a bonus for winning the Tour de France.
The lawsuit most likely to be influenced by a confession might be the Sunday Times case. Potential perjury charges stemming from his sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Armstrong was not deposed during a federal investigation that was closed last year without charges being brought.
But the USADA report persuaded many of his sponsors to drop Armstrong — at the cost of tens of millions of dollars — and soon after, he left the board of the Livestrong cancer-fighting charity he founded in 1997. Armstrong is still said to be worth about $100 million.
Livestrong might be another reason Armstrong has decided to come forward with an apology and limited confession. The charity supports cancer patients and still faces an image problem because of its association with Armstrong. He may also be hoping a confession would allow him to return to competition in the elite triathlon or running events he participated in after his cycling career.
But World Anti-Doping Code rules state his lifetime ban cannot be reduced to less than eight years. WADA and U.S. Anti-Doping officials could agree to reduce the ban further depending on what new information Armstrong provides and his level of cooperation.
USADA officials said in a recent interview that the cyclist’s cooperation could well initiate a “pathway to redemption.”