By JIM VERTUNO
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — As days of preparations dwindled to hours before his interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong went out for a training run and then retreated behind the stone walls of his Austin compound to huddle with a handful of close advisers.
After more than a decade of denying that he doped to win the Tour de France seven times, Armstrong was scheduled to sit down Monday for what has been trumpeted as a “no-holds barred,” 90-minute, question-and-answer session with Winfrey on “Oprah’s Next Chapter.”
The cyclist will apologize and make a limited confession about his role as the head of a long-running scheme to dominate the prestigious bike race with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs, a person with knowledge of the situation has told The Associated Press.
Winfrey and her crew will film the interview at Armstrong’s home and broadcast it Thursday on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Local and international news crews were staking out positions Monday in front of Armstrong’s lush, Spanish-style villa. News crews began arriving before dawn, hoping to catch a glimpse of Winfrey or Armstrong.
If he was feeling any pressure, Armstrong hardly showed it during a jog under bright skies Sunday, even as members of his legal team began arriving one-by-one at his home nearby.
“I’m calm, I’m at ease and ready to speak candidly,” he told the AP, but declined to reveal how he would answer questions about the scandal that has shadowed his career like an angry storm cloud.
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. USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Armstrong once led, “The most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
Yet Armstrong looked like just another runner getting in his roadwork when he talked to the AP, wearing a red jersey and black shorts, sunglasses and a white baseball cap pulled down to his eyes. Leaning into a reporter’s car on the shoulder of a busy Austin road, he seemed unfazed by the attention and the news crews that made stops at his home. He cracked a few jokes about all the reporters vying for his attention, then added, “but now I want to finish my run,” and took off down the road.
The interview with Winfrey will be Armstrong’s first public response to the USADA report. 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, Armstrong said: “I told her (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 Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug program that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.
After he was stripped of his Tour titles, 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 dramatically. And he still faces legal challenges.
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 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 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 Winfrey suggestions on what questions to ask Armstrong during their talk. Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which tried to deny 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 Armstrong’s sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Armstrong was not deposed during the federal investigation that was closed last year.
Many of his sponsors dropped Armstrong in the wake of the USADA report — 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 one 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 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 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.”
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