Blazin' Saddles

Lance on Oprah Part II: Remorse code and humble me

The second instalment of Lance Armstrong's gentle sparring with Oprah Winfrey was more of a let down than the American's clean comeback to cycling in 2009. If anything needed performance enhancing – this was it.

Once again, we didn't actually learn much. Armstrong admitted he was a jerk; that he had let both his family and his supporters down; that he had lost rather a lot of money through the breakdown of sponsorship deals; that he had made mistakes; that he missed competing; that he felt remorse that will only grow; that he was deservedly paying the price for his scary actions; that he was not only humbled by the experience but it had made him into a better human being. Blah, blah, blah.

(Incidentally, Lance: being rumbled for performance enhancing drugs and realising you've lost $75m in a day and a half is not the best example of a humbling experience.)

Once viewers had managed to recover from the ghastly sanctimonious "amen" uttered by the Texan moments after Oprah had read out a "prayer for Lance" emailed in by one of her friends, the inevitable tears (bookmakers had, after all, given even odds for the waterworks) came.

It was actually rather uncomfortable viewing seeing the 41-year-old well up when recalling the moment he admitted to his three children from his first marriage that their father was a cheat.

But these were scenes that no one really wanted to see; a human element that an appearance on Oprah was always going to guarantee. But it was all a smokescreen and a sidetrack. No one ever wanted to see Armstrong on Oprah to have his parenting skills go on trial; he was meant to be there to lift the veil of his doping past. And once again, in this respect the programme was fundamentally flawed.

Oprah had an infuriating ability of asking the right question – only to then cut off Armstrong before he was really allowed to answer. In terms of word count, Oprah probably said even more than Armstrong during the second half of the interview – right up to the utterly nauseating moment at the end when she had the audacity to thank him for the opportunity of appearing on the show.

"Do you think that banned substances contributed to your cancer?" she asked at one point.

"I don't believe so. I'm not a doctor," came the succinct answer. Oprah deemed that enough while we, the viewers, were left short-changed.

"Do you owe David Walsh an apology?" That's more like it.

"That's a good question," Armstrong answered with a grin. Such a good question, in fact, that Oprah thought it necessary to cut Lance off after he had followed an initial pause with, "Yes, I'd apologise to David."

Armstrong had just started to elaborate on that apology when his over-eager interlocutor let him off the hook once again with a much easier question about letting down the millions of people who believed in him.

You see, Armstrong's in his element when talking about things and people en masse. He can group them all together and make broad, sweeping generalisations. But when it comes down to individuals, he's terribly flawed. As he admitted himself in the opening part of the interview: "I'm not comfortable talking about other people."

That partially explains why, in the entire duration of the two-hour interview, there was not one mention of Johan Bruyneel, the defiant team manager and close ally behind each of the American's seven Tour wins – and, worryingly, his clean comeback. Nor was there any special mention of Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid, figureheads of the UCI past and present.

What also explains the glossing over of these – how shall we say? – absent friends, is the letter of the law. Had Armstrong decided to cooperate with the USADA investigation in the first place, these figures would have all been drawn into the affair; as it is, primetime TV with a worldwide audience presented itself as a legal minefield.

There's a time and a place for a protracted legal bloodbath – and it's not Oprah (even if, in the UK, the interview once again was aired way after the watershed).

So when one of the many publicity breaks was preceded by a flash-forward to what seemed like another half-decent question from Oprah – "Was there anybody who knew the whole truth?" – it was inevitable that the answer would be yet another let-down.

Instead of a "Johan" we got a "yeah". Followed up, of course, by a segment on his first wife, Kristen. (No mention of Cheryl, of course.)

One of the better - and most telling - moments of the whole charade came after Oprah showed Armstrong a video of himself during his 2005 hearing with SCA Promotions in which a bullish and cornered man was telling a panel of judges that "it's not about the money. I don't need it in my contract saying that you're fired if you're positive. It all means nothing compared to the the support and faith of my sponsors and all the cancer survivors out there."

Asked how he felt looking at that, a shell-shocked Armstrong replied: "That's sick. I don't like that guy. That is a guy who felt invincible, was told be was invincible, truly believed he was invincible. That guy is still there. I'm not going to lie. Will this process help to exit him? Yes. Am I committed to this process? Yes."

It felt like a moment of refreshing, contrite honesty. Here was a man who saw the error in his ways and was ready to move on. He then listed individuals he had wronged – including Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, Betsy and Frankie Andreu and Emma O'Reilly – and said he owed them apologies.

But it only took a few minutes before we were not only reminded of the main motivation behind the whole interview – but also of the guy who felt invincible; the guy who Lance himself even admitted is still there.

"Do I want to compete again? Hell yes, I'm a competitor," he said defiantly before explaining that his worldwide ban means he cannot take part in any sporting event which is sanctioned by an official sporting body – such as the Chicago and Austin marathons.

"I won't lie to you, I'd love to do all these things. This is not the reason why I'm doing this interview. But I think I deserve to compete." Ah, the return of the real Lance.

It was here that Armstrong gave Oprah – for the very first time in almost 90 minutes of interviewing – what could be best described as 'The Look'. Here was the return of "the guy who truly believed he was invincible".

"The others get six months. I get a death penalty. I'm not saying it's not fair – I deserve to be punished – but I'm not sure I deserve a death penalty."

So, when you say you're not saying it's not fair, what you're actually saying it that it's not fair, right?

And the worst thing about it all is this: Armstrong used both parts of the interview to underline that he was clean when he returned in 2009 – and he did so in part two while intricately and explicitly tying his ex-wife's name into the narrative.

"She was the one person I asked if I could come back. 'You can do it under one condition – you never cross that line again'. I said, 'you have a deal'. I gave her my word. I did stick to it."

(Besides USADA and leading doping experts around the world), who's to say he isn't telling the truth here? But that's just it. We have spent three hours spread out over two evenings watching a man who has lied for the past 15 years tell us he is now telling the truth. Both parts of the interview were littered with assertions that "I'm not lying to you" and admissions that "I'm not the most believable guy right now" – but these are exactly the same words used by Armstrong during all those years of defiance; they are exactly the same words that the producers at OWN used in the interspersed video clips of Armstrong from the past.

So forgive this commentator when he says that a series of one-word admissions into his doping past is not enough to make him believe that everything Armstrong has said over the past couple of days is true.

Watching Armstrong deny doping in 2009/10 and also doing so while implicating his ex-wife was perhaps more unnerving than seeing him cry about his kids. Granted, he may be telling the truth. But it's the possible repercussions that are so fraught – for him, for us, for his family, for the mother he claims has been reduced to a "wreck". And to think he's even explicitly warned us that the "arrogant prick" who "thinks he is invincible" is "still there".

The whole measured appearance on Oprah was but another single chess move in what is turning out to be a very long and protracted game. We thought he was cornered, that it was over; but look, one of his pawns has reached the other side of the board, and he's got his Queen back.

At the end of the interview, Oprah reached out to Armstrong and said, "Thank you for trusting me to do this."

It was an utter disgrace.

It should have been the other way round. Armstrong should have been thanking Oprah for trusting a man who has proved over the years to be one of the most untrustworthy men on the planet.

Armstrong should have been jumping up and down on the sofa and declaring at the top of his voice his thanks to Oprah for giving him the easiest ride of his life.

Talk about performance enhancing – Oprah did a better job than the EPO ever did, primarily because this masking agent was entirely legal.