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Armstrong seeks first step on road to redemption

The International Cycling Union has erased the seven Tour de France titles that Lance Armstrong won from 1999-2005
Fans and critics of Lance Armstrong will be watching for the breadth of the shamed cyclist's doping admission and the depth of his contrition when his interview with Oprah Winfrey is aired.

Fans and critics of cyclist Lance Armstrong were on Thursday waiting to hear the breadth of his doping admission and the depth of his contrition, as another honour was stripped from his sullied list of achievements.

The shamed US rider's first interview since he was stripped last year of the record seven Tour de France titles that made him a cycling icon was recorded in Austin, Texas, on Monday, and is due to be aired on Thursday and Friday night.

In it, the talk show host Oprah Winfrey, known for her empathetic celebrity interviews, said the 41-year-old admitted taking illegal substances and provided answers "that all people around the world have been waiting to hear".

A woman watches the CBS morning show featuring TV presenter Oprah Winfrey, Washington DC, January 15, 2013
A woman watches the CBS morning show featuring TV presenter Oprah Winfrey talking about her interview with the cyclist Lance Armstrong, Washington DC, January 15, 2013.

But as speculation swirled about exactly what he said -- and whether he implicated others, notably the sport's world governing body that has been accused of complicity and cover-up in the scandal -- he was stripped of his 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

The International Olympic Committee said they had asked Armstrong to return the time-trial medal after a three-week time-limit elapsed for him to appeal against the sanctions imposed by the International Cycling Union (ICU).

Abraham Olano of Spain, who was fourth, may be set to inherit the bronze in a race won by Armstrong's ex-US Post Service team-mate Viasheslav Ekimov and which saw Jan Ullrich of Germany take silver.

Ekimov is now general manager of the Katusha cycling team that were dropped from the elite ProTeam list for this season because of their ambivalent stance on doping. Ullrich eventually served a two-year ban for doping.

Armstrong's admission, after years of aggressive denials, is an astonishing reverse and has stunned the sport as much as the devastating report last August that lifted the lid on his illegal activities and saw him banned for life.

"No one could have imagined only a few weeks ago that Lance Armstrong would make his confession publicly, that he would confess in public to having been doped," Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme told reporters in Paris.

Graphic on key allegations made by the US Anti-Doping Agency against Lance Armstrong
Graphic on key allegations made by the US Anti-Doping Agency against Lance Armstrong.

"It's obviously something very important but I can't say more than that, I don't know more than you. I don't know what he'll say. For us, Lance Armstrong is already in the past."

Just as word of Armstrong's admission leaked on Monday, snippets of information have trickled out on the eve of the telecast.

The New York Times reported that Armstrong "teared up and cried" during the interview, which Winfrey has characterized as "intense", although the newspaper's source did not say what caused Armstrong to lose his composure.

The New York Daily News cited an anonymous source as saying Armstrong "does not seem sorry" about his choice to use banned drugs, while the Washington Post said Armstrong challenges the USADA's portrayal of him as vindictive.

US cyclist Lance Armstrong speaks at the annual Team Livestrong Challenge in Austin, Texas on October 21, 2012
US cyclist Lance Armstrong speaks at the begining of the annual Team Livestrong Challenge in Austin, Texas on October 21, 2012.

Winfrey said that she felt Armstrong was "thoughtful" and "serious" in his approach but added she would leave it up to viewers to judge whether he was remorseful.

"I would rather people make their own decisions about whether he was contrite or not," she told CBS television on Tuesday.

Armstrong's confession is likely to give fresh ammunition to critics of the embattled UCI, amid lingering questions about how doping by Armstrong and in the peloton went undetected for so long.

The UCI -- under fire for refusing an amnesty for doped riders -- has refrained from any real self-criticism in response to the Armstrong scandal while its creation of an independent commission to look at its role in the events has been branded weak.

Oprah Winfrey's exclusive interview with Lance Armstrong
This photo received on January 15, 2013, courtesy of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, shows Oprah Winfrey's exclusive interview with Lance Armstrong.

The stakes are also high for Armstrong, who was dropped by high-profile sponsors and stepped down from the cancer support charity that he founded in the wake of the revelations.

Some have seen the belated confession as an attempt to restore his tarnished image and faith in the integrity of professional cycling after its doping-scarred past.

But he also opens himself up to potential litigation and the possible loss of millions of dollars or even criminal charges by admitting that he lied about taking performance-enhancing drugs.

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