CHICAGO -- He finally admitted it. Lance Armstrong doped.
He was light on details and didn't name names. He mused that he might not have been caught if not for his comeback in 2009. And he was certain his "fate was sealed" when longtime friend, training partner and trusted lieutenant George Hincapie -- who was along for the ride on all seven of Mr. Armstrong's Tour de France wins -- was forced to give him up to anti-doping authorities.
But right from the start, and more than two dozen times during the first of a two-part interview Thursday night with Oprah Winfrey, the disgraced former cycling champion acknowledged what he had lied about repeatedly for years -- and what had been one of the worst-kept secrets for the better part of a week: He was the ringleader of an elaborate doping scheme on a U.S. Postal Service team that swept him to the top of the podium at the Tour de France time after time.
"At the time, it did not feel wrong?" Ms. Winfrey asked.
"No," he replied. "Scary."
"Did you feel bad about it?"
"No," he said. "Even scarier."
"Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?"
"No," he paused. "Scariest."
"I went and looked up the definition of cheat," he added a moment later. "And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."
Whether Mr. Armstrong's confession will help or hurt his bruised reputation and tenuous defense in at least two pending lawsuits, and possibly a third, remains to be seen. But a story that seemed too good to be true -- cancer survivor returns to win one of sport's most grueling events seven times in a row -- was revealed as just that.
Ms. Winfrey got right to the point: Did Mr. Armstrong use banned substances? "Yes." Did he use EPO? "Yes." Did he do blood doping and transfusions? "Yes." Did he use testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone? "Yes." Did he do it in all seven Tour wins? "Yes."
He cast aside teammates who questioned his tactics, yet swore he raced clean and tried to silence any who said otherwise.
He was ruthless and rich enough to settle any score -- in courtrooms, the court of public opinion, even on the roads of his sport's most prestigious race. That relentless pursuit was one of the things he said he regretted most.
"It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. And it's inexcusable. And when I say there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that. I do."