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Some around Lance Armstrong view TV confession with skepticism

If Lance Armstrong’s mea culpa to Oprah Winfrey is being done as a bid for forgiveness, Kathy LeMond will be watching with deaf ears.

“There is no limit to what he would do to protect his secret,” said LeMond, the wife of three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, “and not one word could come out of his mouth that would convince me to change his opinion of who he really is.

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“I can’t describe to you the level of fear he brings to a family, other than to liken it to a drunken, alcoholic, abusive spouse who gets out of jail with a bouquet of roses for his bloodied spouse, saying, ‘Here, I’m sorry I did that.’”

PHOTOS: Lance Armstrong through the years

Armstrong’s interview with Winfrey, which will air Thursday and Friday evenings on the Oprah Winfrey Network, will mark a long-delayed admission of using performance-enhancing methods to win seven Tour de France titles.

Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong’s former teammate Frankie Andreu, has long said she already heard Armstrong’s confession of such transgressions back in 1996 at an Indiana hospital while Armstrong confided to cancer doctors about his use of steroids.

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“They act like it’s new that he’s admitting things when I’ve been saying he already admitted that,” Andreu said. “It’s just that no one would believe me, because he successfully painted me as an ugly, unhinged nut job — bitter, vindictive, obsessed — with his journalists, the arbiters of the truth, buying in.”

PHOTOS: Sports scandals, present and past

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The LeMonds and Andreus were not alone in feeling the wrath of Armstrong’s dedicated cover-up.

In a 1,000-plus-page report released by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in October, Chief Executive Travis Tygart said Armstrong ran “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

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Armstrong’s attorney, Tim Herman, said then that the report was crafted by “ax-grinders” and “serial perjurers,” citing the hundreds of clean drug tests Armstrong produced in his career.

The report quoted teammates, including Frankie Andreu and Christian Vande Velde, saying they were pressured to dope to remain on the team.

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An opposing rider said in the USADA report that Armstrong tracked him down and threatened him once on the Tour for making a disparaging comment about the cyclist’s drug links.

And the wife of ex-teammate Levi Leipheimer said she received a harassing text message from Armstrong, “Run, don’t walk,” after accidentally sitting in the same restaurant as Armstrong after her husband testified to a federal grand jury investigating the culture of doping in the sport.

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Others, like former Oakley representative Stephanie McIlvain, have hinted at the pressure not to stray from Armstrong’s deceit even if they overheard or saw incriminating events.

Armstrong’s former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly, said she transported doping supplies across borders for Armstrong and trashed drugs and syringes to skirt doping authorities while giving substances to riders when needed.

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Ultimately, O’Reilly after she was quoted in a book about Armstrong and doping, was taken to court by Armstrong’s attorneys. She said the cyclist portrayed her as a prostitute and heavy drinker and told the New York Times he made her life “a living hell.”

In Frankie Andreu’s case, his wife’s resistance to keeping quiet deprived him of a Tour de France race bonus he estimated at $20,000 and led to him being ousted from the Armstrong team after the 2000 race, Betsy Andreu said.

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She said absorbing more than a decade of Armstrong’s attacks was exhausting.

“Imagine the energy it takes to defend your integrity day in and day out, to be lied about and not believed by most, week after week, year after year,” she said. “It was terrible. I had friends telling me to stop being involved.

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“You have to be committed to tell the truth.”

Andreu said she witnessed a culture where “silence was complicity,” noting she refuses even to listen to music from Armstrong’s ex-girlfriend Sheryl Crow.

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“That bubble he created. … He played on his cancer and the foundation he created as another shield,” she said of Livestrong. “He had political connections, from the president of France trying to shut down a drug lab, to the head of the criminal division of the Department of Justice, to those in the California legislature who wanted to review USADA’s funding after the report.

“His corporate sponsors always said they had to see the hand in the cookie jar before they’d separate from him. The cycling body swept things under the rug. He had a complicit media. Cycling is such a niche sport that if you question Lance, you cut yourself off from the story of cancer boy trying to win the world’s most grueling race.”

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Kathy LeMond detailed how Armstrong had major cycling business executives pressure her husband to back off a comment in 2000 that Greg LeMond was “terribly disappointed” about Armstrong’s attachment to alleged steroid doctor Michele Ferrari. LeMond had previously been told of Armstrong’s doping from a mechanic the cyclists shared, Julien Devriese.

Kathy LeMond claimed an executive at Trek bicycles ultimately told her husband he was “between a rock and a hard place” and said he needed LeMond to retract the criticism of Armstrong. LeMond did not retract any statements; he lost his contract with Trek in 2008, three years before its scheduled expiration date.

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“Lance chose to get into a terrible situation, and then he went so far beyond decency in defending it,” Kathy LeMond said. “We spent more than 10 years living with it.

“So no matter what he says to Oprah, be skeptical. It is easy to say you want to forgive someone. But in this case, it’s dangerous.”

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire


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