Lance Armstrong: “It’s been a rough couple of years for a lot of reasons”

In a wide-ranging and candid talk at the University of Colorado on Tuesday, Lance Armstrong discussed his life now, his views on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and what he’s tried to do to make amends for his past wrongs.

Armstrong, the former professional cyclist who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and barred from the sport for life for doping, spoke to a room full of CU students during a class on sports governance.

For years, Armstrong denied using performance-enhancing drugs and publicly challenged his accusers. He began to acknowledge doping publicly in a 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey.

During the informal conversation, Armstrong — wearing jeans and a black button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up — drew laughs from the audience, cursed and said he would answer students’ questions honestly.

“You’re not going to hear any bullshit today,” he said. “Everything you hear today is true.”

Students were blunt, too. The first question of the 90-minute session was whether Armstrong could have won without blood doping.

The short answer: no. Armstrong said the impact of blood doping was so powerful in the late 1990s and early 2000s that, without it, sustained success would have been impossible.

He went on to discuss his life now, nearly four years after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency charged him with doping dating back to 1996.

“With all of the criticism that you’ve faced throughout all of these years how are you able to come into this room and still keep your head up and talk to us?” a student asked.

Armstrong said he leads a normal life exercising, golfing, spending time with his five kids and his girlfriend Anna Hansen — a CU-Boulder graduate who sat in the audience.

“It’s been a rough couple of years for a lot of reasons, whether it’s from our family’s perspective, whether it’s from my own personal perspective or whether it’s a financial or legal perspective — it’s just been a complete, colossal meltdown, let’s be honest,” Armstrong told the class.

“Half of this room could be like, ‘You know what? Screw this guy. Screw this guy forever.’ Half might say, ‘I don’t know’ … The answer to that is not that I don’t care, the answer is that I’m a little detached from that and I realize people have their own views and those views might be firm and fixed forever or those views might be flexible.”

Armstrong told the class that he thought the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was “struggling for credibility” and used his case to show it was an effective organization.

He acknowledged that he was “too aggressive” with doping, but maintained that nearly every professional rider was doping in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“To go back 10, 15 years to bring a marquee case — I don’t know how anyone in this room would feel,” Armstrong said. “How would John Elway feel if they went back and stripped him of his 1999 Super Bowl win? You might think that’s crazy. That’s exactly what happened.”

He said it’s been frustrating for cyclists who raced in his era to have their successes completely discredited because of doping, which he said only amplified and aided the hard work they put in training.

“You had to have all those building blocks and then, unfortunately, you had to have the last block, and the last block was high-octane doping,” he said. “That doesn’t discount — it’s not like we all just went to Saint-Tropez every day and sipped rosé and then just showed up to the Tour de France and won.”

Armstrong said he wished his career could have gone differently, but said he wasn’t ready to go back home to Plano, Texas, once he’d made it to cycling’s highest level.

Twice he used the analogy that cycling during the blood-doping period — which he believes is now over — was like a knife fight that everyone showed up to with guns.

“I wish that it was just a knife fight. I wish we were just dealing with low-octane (performance-enhancing drugs), but it wasn’t,” he said.