By Duncan Mackay

Lance Armstrong on Oprah WinfreyJanuary 18 - Lance Armstrong has finally admitted to using banned performance-enhancing drugs throughout most of his career and in all seven of his Tour de France victories during an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The pre-recorded show, broadcast at 9pm Eastern Time in the United States and in the early hours of this morning in Europe, saw Armstrong confess to his doping from the beginning of the programme.

In an opening series of "yes" or "no" questions, Armstrong admitted to using blood-boosting Erythropoietin (EPO), blood doping transfusions, testosterone and human growth hormone in each of his Tour de France victories between 1999 and 2005 after recovering from testicular cancer.

It marked a spectacular reversal after more than a decade of denials. 

"I know the truth," the 41-year-old Armstrong told Winfrey.

"The truth isn't what was out there, the truth isn't what I said.

"This story was so perfect for so overcome the disease [cancer], you win the Tour de France seven times, you have a happy marriage, you have children.

"I mean, it's just this mythic, perfect story.

"And it wasn't true.

"I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times."

Armstrong, who wore a blue blazer and open-neck shirt and looked relatively relaxed throughout the 90-minute interview, the first of two to be shown on consecutive nights, claimed he stopped doping following his 2005 Tour de France victory and did not use banned substances when he placed third in 2009 and entered the race again in 2010.

Lance Armstrong on podum at seven Tour de FrancesLance Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005 - but doped in every one, he admitted on Oprah Winfrey

But Armstrong told Winfrey he did not believe it was possible to win the Tour in the years he was racing at his peak without doping, and challenged the characterisation of the doping programme on his US Postal Service team as the most sophisticated ever.

"It was definitely professional and it was definitely smart, if you can call it that," said Armstrong.

"But it was very conservative, very risk averse.

"But to say that that programme was bigger than the East German programme in the mid-80s, it's not true."

Armstrong, who described himself during the interview as a "bully" and a "deeply flawed character", admitted that he never feared getting caught because the testing programme was not sophisticated or wide-ranging enough to snare him.

Lance Armstrong being interviewed by Oprah WinfreyThe room at Lance Armstrong's house in Austin where the interview with Oprah Winfrey took place

He also admitted he did not feel like he was cheating or bad about it.

"I looked up the definition of cheat," said Armstrong, who earlier in the day had been officially stripped of the Olympic bronze medal he won at Sydney in 2000. 

"The definition of cheat is to gain an advantage over a rival or foe.

"I didn't do that.

"I viewed it as a level playing field.

"I didn't invent the culture, but I didn't try to stop the culture.

"It's hard to talk about the culture.

"I don't want to accuse anyone else.

"I'm here to acknowledge my mistakes.

"The culture was what it was.

"I can't say [everybody was doping]."

Armstrong compared taking drugs to "like saying we have to have air in our tyres or water in our bottles.

"That was, in my view, part of the job."

Lance Arrmstrong at Tour of SwitzerlandLance Armstrong denied that he failed a test for EPO during the Tour of Switzerland in 2001

But the interview appeared to ease some of the pressure on the International Cycling Union (UCI), who had been accused of covering up a positive test involving Armstrong for EPO during the Tour of Switzerland in 2001.

"There was no positive test, there was no paying off of the lab, there was no secret meeting with the lab director," said Armstrong. 

"The UCI did not make that go away."

The fact that the emergence of the story coincided with him donating $250,000 (£155,700/€191,700) to help the UCI's anti-doping programme was a coincidence, Armstrong claimed.

"I donated money to the UCI because they rung me and asked me because they were broke - I did not pay it for a cover-up," he said. 

But Armstrong also acknowledged that he understood why people may not trust his version of events.

"I'm not the most believable guy in the world right now, I understand."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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