“We all knew that history, even when I was young in the 1990s,” Armstrong said during a taping of the Rocky Mountain PBS show, “Colorado Quarterly.”
Armstrong spoke candidly about the era that led to his downfall, when he went from a revered champion considered to be the greatest cyclist ever to losing his titles and many sponsorships and damaging the sport in a doping scandal that reverberates to this day. In 2012, he was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from competitive cycling for life after the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) found him guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.
“Of course, you always want science to be ahead of where doping would be,” Armstrong said Thursday, suggesting that, if so, all competitors would be equal. “But at that time, science was way, way behind.
There was a substance, EPO, that was tremendously helpful, up to the tune of 10 percent (in enhanced performance), and just as important, it was completely undetectable. And, of course, it ran like wildfire through the peloton (professional cycling).” EPO, erythropoietin, is a hormone that acts on the bone marrow to stimulate red blood cell production.
An increase in red blood cells improves the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry to the body’s muscles.
Armstrong participated in Colorado Quarterly by phone from Aspen. The show was moderated by Rocky Mountain PBS President and CEO Doug Price, who was joined on set by Scott Mercier, a talented cyclist who gave up a lucrative professional contract to avoid doping, and by Ian MacGregor, a two time national champion who competed cleanly.
“Ironically, Lance was the greatest athlete of our generation, doping or no doping,” said Mercier. “He had huge success, but he’s suffering now. I’m suffering by not knowing what could have been for me. But I’m proud to be friends with Lance.”
Said MacGregor, “I want to be clear. I didn’t make a choice. I was supported by a sponsor trying to encourage us to make a different choice. I was insulated.”
Price asked Armstrong if what had happened to him was worth it and necessary for the good of the sport.
“That’s a great question,” Armstrong replied evenly , “and one that I ask myself every day. My answer is not a popular one. My answer is that it wasn’t worth it.”