Lance Armstrong fans and skeptics will watch him Thursday night the way they watched him during the Tour de France to see if he can pull off another victory, this time in a confessional interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Armstrong will admit he used performance-enhancing drugs on Oprah’s Next Chapter, which airs at 9 p.m. on her OWN cable channel, with Part Two scheduled for Friday night.
But the depth and sincerity of his revelations will be dissected by viewers just as Winfrey’s questions will be judged on their toughness.
“I hope she hits me hard,” Armstrong said before the interview was taped Monday at a hotel in his hometown of Austin.
Will it be a tell-all or a script prepared by Armstrong’s team of lawyers and crisis communications consultants?
Mike Anderson, for one, does not plan to tune in. Anderson, Armstrong’s former mechanic and assistant, was among those sued by Armstrong when he discovered Armstrong was doping.
“We’re going to hear Oprah ask a bunch of softball questions, and we’ll get a bunch of evasive answers,” Anderson said. “A better venue would be in court. Both he and Oprah are trying to sell us something when we know he is a liar incapable of a genuine apology. The guy lacks the empathy normal humans possess.”
Armstrong, 41, is seeking forgiveness and image renovation three months after he was stripped of his record seven Tour titles for masterminding the “most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program” in sports history, according to a 1,000-page investigative report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that included testimony from 11 teammates about the systematic reliance on blood transfusions, EPO, steroids and human growth hormone and the methods used to evade positive tests.
Throughout his career, Armstrong vigorously denied doping allegations and burnished his heroic self-portrayal as cancer survivor applying his will to the world’s most grueling bike race.
After the report was released, Armstrong was banned from competition for life, jettisoned by sponsors and resigned as head of his Livestrong foundation that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer awareness and patient aid.
Facing lawsuits and hoping to become a triathlon star, Armstrong sought out Winfrey to make his public apology.
Whether it will be accepted by those he deceived remains to be seen.
“It’s way too late, and he can’t return the loss of time, money, jobs, reputation and dignity to those he crushed,” said Anderson, who runs a bike shop in Wellington, New Zealand, eight years after Armstrong fired him, blackballed him from cycling and reneged on a promise to invest in an Austin bike shop.
Anderson, 41, said he found steroids in Armstrong’s house in Spain and was aware of subterfuge used to avoid a random test. Anderson said Armstrong cheated on his wife Kristin and often picked fights with motorists during his training rides.
“It would have been brilliant for him to sit down and answer questions from David Walsh, Betsy Andreu, Greg LeMond and myself — although I never want to be in the same room with him,” Anderson said, listing people Armstrong “bullied and threatened.”
Armstrong is taking a strategic approach to his legal troubles, which include a lawsuit filed under the Federal False Claims Act by ex-teammate and admitted doper Floyd Landis, whose whistle-blowing got USADA’s case rolling. The Justice Department is likely to join the case after rejecting a $5 million settlement offer from Armstong, CBS News reported. Armstrong is alleged to have defrauded the U.S. Postal Service of $30 million by not honoring anti-doping clauses in his sponsorship contract.
The government is entitled to triple damages and Landis would receive 15 to 30 percent if he prevails, which has raised the question of why Armstrong is coming forward now.
“The proof has reached a level where Armstrong can’t hide anymore,” said Melissa Visconti, a lawyer at the Ferraro firm in Coral Gables and a former federal prosecutor. “He’s cutting his losses by saying ‘I’m coming clean.’ There’s a certain value in his credibility going forward when a judge or jury asks, ‘Why would we believe you when you kept on denying all that evidence?’
“Staying silent doesn’t work in the court of public opinion. He and his legal and PR team are trying to salvage some of his believability. Frankly, it’s surprising it took this long.”
Armstrong is also expected to spread the blame by citing team management and cycling officials for corruption.
And, he will be questioned anew about whether his doping played a role in his testicular cancer diagnosis when he was 25. Armstrong had long denied a conversation in his hospital room in which he told doctors he had been using steroids and other drugs. Betsy Andreu and Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu later testified about what they heard. At the time Betsy warned Frankie not to dope because it might have caused Armstrong’s cancer, which metastasized to his brain.
“While there is no definitive link between testicular cancer and anabolic steroid use, steroids definitely can contribute to the progression of cancer,” said Dr. Ernesto Pretto, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
Pretto cited a study from Pharmacological Research journal entitled "Doping with growth hormone/IGF-1, steroids and erythropoietin: Is there a cancer risk?"
“He may have had a predisposition, but his cancer was rare and rapidly growing,” Pretto said. “I think he needs to ask, ‘Was it worth it?’ and warn about the serious side effects of drug use.
“We have graphic commercials on the consequences of smoking. Part of Lance’s legacy could be explaining the consequences of doping.”