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Armstrong ready as Oprah comes to town

- Associated Press - Monday, January 14, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas — Lance Armstrong stopped at his Livestrong Foundation before heading to an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Monday and delivered an emotional apology to staff members, some of whom broke down in tears, a person with direct knowledge of the meeting told the Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussion was private.

Stripped last year of his seven Tour de France titles because of doping charges, Mr. Armstrong addressed the staff and said, "I'm sorry." The person said the disgraced cyclist choked up and several employees cried during the session.

The person also said Mr. Armstrong apologized 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, Mr. Armstrong, his legal team and close advisers gathered at a downtown Austin hotel for the interview. The cyclist was to make a limited confession to Ms. Winfrey about his role as the head of a long-running scheme to dominate the Tour with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs, a person with knowledge of the situation told the AP.

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

Miss Winfrey and her crew had earlier said they would film the session, to be broadcast Thursday, at Mr. Armstrong's home. As a result, local and international news crews were encamped near the cyclist's Spanish-style villa before dawn.

Mr. Armstrong still managed to slip away for a run despite the crowds outside his home. He returned by cutting through a neighbor's yard and hopping a fence.

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

Mr. Armstrong lost all seven Tour titles following 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. USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Mr. Armstrong once led, "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."

The interview with Miss Winfrey will be Mr. Armstrong's first public response to the USADA report. Mr. Armstrong 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.

In a text to the AP on Saturday, Mr. Armstrong said: "I told her [Miss 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 Mr. Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug program that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.

Once all the information was out and his reputation shattered, Mr. 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 than 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 Mr. Armstrong of defrauding the U.S. 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 Mr. Armstrong to recover about $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 Miss Winfrey suggestions for what questions to ask Mr. Armstrong.

Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which tried to deny Mr. Armstrong a promised bonus for a Tour de France win, has threatened to bring yet another lawsuit seeking to recover more than $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 Mr. Armstrong's sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Mr. Armstrong was not deposed during the federal investigation that was closed last year.

Many of his sponsors dropped Mr. 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. Mr. Armstrong is still said to be worth about $100 million.

Livestrong might be one reason Mr. 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 Mr. Armstrong. He also may 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.

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 information Mr. Armstrong provides and his level of cooperation.

AP Sports Columnist Jim Litke contributed to this report.

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