By Brent Schrotenboer, USA TODAY Sports
Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he started using performance-enhancing drugs to gain an edge in cycling in the mid-1990s, before he was diagnosed with cancer, a person familiar with the interview told USA TODAY Sports.
Armstrong and his representatives also have had discussions with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency about meeting soon over several days for a "full debrief," when Armstrong would be expected to "answer every question, give over records, telephone calls, test results, everything," the source said.
It is not certain if Armstrong will agree to the full debriefing, but he is aware it would be a prerequisite to any potential reduction of his lifetime ban from sanctioned competitions, the source told USA TODAY Sports.
The person requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case and because the Winfrey interview details are supposed to remain confidential until it airs Thursday night. Armstrong had intended to make a general confession to Winfrey but avoid getting into great detail during the interview, which was held Monday in Armstrong's hometown of Austin.
Winfrey went on Twitter to say the interview lasted more than 21/2 hours and Armstrong "came READY!" She will appear today on CBS This Morning to promote the interview, which will be shown on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
It is the public's reaction to Armstrong's apology that is critical to the cyclist, who was not only stripped of his seven Tour de France titles but was dropped by his sponsors in October after USADA released more than 1,000 pages of evidence against him. Armstrong had said over the weekend that he looked forward to a candid conversation with Winfrey.
Armstrong's admission that he started doping in the mid-1990s is consistent with USADA's evidence. In one statement, former Armstrong teammate George Hincapie said he and Armstrong started using the blood booster EPO around 1995 or '96 because they felt they otherwise could not compete. Another cyclist, Stephen Swart, said in his statement that he knew his teammates on the 1995 Tour de France team were using EPO, including Armstrong.
The source told USA TODAY Sports that the Armstrong camp also has had discussions with federal authorities about naming others who were involved in doping, a step that could qualify as the substantial assistance that cycling's governing bodies would require before considering a reduction of Armstrong's penalties.
According to the source, one stumbling block for Armstrong could be the International Cycling Union, which the source says remains opposed to "truth and reconciliation," meaning the possibility of reducing Armstrong's ban to anything less than eight years.
Before talking to the iconic talk-show host Winfrey on Monday, Armstrong issued an emotional apology to the staff at Livestrong, the charity he founded to support cancer survivors.
Armstrong, who was diagnosed with advanced cancer in 1996 and made a remarkable recovery, stepped down from the foundation's board in October after USADA's case file spelled out in detail how and when he used performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions to boost his performance.
The evidence also showed Armstrong going to extraordinary efforts to enforce a code of silence among cyclists, attacking anyone who implicated him.
A confession comes with legal risks for the cyclist. Justice Department attorneys have recommended the government join a federal whistleblower suit filed by Armstrong's former teammate, Floyd Landis, a federal law enforcement official briefed on the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly told USA TODAY Sports.
The suit alleges Armstrong's doping defrauded the government and violated his contract with the U.S. Postal Service, which sponsored his cycling team for around $30 million.
Armstrong, 41, has sought to reconcile with Landis to no avail.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Christine Brennan
USA TODAY Sports