Lance Armstrong, yet again, is leading investigators on a chase through the seedy underworld of professional cycling. This time, the embattled rider has changed course, throwing in a hard left turn: He has finally admitted to cheating.
Now, per a report in The New York Times, Armstrong is ready to do more than just admit to doping. He's going to start naming names.
We can forget about Oprah Winfrey, with whom Armstrong sat down on Monday in Austin, Texas, to admit to doping and share his story for a prime-time special to be aired on Oprah's floundering network, OWN, this Thursday.
In a three-hour interview for which Armstrong showed up with 10 friends and handlers, he reportedly didn't tell Oprah more than he needed to say. According to those in the room, who spoke with various media outlets after the interview had concluded, Armstrong admitted to doping.
But he claimed he wasn't the ringleader of the most widespread organized and sophisticated network of cheaters the world of cycling has ever known. Armstrong claimed he was just a member of the team, doing what all his other teammates were doing.
When word of Armstrong's interview with Oprah first arose, legal pundits questioned the logic behind opening up to a member of the media when so many lawsuits—so much money—could depend on what the disgraced champion had to say.
Nobody spends two decades defending his name with such tenacity to just spill the beans because he got tired of living a lie and Oprah could use a ratings boost. There had to be more to it, and there was.
Per The New York Times, Armstrong has already met with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) officials. That's including chief executive Travis Tygart, his nemesis in this saga, to turn whistle-blower on those Armstrong claims were really in charge of the widespread doping in cycling.
That would possibly include Pat McQuaid, the president of the cycling union, and Hein Verbruggen, who was the cycling union’s president from 1991 to 2005, a time when doping in the sport was rampant. Verbruggen, who is close with the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, is also the cycling union’s honorary president and an honorary member of the I.O.C.
The fish just got a lot bigger than a seven-time champion who survived cancer and became an American hero. Whether you believe Armstrong was the leader of his team's widespread system of cheating or not, someone else surely had to be involved at the highest levels of corruption. Just because Armstrong is the biggest fish in the court of public opinion doesn't mean he doesn't know where the actual courts can reel in a few bigger ones.
For example, the owners of the United States Postal Service team may be implicated, which, according to the NYT report, included investment banker Thom Weisel. Armstrong is reportedly in discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice to testify against his former bosses.
Pump the brakes for a second. Lance Armstrong is going to be a whistle-blower? This chase just completely went off the track.
Ironic, because getting himself back on the track may be what all this is about. Armstrong has never seemed to care about being stripped of his Tour de France titles; rather, it was that pesky lifetime ban that seemed to do the most damage.
As part of his deal with USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Armstrong would be looking to lessen (or eliminate) his ban as he moves into the next phase of his athletic career. He still wants to race.
It seems Armstrong didn't talk to Oprah to clear his conscience before disappearing into anonymity. Armstrong talked to Oprah because he's already been in talks with various governing bodies—both within his sport and within the U.S. justice system—to allow him to compete in triathlons and running races that follow the World Anti-Doping Code, which are the rules under which Armstrong is banned for life.
Armstrong doesn't want to go away. He still wants to win, even if that means finally admitting he lost the biggest contest of his career. Tygart finally won; now Armstrong needs to do whatever it takes to compete again.
Is Armstrong admitting to being a doper because he is a competition junkie? (There is an odd irony in that, isn't there?)
More information is sure to come out in the next few days. The peril of filming an interview on Monday and airing it on Thursday night is that so much more information can (and will) come out in between filming and the time we watch Armstrong talk to Oprah.
None of what he tells her could have any consequence in the grand scheme of this story. Oprah, it seems, was just a small part of a much larger plan.
The biggest issue for the viewing audience, Oprah, the sport's governing bodies and the justice department is how anyone can sit in a room and trust a person like Armstrong. He went to immeasurable lengths and spent more money than most of us would see in a lifetime to defend his name when he knew all along there wasn't anything worth defending.
David Howman, director general of WADA, said in a telephone interview with the NYT:
This guy is an enigma and nobody really knows what he is going to do, no matter what he says. I think he’s got his own demons to deal with, but nothing can be done about his lifetime ban when he hasn’t done anything to help us yet.
Is Armstrong finally coming clean to move on with his life, or is he coming clean because he was caught in a room with no doors or windows and—like only a rat can do—is burrowing through whatever crack he can find in order to get free?
In a way, the "why" has become inconsequential. The public admission and displays of contrition are all just part of the show.
Learning how far this saga goes is what comes next. If he's finally willing to tell the truth, there could be a lot of people wondering who the biggest fish really is.