DISGRACED Lance Armstrong claims he first took performance-enhancing drugs aged 21 – and wonders if it may have contributed to his testicular cancer.
But the discredited US cyclist insists he sleeps well at night despite being exposed as a serial doper and accused of damaging the lives of brave whistle-blowers.
Armstrong, 48, was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories in 2012 after it emerged he had cheated throughout his career and was the mastermind behind a massive doping ring.
In October 1996, the 25-year-old Armstrong had a diseased testicle removed and underwent chemotherapy treatment from which doctors thought he wouldn’t survive.
Asked by an ESPN reporter if he felt he got cancer from doping, he replied: “I don’t know the answer to that. But I certainly wouldn’t say no.
“The only thing I’ll tell you is the only time in my life I ever did growth hormone was the 1996 season.
“So in my head, growth, growing hormone and cells – if anything good needs to be grown it does.
“But wouldn’t it also make sense if there is anything bad in there it, too, would grow?”
Asked directly how old he was when he first doped, he said: “Probably 21.
I don’t know the answer to that. But I certainly wouldn’t say no.
Lance Armstrong, when asked if doping caused his testicular cancer
“My first professional season. It was cortisone, drugs that stimulate your body’s own production of cortisone.
“EPO was a whole other level. The performance benefits were so great. The sport went from low-octane doping to this high-octane rocket fuel. That was the decision we had to make.
“The easiest way to define it, it’s breaking the rules. Were we getting injections of vitamins and other things from an earlier age? Yes. But they weren’t illegal.
“Of course (we knew). I’m not one of those guys. I always asked, always knew and I always made the decision on my own.
“Nobody said: ‘Don’t ask, this is what you are getting.’ I wouldn’t have gone for that. I educated myself on what was being given and I chose to do it.”
A revealing three-hour, two-part ESPN Player documentary – including testimonies from fellow riders, coaches and journalists – chronicled his persistent lies, rampant drug-taking and relentless bullying.
His first triathlon coach Rick Crawford saw his bullying traits from “day one”.
And stepfather Terry blames himself, saying strict parenting had moulded Texas-born Armstrong, a promising swimmer and triathlete, into a ruthless competitor.
Terry said: “I was a taskmaster but didn’t show him the love I should have.
“Lance wouldn’t be the champion he is today without me – because I drove him like an animal.
“That’s the only thing I feel bad about – did I make him too much win-at-all-costs?”
Contributors warn from the outset that pariah Armstrong would attempt to manipulate the documentary in attempts to “resurrect his reputation” and “shape the narrative”.
In the film it is claimed he was protected by governing body UCI, bullied outspoken members of the peloton and used his considerable influence to target rivals who were a threat.
Armstrong, who made an unsuccessful comeback to the saddle with Astana in 2009, reserved particular anger for former US Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis.
After detailing the tens of millions he had to pay back in lawsuits to sponsors, smug Armstrong said: “Hey, it could be worse. I could be Floyd Landis. Waking up a piece of s*** every day. I don’t think it, I know it.”
American Landis, stripped of the 2006 Tour triumph for doping, was crucial in the USADA investigation which brought down Armstrong.
How I carried myself as the leader of a sport, leader of a cause and leader of all these communities, it’s inexcusable… I wish I could change that and could have been a better man.
Landis, 44, said: “Everybody wanted to treat me like I was this evil, cheating liar.
“I told the truth and then I was a rat, turning on his own people. It was a no-win situation.
“I said this is what happened to everybody. Of course, it became about Lance because everything is always about Lance. That’s the way he wants it.
“He cannot pin that part on me. That’s his approach to life. It’s about ‘me’.
“When you’re that protected by the organisation that runs cycling, you can take out personal vendettas as well as win. He liked that. That was his thing.”
Armstrong says he continued to lie right up until his infamous Oprah 2013 confession interview, sometimes used “cancer as a shield” through his Livestrong foundation and admits he was a “f****** arsehole” at times.
He believes some fans will never forgive him for defrauding sporting audiences in the saddle.
He said: “With regards to how I carried myself as the leader of a sport, leader of a cause and leader of all these communities, it’s inexcusable.
“Totally inappropriate behaviour, totally took advantage of my stature.
“For that I’m deeply sorry. I wish I could change that and could have been a better man.
“All I can do is say I’m sorry and move on. And hope that others do, too.
“It comes to: How do you sleep at night? Can you live with yourself? And I can.”
- LANCE is available on ESPN Player – part one (May 25) and part two (June 1)