Lance Armstrong will make a limited confession to doping during his televised interview with Oprah Winfrey this week. The disgraced cyclist, who has long denied doping, will also offer an apology during the interview scheduled to be recorded on Monday night at his home in Austin, Texas, according to an anonymous source.
While not directly saying he would confess or apologise, Armstrong sent a text message to the Associated Press on Saturday saying: "I told her [Winfrey] to go wherever she wants and I'll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That's all I can say."
USA Today, citing an anonymous source, reported that Armstrong plans to admit using performance-enhancing drugs but is unlikely to reveal details of the allegations outlined in a 2012 report by the US Anti-Doping Agency. That report led to Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from the sport. Armstrong's representatives declined to comment.
The New York Times reported last week that Armstrong was considering making a confession. The 41-year-old, who denied doping for years, has not spoken publicly about the Usada report. That cast him as the leader of a sophisticated and brazen doping programme on his US Postal Service teams that included use of steroids, blood boosters and illegal blood transfusions.
Winfrey's network said that Armstrong had agreed to a "no holds barred" interview. A confession to Winfrey would come at a time when Armstrong's legal troubles appear to be easing. Any potential perjury charges stemming from his sworn testimony denying doping in a 2005 arbitration fight with a Dallas promotions company over a contract bonus worth $7.5m would fall foul of the statute of limitations.
Armstrong faces a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by his former team-mate Floyd Landis, which accuses him of defrauding the US Postal Service, but the US Justice Department has yet to say if it will join the case.
1 You have yet to respond in detail to the case made against you by the US Anti-Doping Agency which provides overwhelming evidence that you headed a doping programme "more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history … a fraudulent course of conduct that extended over a decade". Usada's case against you includes sworn statements from more than two dozen witnesses including 15 professional cyclists and a dozen former members of your teams. How can you deny their case?
2 Past experience of doping confessions suggests that you will claim you had no alternative but to dope because that was the culture of the sport at the time and it was the only way to succeed. Has it ever occurred to you that in 1999, when you won your first Tour de France, the sport was in a state of transition, with a body of riders and teams clearly and publicly committed to change, and that your doping, and that of other US Postal riders in that Tour and those that followed, contributed strongly to the sport being sucked back into the morass of doping? More importantly, did it cross your mind at the time?
3 In the light of the overwhelming evidence of doping against you in the 1999 Tour, have you any words for Christophe Bassons, whom you intimidated during that race over his anti-doping stance? Similarly, have you any thoughts for Filippo Simeoni, whom you bullied out of a possible 2004 stage win after he testified against your trainer Michele Ferrari?
4 What would you say now if you were alone in a room with any of the whistleblowers – Emma O'Reilly, Greg LeMond, Betsy Andreu, David Walsh – who you threatened when they attempted to expose you?
5 Usada's reasoned decision states that you had "ultimate control ... over the doping culture of [the US Postal Service] team ..." that you "required that [your team-mates] adhered to the doping program outlined for them". Was this indeed the case?
6 It is known that you made two substantial payments to the International Cycling Union during your racing career. Why did you make those payments?
7 Could you detail any meetings you may have had at the UCI to discuss doping matters and recall what was said at those meetings?
8 In 2009, you returned to the Tour de France after four years' retirement. Usada claims there is evidence to suggest you used blood doping during that race. Can you confirm or deny that? Either way, why did you refuse your consent for the ICU to supply Usada with its laboratory and collection information from that race for analysis and will you now grant that permission?
9 A cycling fan, who believed in you for many years, asked how people like him could possibly now have faith in any of their heroes. What would you say to him and those in the cancer community who believed in you for so long?
10 In July this year, all the living riders who have raced in the Tour de France in its 100 editions will be in Paris for the finish. Will you take your place among them or do you feel your place is elsewhere?
America may not, to its occasional twinging regret, have a royal family, but for the past four decades it has had its own regal mother confessor.
When Michael Jackson, the former sprinter Marion Jones and countless less starry but no less remorseful Americans have sought public redemption, they have all turned to Oprah Winfrey. So it is entirely in keeping with this, if not noble then at least long-running tradition that for his first TV interview since the alleged doping scandal, Lance Armstrong has sent, not the Bat Signal, but the Oprah Winfrey Signal. It's a light that bathes the sky in a sudsy, soppy and occasionally saccharine glow.
Yet while Winfrey might not be known as the hardest hitting of interviewers (except, that is, when the interviewee is seeking forgiveness for a wrong they committed against Winfrey herself, as authors James Frey and Jonathan Franzen learned to their cost), to choose Winfrey at all is something of a statement from Armstrong.
News last weekend that Armstrong is "considering making a public confession that he used performance enhancing drugs" sounded to many like a confession in itself; the announcement that he is to kneel at the forgiving feet of Winfrey has the decided smack of a penitent man who has lost the bullying defiance that has long defined his attitude towards allegations of doping.
You don't go to Winfrey just to confess: you go to Winfrey to confess, cry and beseech public sympathy (and hopefully to pry open leeway to some kind of post-scandal career). Going by past examples, Winfrey probably won't be too tough on Armstrong, disappointing his angry former fans. But she will, guaranteed, wring tears out of him, however genuine they might be.
It is not difficult to fathom how Winfrey has carved this deified role for herself. The woman positively quivers with warmth and empathy. She's soft, but exudes a starry, even regal aura, which in turn flatters her guests who feel that, OK, they might have been strong-armed into riding the redemption train, but at least they're going first class with a billionaire.
Yet while many miserable masses have huddled on Winfrey's sofa, Armstrong's decision to turn to Winfrey is a huge coup for her. This interview will not be on the easily accessible TV channels where her hugely successful show ran for a quarter of a century until 2011, but on Winfrey's cable network, OWN, and her website.
The network has had a shaky first 18 months, with some Winfrey fans complaining they can't actually find it. But even if Winfrey's blue chip quality has suffered, she is still – when it comes to flawed celebrities – the first-class option and, arguably most importantly, the soft and safe choice.