Welcome back to the Twisted Spoke Lance-athon because it’s not about the bike, it’s about a last ditch attempt to manipulate public opinion on a shattered career.
Our overall impression was that the man who lost his seven Tour de France titles has also lost his magnetism. While Oprah Winfrey said she was ‘mesmerized” by Armstrong, the word we would use is underwhelmed.
There was a surprising lack of energy in the room. The famously combative Armstrong appeared worn out, the fight gone, delivering his lawyer scripted lines with little force. He looked like a political candidate who’d been campaigning non-stop for six months — drawn, haggard, trying hard to remember what talk point went with what question.
The contrast between the physical appearance of Armstrong and Winfrey was almost comical. Lance looked small in his chair, his face too lean and lacking color while the overweight Winfrey could barely fit in her seat and her make-up people went for a little too much drama.
The interview itself was surprising dull if you were already familiar with the USADA Reasoned Decision. The interest was largely in what he would say about the role of the UCI in the doping culture. The hope was that he would implicate former president Hein Verbruggen and current head Patrick McQuaid but the Boss failed to deliver on that score. They’re not ready to pop champagne at UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland but Mad Pat is feeling optimistic.
Armstrong tried hard to salvage what was left of his reputation. The lying and cheating and deception charges were a lost cause but he insisted he wasn’t a nasty bully. A variation on yes, I’m a bank robber but I’m not a mean bank robber. In answer to Winfrey, he claimed he had never forced anyone on his team — read Christian Vande Velde — to dope.
Several of his doping statements were carefully calibrated to avoid further financial difficulties. That provided the only unexpected moment of the evening as Lance refused to admit that in front of Frankie and Betsy Andreu he had admitted doping to his cancer doctors. The looming SCA lawsuit and potential multi-million dollar payback meant that he was’t going to say anything on the subject. Betsy furious and in tears.
Mostly, we were struck by the hollowness of Armstrong’s eyes. They were dead, the kind of eyes you see in a pathological liar, somehow discounted from any emotion. Armstrong has always been a dynamic, forceful leader but he looked like he was on auto-pilot. Those searching for any genuine remorse, a sign of humanity, an emotional moment, a tear, a long sigh or crack in the facade were disappointed.
While Armstrong did smile a few times it was a generally bloodless performance. That’s not what Americans like to see on their confessional TV shows. The lack of emotion meant that he certainly didn’t connect with his audience. To use Oprah’s phrase, he “met his moment” but left his heart at home. As Troll Number 1, David Walsh wrote, Lance has the analytic intelligence but not emotional intelligence. It’s why he failed to understand the fury and consequences of attacking FLoyd Landis and why he will struggle with public opinion on his redemption.
But hey, we’re only on part 1 of the OprahStrong, Lance-athon. Tonight there would be a weepy moment and Lance may get down on his knees and beg forgiveness. But don’t count on it.