Lance Armstrong doesn't feel like he cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories.
That was the message I received from the first 90 minutes of his two-night interview with Oprah Winfrey. This man, who has spent years vehemently denying the use of performance-enhancing drugs and brutally pummeling anyone who suggested he did, admitted it was all a lie &#8211; but then he said he had no reason to feel he cheated.
"I viewed it as a level playing field," he told Oprah.
Well, Lance, tell that to the riders who never got to share that field with you. Tell that to the riders who worked their butts off for years, but because they weren't willing to pump themselves full of chemicals just couldn't get over that last hump to ride in a race with you. Tell that to those guys who ended their careers as they got passed by a doped-up peloton. Tell that to the guys who finished a few seconds behind you in a 125-mile stage of the race, or a few minutes behind you after three weeks of riding, those guys who Tyler Hamilton in his book said could have been right up there with you if only they had decided to "level the field" with syringes and transfusions. Tell that to the guys who couldn't afford private jets to take them to appointments with million-dollar dope doctors.
"I knew I was going to win" all seven Tours de France, Armstrong told Oprah.
This was billed as a "confession," but it was not a contrite plea for understanding and forgiveness. This was a guy who appears not so much sorry for what he did as he is sorry that he has run out of options. He is still parsing words, dissembling, rationalizing his desecration of a beautiful sport and the "perfect story" of a cancer survivor overcoming all.
He said he wouldn't be surprised if those watching the interview said, "Look at this arrogant prick."
Too harsh, you say? Even Armstrong said he doesn't deserve sympathy. And, as if to drive the point home, he piled on in the interview. When Oprah asked him about his long-running feud with Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former teammate who long has claimed she heard him admit doping, Armstrong acknowledged that he had called her a liar and a bitch, "but I never called her fat."
Apparently that was supposed to be funny.
When he finally admitted that Emma O'Reilly had been telling the truth when the former team masseuse said he covered up the use of illegal cortisone, Oprah reminded Armstrong that he had sued her for libel.
"To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people" that he couldn't remember, "but I'm sure we did."
O'Reilly, he said, is just "one of those people who got run over" on Armstrong's road to fame, money and power. She's "one of those people I have to apologize to."
But if there were any apologies on Thursday, I didn't hear them. I heard excuses and dodges. I heard that blood transfusions and testosterone pills and EPO &#8211; the cancer drug that works miracles for endurance athletes &#8211; were "like air in our tires&#8230;water in our bottles."
Armstrong &#8211; along with other elite cyclists who have recently admitted doping, including Santa Rosa's Levi Leipheimer &#8211; would like us all to believe that this was part of the game, and that they were just doing what everyone else was doing in order to be allowed to play.