London: Lance Armstrong believes he should be given the opportunity to compete again and questioned whether he deserves the “death penalty” for his years of doping.
Armstrong’s eyes filled with tears when he spoke about the impact of his downfall on his children in the final part of his confessional with Oprah Winfrey.
He again denied drug use during his 2009 comeback and also dismissed allegations of corruption, but revealed nothing to change the stance of the anti-doping authorities, who maintain his lifetime ban can only be relaxed by providing sworn testimony.
But there was emotion, the kind Winfrey specialises in as she took him through the implications of his actions. He revealed the most “humbling” moment was stepping down as chairman of Livestrong, the cancer foundation, which has raised more than $500m.
“The Foundation is like my sixth child and to make that decision and to step aside was big,” he said. “It was the best thing for the organisation but it hurt like hell.”
He admitted he felt remorse. “I am paying the price but I deserve it. The ultimate crime is the betrayal of these people who support me and believed in me and they got lied to.”
The ironman facade briefly slipped when he relived telling his 13 year-old son Luke to stop defending him from schoolroom taunts.
“That’s when I knew I had to tell him,” he said, struggling for words. “And he’d never asked me. He’d never said, Dad is this true. He’d trusted me.
“I said, Luke, don’t defend me anymore. He just said, I love you, you’re my Dad, this won’t change that. Thank god he’s more like Kris (his ex-wife) than he is like me.”
The 41-year-old Texan said he is having therapy to help understand a “messy life” but clearly feels a sense of injustice about his lifetime ban compared to the six month suspensions handed out to his former team-mates who turned whistle-blowers.
“If you’re asking me if I want to compete again, the answer is hell yes, I’m a competitor. It’s what I’ve done all my life. I love to train. I love to race, I love to toe the line.
And I don’t expect it to happen. It might not be the most popular answer but I think I deserve it, maybe not right now.
“When you see the punishment — I would go back and say you are trading my story for a six-month ban so I got a death penalty meaning I can’t compete. I’m not saying that is unfair but it is different.
“I deserve to be punished, not sure I deserve a death penalty.”
Armstrong competed in triathlons after retiring from cycling but his worldwide ban is now so encompassing he cannot even compete in the 10k fun run in his hometown of Austin, Texas.
The man who has earned more than $125m in his sporting career has seen his future income dry up and faces the possibility of losing many millions in compensation payments as he is chased by those he successfully sued when he ruthlessly defended his lie.
He described the period when his major sponsors dropped him as “a $75m dollar day. All gone and probably never coming back”.
Armstrong was not pushed to reveal names of those who helped his doping programme through the years but he was asked about allegations last week made by Travis Tygart, the head of the United States Anti Doping Agency, who said the cyclist once offered them a “donation”, echoing the allegations of bribery which dog the International Cycling Union.
“That is not true. In the 1000-page reasoned decision they issued (last year), there was a lot of stuff in there, everything was in there, why wasn’t that in there? Pretty big story. Oprah, it’s not true.”
Winfrey ended the interview by asking the moral of the story. “I don’t have a great answer there,” he said.
“I can look at what I did, cheating to win bike races, lying about it, bullying people, of course you’re not supposed to do those things — that’s what we teach our children. That’s the easy thing.
“There’s another moral to this story. For me, I think it was about that ride and about losing myself and getting caught up in that and doing all those things along the way.
“And then the ultimate crime is the betrayal of these people who support me and believed in me and they got lied to.”
The next step for Armstrong will be to meet with the anti-doping authorities and begin the long process of negotiation with those including the Sunday Times looking for compensation. “This is going to be a long process,” he admitted.